For the past week I’ve been humming Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die, the Propeller Heads’ version of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the Avengers theme. My iPod has even been afflicted with a playlist called iSpy. For this I blame BMW Canada for loaning me the 2007 Mini Cooper S, which I’ve concluded is the near perfect car for a gay super-spy.
In the real world no crotch-stuffing supercar would do. The Austin-Martin Vanquish? That screams “compensation”. The Mini Cooper S, a wanton little retro-esque sexpot that puts the “hot” in hot hatchback, says “I’m comfortable with what I’ve got.”
It should be secure. Insert the key in the slot on the dash, to the right of the steering column, press the start/stop button, and the new 1.6-liter, all-aluminum 4-cylinder engine thrums to eagerly to life. The engine, kitted out with a twin-scroll turbo, pumps out 172hp, up from the previous supercharged iron lump’s 163. That makes for a top speed of 223 km/h (claimed), at which point the prison guards are no longer role-playing. What determines how quickly the Cooper S reaches “illegality”, however, is the twisting force of the tires known as torque.
Purring along, with a Bond-boy at your side, the engine produces 177 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 RPM to 5,000 RPM. It’s more than ample for a small car, and a significant increase over the previous engine’s 155 pound-feet. From the slightly diesel-esque rattle above idle to 2,500 RPM, some turbo lag is present, beyond that the response is near instantaneous, the engine pulling smoothly through to 6,500. Better yet the Cooper S has “overboost”, and how spy is that term?
You don’t get to flip a toggle or shout “Hit the overboost!”, but mat the accelerator and the turbo briefly increases pressure, peaking the torque to a whopping 192 pound-feet, shoving you into your seat, and hustling the Cooper S from 0-100kph in 7.1 seconds (claimed) to the score of a subtle fruity exhaust note. Exciting? More than a little.
Being front wheel drive, the Cooper S’s tires scramble for traction like a startled cat on linoleum. Torque steer tugs the wheel and the front-end pulls sideways. Passes are executed with extreme prejudice and cartoon physics, shocking pursuing drivers – if the menacing black SUVs ever get close.
“Engage the sport mode” (we’ll forgive you for saying this aloud) and the Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) and throttle response tauten, resulting in handling tighter than a fetishist’s vinyl cat suit. The handling whips you around corners like a cat-o-nine-tails snap and sweepers are executed with immaculate stability.
Through the corners, optional sport suspension minimizes the already minor body roll and you’re held snuggly put in the 8-way manually adjustable sport-seats. Be warned, other contents may be shaken and stirred. The firm suspension explains the death-grip cup holders; once your bevy is in place prying it free inevitably launches the contents over the lower dash.
The driving position is low slung, and everything important to driving is exactly where it should be. Steering wheel and pedals straight-ahead, 6-speed stickshift mated to the slick Getrag gearbox exactly within reach. It simply fits like a glove. The Electric Power Assist Steering kills an infinitesimal amount of feel over the previous Cooper S, and the suspension is slightly more compliant, but this car still talks to you.
Feel that? You just ran over a lady-bug.The 17” performance run-flat tires are an improvement over the previous generation, but likely aren’t generating the same traction as a normal set of rubber. Worse, on rough roads they fill the cabin with tire noise.
Should the Cooper S itself begin to slip (and for the record that takes some serious provocation), the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) swings into action – complete with blaring panic light. If your middle name is “danger” or “fun” this can be disengaged – this is a recipe for wheel spin and gales of laughter.
The DSC and a plethora of other knobs and toggles are “optional extras” that Sir Alex Issigonis, designer of the original Fifties’ Mini, wouldn’t have approved of. A hardcore minimalist, Mini lore says Issigonis never listened to the radio, so he never included space for one in his design. Today’s car is anything but that kind of spartan.
The stereo manual unfolds like a stylish blueprint to a villain’s hideout… across 7 pages. Moreover there’s setting for phone, language, dates, times, radio stations, fuel consumption (mpg, k/L or L/100km), and temperature (Celsius or Fahrenheit); all of which can all be stored in the disk shaped “key”, personalizing your Cooper.
In a fit of choice overload there are toggles and knobs for everything, even cycling the interior mood lighting from blue through red – which actually is pretty cool. If any of it felt like it would outlive the short 4-year/80,000 km warrantee, Q would be jealous.
The looks? The Cooper S comes with faux scoops, slats and a power bulge on the hood, all of which lead nowhere in a bout of style over substance. It’s still bomb-disarmingly cute; I defy you not to meet someone while driving this natural conversation opener. If you do, here’s a hint, travel alone.
The Cooper S is a two-seater, spacious up front even for a pair of bears, with a backseat only suitable for toddlers or double-amputees. Embrace this and you’ve “family of two” practicality. Backseats folded flat, the MINI-scule 160L hatch swells to accommodate 100lbs of fluff-and-fold-bound dirty laundry.
Indeed this ode to four-wheeled vice makes such chores fun. Roundabouts become dizzying circuit parties all their own (“spin-spin sugar”), parking spots a U-turn excuse, and errands throttle tromping rollicks through SUV pylons.There are a few quirks. The pie-plate sized speedo mounted in the dash’s centre is 45 degrees off the driver’s line of sight, which quickly moves it from cool to irritating.
To salve this ergonomic wound, BMW (owners of the MINI mark) have duplicated most of the pie-plate’s trip computer functionality in a digital display on the steering column mounted tachometer – that seems a bit wasteful. The most distracting element is the bright, petal-shaped fuel gauge, which persistently catches your eye – at 585kms into the tank it flipped from alarmist orange to panic inducing red. Drama Queen!A frugal one though, your next date should sip so lightly.
Over a day largely comprised of “performance” driving the MINI imbibed a surprisingly economical 8.34L/100km. Relaxed highway driving drops that to 7.46L/100km. Like that will happen…
Rounding a corner on our test loop, an oncoming car flicks his high beams. I’d acknowledge by doing likewise, but the bi-Xenon headlights could bring Icarus out of the sky. Touching the “launch your carjacker through the windshield” acute brakes, and downshifting, I try to scrub off speed subtly. It occurs to me that the twin cruiser roadblock ahead may be for the Cooper S.
Youthfully handsome, but more mature under the skin, the new 2007 MINI Cooper S has made a perfect double agent, corrupting me with easy cornering virtue and giggle inducing acceleration. That’s ok; villains it seems have more fun.Make mine Laser Blue with a Union Jack on top and machine gun in the “power bulge”… it’s a traditional “good guy” look. That ought to confuse them.
Base: 30,600.00As tested: 35,420.00Full Details: http://MINI.ca
Premium Package – $1600.00
- Glass Sunroof
- Heated Front Seats
- Onboard Computer
- Sports Package – $1200.00
- 17-inch Flame Spoke Alloy Wheels
- Performance Run Flat Tires
- Anthracite Roof Liner
Stand Alone Options
- White Bonnet Stripes – $130.00
- Comfort Access – $490.00
- Limited Slip Differential – $650.00
- Hi-Fi Sound System – $750.00