What can we say? We had just taken delivery of our then new long-term Electric Blue Metallic 2002 Cooper S and we were excited. Without question, the PT Cruiser buying frenzy isn't the paradigm shift we once thought it was.
Live and learn, as the saying goes. Which we have. And so has Mini.
Five years after its first go-round, Mini has redesigned the Cooper and Cooper S and they're better than ever. Faster, lighter and larger than the 2002 models we fell in love with. We had to have one.
Break out the order sheet. We want a 2007 Mini Cooper S.
What We Bought
It took no time to pick one in Chili Red (hood stripe delete) and begin choosing the options. We wanted the Sport package, which offers 17-inch web-spoke wheels and run-flat tires. We were happy to find that the increased weight of this combination had no adverse effect on handling characteristics, an improvement over last year's car. In addition, the Sport package got us Dynamic Stability Control and a great set of xenon headlights. At $1,900, the package is a tough deal to beat.
We also checked the option boxes for a limited-slip differential ($500) and sport suspension ($500). If you're buying the sporting Cooper S, you'd be a fool not to opt for the sporting options, right?
Thinking it best to adhere to the original Mini mission statement and keep things as spartan as possible, we decided against the optional navigation system, leather seats and sunroof. The 2,590-pound car is light because it lacks a lot of the stuff that makes cars heavy, things like a navigation system, leather seats and sunroof. Plus, a Cooper S is supposed to be fun but economical, and the combination of options we'd chosen had already racked the total up to $24,750.
Purity of mission is great and all, but we're not Neanderthals. In went heated seats and a center armrest. Here in Santa Monica, California, the temperature can drop to as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep hypothermia and frostbite at bay, the $270 heated front seats are cheap insurance. Since they were such a deal, we threw in the center armrest for another $200 and we were out the door for a grand total of $25,220.
Our car is equipped with electric speed-sensitive power steering, which increases in responsiveness along with the throttle when the "Sport" button is pushed. That's not the only electronic wizardry at play. Our Mini has a gizmo list befitting a 7 Series, consisting of all-season traction control (ASC), corner brake control (CBC) and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD). With all three systems turned on, it's easier to play Beethoven's Fifth than it is to get the Mini out of shape on a twisty back road.
Why We Bought It
When our year with that Electric Blue Metallic 2002 Cooper S was over we wrote, "After nearly 20,000 miles behind the wheel, we definitely learned a few things that any prospective purchaser would be wise to consider. For one, unless you absolutely have to have the most performance possible (now represented by the John Cooper Works package), forgo the Sport package and stick with the smaller 16-inch wheels and tires. They offer more than enough grip to satisfy even the most aggressive driver, and the added comfort around town will make day-to-day driving that much more enjoyable. Another point to consider is whether you really care to row your own gears. Given the Mini's lack of low-end power, inching along in traffic can be tiresome with the six-speed manual — the only transmission available on the Cooper S."
Advice we've obviously ignored.
But there's more to it than our own damaged psyches. The 2007 Mini Cooper S might look the same as its predecessor, but it's a completely different car underneath that skin.
The supercharged 1.6-liter engine used since 2002 has been tossed in favor of a turbocharged direct-injection inline-4 of the same capacity. There's only 4 more horsepower than before for a total of 172, but the curve peaks at 5,500 rpm instead of 6,000. Torque is up to 177 pound-feet at just 1,600 rpm and there's an overboost feature at full throttle that delivers up to 192 lb-ft in short bursts.
It's also quieter than the old supercharged mill, and gets better gas mileage. Despite a 0-60-mph time of just 6.5 seconds we've averaged nearly 26 miles per gallon so far, and we don't have light feet.
The new Mini handles pretty well, too. If you consider a faster slalom time than a 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo an achievement, that is. The Cooper S pulls this feat using the MacPherson strut front suspension of its forebear in conjunction with a new aluminum multilink rear setup, which is 13 pounds lighter than the previous design.
Of course we're anxious to see how all this new hardware performs over time, but more important than that, we want to know if 12 months and 20,000 miles in a 2007 Mini Cooper S (with the Sport package) will grow old as it did five years ago. Will our present admiration for the Mini be drowned out over time by its compromises in comfort and practicality?
Hopefully our pride won't let that happen, but only time and time behind the wheel will tell.
Tune in to the long-term blog pages for the results of preliminary testing and driving impressions from the road.
Current Odometer: 1,793 miles
Best Fuel Economy: 31.0 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 22.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 25.7 mpg