2007 MINI Cooper S Long-Term Road Test

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Headlights Too Bright?

July 11, 2008

miniheadlights-highbeams.jpg

The other night I was dropping my friend off at her apartment in the 2007 Mini Cooper S when this car coming from the other direction slowly drove up to us. When I looked over to see what the driver's problem was, she said annoyed, with eyes squinting, "Your brights are on." "They are?" I replied, surprised since I don't remember activating them. "Yes. They are," she said while driving away.

I looked at the dash. Nope, no high beam icon. Then I pulled the headlight stalk to see if it the high beams were on. Nope, they weren't. Silly lady just mistook the Mini's xenons (part of the Sport package) for brights. Whatev.

I'm not the best Photoshop artist but above on the right is what my driveway (and that SUV) looks like with the brights on, the left is when they're off. When they're bright, they're really bright.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 18,058 miles

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Retro Grade

June 02, 2008

Styled. That's what the Mini's problem is. It's been styled to have all the retro cues that you can fit in a car this small. It's got a big (obnoxious) center mounted speedometer...

It's also got toggle switches (their coolness neutered by guards) and a retro-y font on the gauges. It incorporates the Mini's winged logo into the steering wheel as well as echoing that design in the climate control. It's got a huge old-timey looking gas pedal that was no doubt influenced by early cars which were influenced by planes. I imagine they would have styled in prohibition and mutton chops into the interior if they had more room.

The radio has been styled into uselessness in the most German of traditions; unlabeled buttons. Apparently, the buttons even have multiple uses. But I wouldn't know because I didn't bother to learn them. "But why didn't you just read the manual?" I can hear you cry. I'm sorry, but reading the manual for how to operate a radio is like having to read the manual on how to operate your toaster. If it was well designed to begin with, I wouldn't have to. But that's just it, it wasn't designed it was styled.

All of this seems a big stink to make about such a little thing. But in all honesty, if the car wasn't so good the silly interior wouldn't stand out as being so bad. I really like how it drives. It pulls hard, the steering is great and so are the brakes.

Let's look back then on the interior of an original Mini. To be specific, an Austin Mini Cooper S Mk II. Notice its distinct lack of styling and unnecessary details. Maybe Mini, or BMW or whoever, can style some of their styling out of the next Mini and let us focus on how good the car really is instead of spending time reading the manual to decipher the radio.

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Likes the Rain

February 22, 2008

The roads were half-dried from last night's rainstorm -- dry enough to justify a quick back-roads drive in our 2007 Mini Cooper S before heading to the office.

There aren't many words I haven't already used to describe this car's handling, but suffice to say the Mini can be even more fun when traction is low. It still bites into corners the way I like, but you have to be a little more alert at the steering wheel to mind the tail. Damp bits of pavement, ruts, a little extra throttle -- all will get it wagging just a bit. Nothing dangerous, mind you. This is all play for a Mini Cooper S.

During harder rain yesterday evening, I noticed that the Cooper S has a rain-sensing function for its front wipers. Whether you have them in intermittent or regular mode, the speed automatically varies, so they're not constantly wiping at the glass when you're stopped at a traffic light.

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Buy the Premium Stereo

February 06, 2008

The Mini's crummy stereo

A few editors, including myself, have written about the Mini's stupidly designed audio controls (here and here). Last night I discovered that the stereo has sound quality to match. For reasons too uninteresting to discuss, I still carry around a full catalogue of CDs with me and last night I decided to pop in the new Muse album I downloaded from iTunes recently. It sounded awful, with virtually no mid range and the speakers sounded as if they were encased in mud. Having never listened to the CD before and knowing iTunes files can differ in quality, I immediately popped in a store-bought Coldplay CD and it too sounded awful...

There are violins in the song "In My Place," but you can't hear them in the Mini. I fiddled with the equalizer levels, but nada.

I remember the last-generation Cooper S having poor sound quality, so I'm venturing to guess this is typical. Hopefully it's a speaker problem (there's six), because there's certainly no way to replace the head unit. There's a 10-speaker Premium Hi-Fi Stereo option available for $500, or you can get it bundled in the $1,500 premium package that includes a panaramic sunroof and automatic climate control. Either way, it's an absolute must-buy because the base stereo is garbage.

James Riswick, Associate Editor @ 11,142 miles

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Tiny Annoyance

January 16, 2008

Getting into our long-term Mini always feels like a treat, but the logic of its stereo head unit is a continual irritation. Fortunately, it will only bother people like me who still listen to CDs. Here's the deal: Often, if the previous driver was listening to the radio, the Mini's stereo will not switch formats when you insert a CD. If I want to hear my CD, I have to tap the "audio" button a couple times or hit audio and use the twister knob...

Not a big deal, but between this and the stereo's tendency to restart CD tracks that were in progress the last time you shut off the car, it's clear this is not the most ergonomic interface Mini could have come up with.

Aside from that issue, I'm looking forward to putting my affection for the car on the line this weekend when I drive it to Flagstaff, Arizona.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 9,510 miles

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Road Trip Buddy

November 13, 2007

This weekend, I put some serious miles on our long-term 2007 Mini Cooper S. Great little car. Spunky as hell, quick, a blast to drive. And despite its relative ubiquity in Southern California, people look at it...

I zipped up the Central Coast via highway 101, past Santa Barbara and out to Route 1 as soon as I could. The Mini was a rocket on the highway and handled side roads with aplomb, even out by the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Reserve, where sand covered parts of the road.

We covered all kinds of territory, and the Mini impressed with its very direct steering and excellent power. High-speed highway cruising was a blast, and on tight roads through state parks, it gripped the road tightly. And whether appearing every bit its mini self against Morro Rock . . .

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Customization

September 24, 2007

Miniusa.com

The customization aspect of the new Mini Cooper has always been one of the car's major strengths in my opinion. The range of features and styling choices for the car (Mini says there are 10,000,000 different permutations for the second-generation) remind me of the customization possible on Porsche's cars. The only problem is that adding a lot of cool stuff results in a not-so-mini price.

Building your own Mini can be good waste of a few minutes. Our long-term car comes pretty close to how I'd want mine if I were buying a Cooper S. But there are two missing features that I'd have to get.

Cruise control: Yep, doesn't come standard, and it's a drag not having it on our car. The Premium Package includes cruise/audio steering-wheel controls plus the double sunroof and automatic climate control. But if you only want cruise control, $1,400 is pretty steep. You can order the multifunction wheel separately for $330.

Get Rid Of The Dopey Speedometer: I wish this was an option, but it's not. The closest you can get is to order the $2,100 Navigation/Computer. But $2,100? Sheeh.

For that kind of cash, I'd really hope to get something more. A Buck Rogers Dr. Theopolis option, for instance. Not that would be worth $2,100.

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2007 Mini Cooper S: Complaint by Numbers

September 07, 2007

2007 Mini Cooper S Interior -- Photo by Scott Jacobs

I love the new Mini. The engine is superb, the seats no longer make my lower back go numb, and it's still an absolute hoot to drive. But the interior irks me. I think the design in terms of aesthetics is better than the old one (I'm actually OK with the center-mounted speedo), but look up "form over function" on Wikipedia and a picture of the Mini's center stack will be displayed along with some inaccurate information. Also, there are several basic features that should be standard, but aren't.

So let's play a little game I call complaint by numbers.

1) The volume knob is here. The radio controls are located at No. 2, about five inches away. How did this make sense to anybody? Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if we had ordered the multifunction steering wheel, but we didn't. I've driven this car a lot, yet when going to turn up the volume I still reach for...

2) iDrive Jr. This little knob controls too many features, and trying to use the thing while the stiff suspension clips and clops over rough pavement is a delicate act that should only be attempted by tattoo artists. They should have fit more buttons into the huge speedometer space, killed iDrive Jr., and moved the volume knob where it belongs.

3) Oh cute, the manual HVAC controls are shaped like the Mini logo. Too bad they're ergonomically stupid. The most frequently adjusted functions (fan speed and temperature) are operated by thumb wheels that require a very awkward thumb movement to operate. The automatic climate control unit improves things somewhat.

4) Our Mini doesn't have cruise control. Yes, we didn't order it, but it's absolutely ridiculous that it isn't standard. It's also not a stand-alone option, you have to order it with the $1,400 Premium Package that includes the dual-pane sunroof, automatic climate control and multifunction steering wheel. Cruise is standard on the Honda Fit Sport and Nissan Versa SL. ****

5) At least we ordered heated seats for a car that will spend 93.4 percent of its life in Southern California. Go figure.

James Riswick, Associate Editor @ 3,736 miles

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