This quote, culled from the introduction to our long-term road test of the 2007 Mini Cooper S, sums it up. Mechanically this second-generation Mini is a different beast from the 2002 Mini Cooper S we previously evaluated in a long-term test. It's fractionally larger, a bit more fuel-efficient and better built. We hoped these improvements would replace our memories of the exuberant but rough-riding 2002 Mini Cooper S.
We've always thought the Mini was fun, but we wanted to find out if five years of development had helped the Mini become livable, too.
Even 50 years after the stereotype took hold in the imagination of American car enthusiasts, there's a lot of negativity surrounding the reliability and practicality of British automobiles. A good deal of this can be attributed to Lucas Electronics; say that name aloud at a Jaguar convention and you're sure to make someone spew tea from his nose. Of course, the good news has always been that the new Mini isn't entirely British. BMW's ownership of Mini has provided engineering assistance and even production tooling, so it's built to the specifications that have made Germany synonymous with quality. This second-generation car's six-speed manual transmission is assembled in Germany, while the brand-new 1.6-liter inline-4 engine is produced in France in a joint venture with Peugeot. All of the parts meet in Oxford in the U.K. where they become a car.
With the international cocktail of ingredients mentioned above, you can imagine our confusion and concern when the Mini clicked over 10,000 miles without a warning from the onboard computer that an oil change might be a good idea. We got nervous and took the Mini to the dealership to make sure everything was OK.
The dealer personnel indulged us and ran the electronic information record stored in the ignition key (ah, the wonders of modern vehicle engineering), confirmed everything was in working order and then sent us on our way. As with a BMW, regular maintenance service for the Mini is free for a limited time, but the service people won't touch the car until the maintenance light turns on.
With no scheduled services on the horizon, we spent our time puncturing and repairing the Mini's tires. These run-flat Dunlop SP-Sport 01 tires were a point of contention with us from the moment the Mini hit our garage. The first tire repair was recorded at 1,318 miles, and the replacement cost came to more than $300; we ordered it from TireRack.com and installed it at Stokes Tire here in Santa Monica, California.
As it turned out, the tire had been trashed by a particularly cavernous pothole on a freeway out in the Mojave Desert and the wheel was damaged in both the incident and the ensuing trip to a service station. It was an example of the way in which a traditional space-saver spare tire would have been preferable to a run-flat tire. The replacement wheel was $550.45.
The only other expense we incurred with the 2007 Mini Cooper S was a windshield. It took a rock to the face and was damaged beyond repair. We had the glass replaced at a Mini dealership and the bottom line came to $1,231.67. Windshield replacement specialists quoted us between $400 and $500 for the same repair without Mini-branded glass. Maybe this is why windshield specialists are in business.
But, hey, at least the oil change at the dealership, of which the Mini required only one at 17,386 miles, was free.
Total Body Repair Costs: $0.00
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over  months): $0.00
Additional Maintenance Costs: $2,469.12
Warranty Repairs: 0
Non-Warranty Repairs: 1
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 0
Days Out of Service: 1
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 0
Performance and Fuel Economy
It's as easy to find blog entries extolling the merits of the 2007 Mini Cooper S's performance as it is to find a Red Sox fan in Boston. After all, this is a 2,623-pound car wearing Dunlop SP-Sport 01 summer performance tires with optional limited-slip differential, optional sport suspension and a turbocharged engine producing 172 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. And then there's the engine's overboost, a neat little computerized trick that ups the turbo boost for a short while on full throttle and gives you another 10 percent in power.
While we love the added power, we had two complaints. Torque steer was the first, and though Automotive Editor John DiPietro brought it up first, he was not the last: "Accelerate really hard from low speeds in the Cooper S and the little bugger will feint left and right in spite of its equal-length driveshafts that are supposed to eliminate torque steer. On bumpy pavement it's especially noticeable. It doesn't happen too often and is nothing that minor steering inputs can't handle. But it's still something worth mentioning." The overboost feature also led us to consider the Mini's general lack of engine instrumentation. As Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans noted, "Too bad there's no boost gauge on the Cooper S so one could see overboost happen. Come to think of it, there's no coolant temperature gauge, either. Guess Mini expects owners to drive, not worry about what's going on under the hood."
It wasn't all canyon roads and closed courses for our long-term Cooper S, and that's probably where it all went wrong for us.
First, that which makes this car a joy to drive does not make it a joy in which to ride. Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Pardilla found this out the hard way on a road trip. She said, "My brother rode shotgun with me for the trip up north to Sacramento and then back to L.A. and complained about the Mini's stiff ride the entire time." Automotive Editor James Riswick concurred: "The new Mini's seating position is much better (thank you, telescoping wheel), the seats are far more comfortable and the ride is much friendlier — although certainly on the firm side."
It was that firm ride that kept Editor in Chief Scott Oldham's prediction from becoming a reality. At the 15,000-mile mark he blogged, "Considering there are still three months to go before it must be returned to Mini, I'd say it'll pass the 20,000-mile mark during its 12 months in our fleet. And that means we like this little hatchback."
But it didn't make the mark, and we blame the car's stiff-legged ride. Although, really, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Mini went to some lengths to improve the ride quality delivered by the short-travel suspension in this second-generation car, and it succeeded by and large as we noted in our test of the 2007 Mini Cooper S. But we thought we might enjoy this car more as a sports car, so we ordered our Cooper S with the aggressive sport suspension and the performance tires, and the combination just proved to be too unpleasant on the notoriously choppy concrete pavement of Southern California's overused freeways.
But for every ding the Mini took for ride comfort, it earned a silent nod of respect for its fuel economy. Let's be frank for a moment here: This car loves to be pushed to the limits and we love to accommodate its wishes. But considering this, we were shocked to see a final fuel economy of 26.4 mpg. The best tank proved to be a remarkable 37.5 mpg (we were told by the driver involved that no hypermiling techniques were used). On the other hand, we're not sure that the driver who recorded the Mini's worst mpg over a full tank of 20.7 mpg is aware that the Mini has more than three gears and that a vast freeway system has been employed in place of those twisty mountain roads that cross the Santa Monica mountain range.
Best Fuel Economy: 37.53 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 20.72 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 26.35 mpg
In the wake of this year's escalation in fuel prices, news reports have circulated that the Mini brand is sold out for the remainder of the year. Both the standard Cooper and the wagon-style Clubman have order lists extending through 2009. This means that prospective Mini owners will be looking elsewhere for pre-owned cars, and the result is reflected in the True Market Value (TMV®) of our 2007 Mini Cooper S of $24,207.
This figure is only $1,013 lower than the MSRP of this car. Moreover, if we had calculated the TMV with the dealer resale value instead of our private party resale factor, the depreciation would have been only -1.0007 percent, a $28 net increase in value after 18,000 miles.
The only other vehicle in our long-term test fleet to manage such low depreciation is our 2007 Honda Fit Sport, which is currently maintaining a value decrease of just 1.35 percent.
True Market Value at service end: $24,207
Depreciation: $1,013 or 4.13 percent of original paid price ($25,220)
Final Odometer Reading: 18,244
As we noted long ago at the end of our long-term road test of the 2002 Mini Cooper S: "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...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."
Unfortunately we obviously ignored our own advice when it came to the 2007 Mini Cooper S. So let's put this in writing for the editorial staff of 2012, or whenever the next-generation Mini is released:
The best Mini on paper is not necessarily the one you want to own and drive for a year. Yes, the quality will be better, and the ride will have improved, and it will probably be faster and more fuel-efficient, but if you make the wrong choices on the options sheet, hitting that magic 20,000-mile mark is going to be a problem for the third time in a row. Don't say we didn't warn you.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.