2002 Mini Cooper S
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Test Drive:
2002 MINI Cooper S

Story by Greg Wilson

Photos by Laurance Yap

Supercharged engine boosts horsepower by 30%

While the standard MINI Cooper is a barrel of fun to drive, its 115 horsepower 1.6 litre four cylinder engine is horsepower-poor when compared to other sporty hatchbacks like the 160 horsepower Honda Civic SiR, and 180 horsepower VW GTI 1.8T. To compete in this ‘hot hatch’ segment, the Cooper ‘S’ has a modified 1.6 litre four cylinder engine with belt-driven supercharger, intercooler, single overhead cam, and four valves per cylinder which puts out a healthy 163 horsepower at 6000 rpm – 48 more than the standard Cooper. Torque is also up significantly to 155 foot pounds from 110 foot pounds at 4000 rpm.

From the outside, MINI Cooper S models can be distinguished from regular Coopers by their front hood scoop and bigger standard 16 inch tires, but there other distinguishing features, such as painted grille slats, larger front lower grille, chrome filler cap, twin central exhaust tips, rear bumper vents, and larger rear roof spoiler. There’s also Cooper S badging on the front fenders and rear deck, and handsome stainless steel Cooper S panels on the door sills.

2002 Mini Cooper S
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2002 Cooper S models start at $29,600, and include such standard features as the six-speed manual transmission, 16 inch performance radials, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, leatherette seats, power windows and door locks, power heated mirrors, split folding rear seats, and six airbags.

My test car also had automatic climate control ($520), a ‘Panorama’ sunroof ($1300), heated front seats ($410), on-board computer ($250), and a Sport Package ($1500) which included 17 inch run-flat tires and special 5-spoke alloy wheels, front foglights, and Dynamic Stability Control. The whole package including freight came to $33,580 – not an inconsiderable sum for a small hatchback.

Driving impressions

2002 Mini Cooper S
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Though the Cooper S’ 1.6 litre four cylinder engine with a single overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder is the same size as the 1.6 litre non-supercharged engine in the Cooper, it was designed with stronger internal components to handle the extra torque and power of the supercharged engine. The intercooled supercharged engine develops 163 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 155 ft-lbs of torque at 4000 rpm compared to 115 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 110 ft-lbs torque at 4000 rpm for the unsupercharged engine. In the driver’s seat, this translates into a more responsive throttle at lower engine revolutions, quicker acceleration times, and more power available in higher gears without having to change gears so often.

Even so, I found that both the Cooper and Cooper S are difficult to launch quickly – throttle response below 2000 rpm seems weak, and the clutch seems reluctant. But from then on, the supercharged engine pulls cleanly and strongly to its 6750 rpm redline. The Cooper S zips from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.4 seconds compared to the Cooper at 9.2 seconds. (With CVT automatic transmission, the Cooper’s 0 to 100 km/h time is 10.4 seconds.)

Figures don’t tell the whole story though. Though the Cooper S is definitely quicker than the Cooper, the Cooper’s engine is more free-revving and has a nicer exhaust note. The supercharger in the Cooper S lets out a typical rotational gear whine which, though not loud, tends to muffle the sweet sounds of the four cylinder engine. And while the Cooper’s engine begs to be revved to its limit, the supercharged engine is more restrained and quite happy to maintain lower engine revs.

At a steady 100 km/h in top gear, the Cooper S’ engine does 2500 rpm, and at 120 km/h, it revs at 3000 rpm, making it a comfortable highway cruiser. Engine noise is confined to a dull buzz and I found the car quiet and comfortable at speeds approaching 120 km/h, with just a little wind noise coming from the area of the front wipers.

Its standard 6 speed manual has quick, medium-effort throws with a well-guided shift action, and the clutch has a firm but not heavy feel. There’s a nice big dead pedal to the left of the clutch pedal too. The large round shift knob feels meaty in your hand, but I found that its bright chrome trim can get hot when the car is parked outside for a while, which can make for some amusing ‘hot potato’ shifting.

On the freeway, the Cooper S has firm but comfortable ride even though my test car had the optional run-flat 17 inch tires which have shorter, stiffer sidewalls than the standard 16 inch radials. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with the larger 17 inch tires.

Like the Cooper, the Cooper S’ forte is its handling, steering and braking capabilities. At speed, turn-in is quick and responsive, handling is flat and steady, and there’s almost no dive under hard braking, a credit to its very short front and rear overhangs, and fully independent (front MacPherson struts/rear multi-link) suspension. As well, the Cooper S comes standard with four wheel disc brakes with ABS, EBD (electronic brake differential), and CBC (cornering braking control), to maintain stability under hard braking. ASC+T (traction control) is also standard equipment, while DSC (dynamic stability control) which automatically helps prevent oversteer and understeer, is available as an option for $690. You can probably do without DSC – the Cooper S is so difficult to break loose, and so forgiving when it does, that I doubt the DSC would be used very much.
An automatic transmission is not available on the Cooper S, but a new CVT (continuously variable transmission) will be available on the Cooper model.

With an overall length of 3655 mm (143.9 in.), the Cooper S is a comparatively short car (for instance, it’s 534 mm (21.0 in.) shorter than a VW GTI). The Cooper S has a tight turning circle of 10.7 metres (35 ft.) and is easy to move in and out of traffic when changing lanes, and easy to parallel parking in tight spots. However, I found its speed-sensitive electric-assist power steering to be a bit stiff at slow speeds. In addition, it makes a faint whining and whirring sound.

The Cooper S’ maneouverability is aided by its excellent outward visibility to the front, side and rear – and I noted that its two rear head restraints can be lowered almost flush with the top of the seat when not in use so as not to obstruct visibility to the rear.

I experienced a couple of problems with my test car. When cold, it wouldn’t start on the first crank, but did start up the second time around. I was told that Mini Canada is aware of this problem, and is alerting owners. Also, there was a rattling sound coming from the right rear of the vehicle, the source of which I could not find. And the chrome fuel cap would not lock because it was broken.

Interior is flashy

Mini Cooper S

Mini Cooper S

2002 Mini Cooper S
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Like the Cooper, the Cooper S has a boldly styled interior with a large speedometer in the middle of the dashboard, a tachometer mounted on the steering column, and plenty of aluminium-look trim on the dash and doors. In the Cooper S, the metallic looking trim is a dark grey colour with uneven patterns that look unusual. To my eyes, it looks like someone left a shoeprint on the dash.

The front bucket seats are carved out in a smooth, enveloping shape that offers excellent lateral support. They are manually adjustable for height, lumbar support, tilt, and recline. My car had optional two-tone blue and black leather seats with seat heaters which looked great, but I’ve also tried the standard ‘leatherette’ seats, and in my opinion, they are just as supportive and almost as good looking. The two rear seats are comfortable for people up to about six feet tall, but if the front passengers have long legs, there simply isn’t enough legroom for the rear passengers.

The car’s wide front doors, and automatically sliding front seats make it relatively easy to get in to the rear seats – but I found it difficult to readjust the backrests after the rear passengers are inside.

All the instruments are backlit in a bright orange/red colour which looks impressive at night – especially the huge central 240 km/h speedometer. The tachometer however, is partly obscured by the steering wheel. I noted the tachometer’s redline, which begins at 6750 rpm, is illuminated.

My car had optional automatic climate control – a central dial lets you choose a temperature indicated by a bright red numerals, and the system does the rest. Still, I’m not sure if I would pay the extra $500 for this. The standard AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers offers clear, rich sound but I found the tiny volume knob to be irritating. There are two cupholders in the lower console, but they are positioned under the dash so that large soft drink cups won’t fit in them. Perhaps my biggest beef was the car’s lack of storage space. There are big door pockets, but no console storage areas. Rear passengers, however, have two decent storage bins next to their side armrests. The rear windows do not flip out or roll down.

The 50/50 split rear seats fold down for greater cargo carrying versatility – a good thing, because the trunk is very small – it will hold about four grocery bags. With one or both rear seats folded down, cargo space doubles or quadruples. The rear hatch is easy to lift up and locks and unlocks with the remote key fob.

My test car had the optional ‘Panorama’ dual sunroofs: the front sliding glass sunroof tilts or slides back over the rear sunroof, but the rear sunroof is fixed – however, it adds extra light to the rear seating area. Sliding, perforated sunshades keep out the glare when necessary.

Standard safety features are extensive, including dual front and side airbags for front passengers, head curtain airbags for all passengers, side impact door beams, safety belt pretensioners, doors that automatically unlock in a crash, front and rear crumple zones, battery safety terminal, four height-adjustable head restraints and four three point seatbelts.

Competitor overview

Competitors for the $29,600 MINI Cooper S include the 180 horsepower turbocharged VW Golf GTI 1.8T ($25,895), 160 horsepower Honda Civic SiR ($25,500), 160 horsepower Acura RSX Premium ($27,000), 160 horsepower Ford Focus SVT ($N.A.), 165 horsepower Subaru Impreza 2.5RS ($26,995), 180 horsepower Toyota Matrix XRS ($24,540), 180 horsepower Pontiac Vibe GT ($26,550), 180 horsepower Toyota Celica GT-S ($30,860), and 165 horsepower Nissan Sentra SE-R sedan ($19,998).

Of these, the Cooper S has the highest base price (except for the Celica), and is the smallest car with the smallest trunk. However, the Cooper S back seat has more headroom than coupes like the Celica and RSX. Performance-wise, the Cooper S is quicker from 0 to 100 km/h than all but the Celica yet offers the best average fuel consumption. The Cooper S’ handling and vehicle dynamics are at or near the top of their class, and it’s level of standard safety equipment it also class-leading. Its styling too, is arguably the best in its class.

Prices and options

Though it’s well-equipped for its base price of $29,600, there are many options available. A Sport Package ($1,500) includes 205/45R-17 inch performance run-flat tires mounted on 17 inch ‘S-Spole’ alloy wheels, front fog lights, and DSC III (dynamic stability control). A Premium Package ($1,350) includes a multi-function steering wheel with cruise control, heated front seats, automatic climate control, and map and vanity lights. And a Navigation Package ($3,100) consists of a navigation system with on-board computer and CD map for Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and the 401.)

Popular individual options include a six-disc CD changer ($695), Harmon Kardon Sound System ($795), automatic climate control ($520), leather seats ($2,200), heated seats ($450), Panorama glass sunroof ($1,300), multi-function steering wheel with cruise control ($450), foglights ($220), DSC III ($690), Park Distance Control ($450), and metallic paint ($600).


Lots of street appeal, driving fun and good fuel economy are its high points, but the trunk is small, interior storage space is limited, and the price is relatively high.

Technical Data: 2002 MINI Cooper S

Base price $29,600
Options $ 3,980
Price as tested $33,580
Type 2-door, 4-passenger hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.6 litre 4 cylinder, SOHC, 16 valves, supercharged
Horsepower 163 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 155 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 6 speed manual
Tires Pirelli Euphoria 205/45R-17 inch run-flat
Curb weight 1215 kg (2679 lb.)
Wheelbase 2467 mm (97.1 in.)
Length 3655 mm (143.9 in.)
Width 1688 mm (66.5 in.)
Height 1416 mm (55.7 in.)
Trunk capacity 150 litres (5.3 cu. ft.) seats up; 670 litres (23.7 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City: 9.6 l/100 km (29 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.5 l/100 km (44 mpg)
Fuel Premium unleaded
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/120,000 km

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