European model shown. Click image to enlarge
by Richard Russell
Many of us have fond memories of the original Mini, the tiny little four-banger, riding on the smallest wheels and tires outside the wheelbarrow store made front drive popular. In Mini Cooper and later Cooper S form, it made mincemeat out of many supposed faster cars. Judging by the success of the new Mini, the marque has lost none of its appeal, even among those too young to remember the original.
The design and execution of the 2005 Mini would shame a Rolls Royce from the era of the original Mini. While the exterior shape is the first to attract the eye, it is inside where you gain appreciation for the design craft that went into this vehicle. Despite its small dimensions it is crammed with ingenuity and neat touches. Both design and execution are remarkable. The fit, finish and quality of materials is worthy of the BMW brand especially in terms of colours and textures. The interior boasts the same centrally-mounted and prominent speedometer as the old – an affectation in several cars today but back then, a clever way of keeping costs down when producing both left and right-drive models. The big round dial still remains, but that’s all that’s carried over. There is a row of chromed toggle switches below it that control such functions as the power windows and door locks. Identical in shape, each is contained within a vertical surround.
Click image to enlarge
The driver gets a nice thick steering wheel and a hefty brace for the left foot. Visibility is one of this car’s strong suits. With vertical glass on all four sides and a low belt line, you can see clearly and very close to the car in any direction. Parking and other manoeuvres in tight quarters is a breeze – just like the original!
The Cooper S is equipped with special and very supportive Sport seats. They flip forward to reveal a surprisingly roomy space for two in the rear. Admittedly they won’t want to spend long periods of time back there or be too large, but it is bigger than you’d expect, judging by the outside dimensions. The trunk is however, small and you’d best pack lightly if going for a weekend with a companion and need the rear seat space. But, if there are only two, you can bring along the entire closet with the rear seats folded down for added space. The small trunk means no space for a spare so the Mini comes equipped with run-flat tire.
The optional sunroof is a monster – taking up much of the available roof area. The result is a positive flood of light. The front portion opens and the rear remains fixed with a mesh-type retractable cover to blot out some, but not all of the sun on bright days. However, the air conditioning is quite capable of dealing with the added solar gain.
The base engine is a 1.6 litre, single overhead cam four-cylinder produced in Brazil. Jointly designed by BMW and Chrysler prior to the latter being taken over by BMW’s arch-rival Mercedes, produces 115 horsepower and 110 lb. ft. of torque peaking at 4,500. The supercharged version used in the Cooper S, puts out 163 horsepower and a stout 155 lb. ft. 500 rpm lower. Your local friendly BMW purveyor will install a factory-engineered and warranted John Cooper Works kit developed jointly by BMW and the son of the man whose name is part of the Mini legend and the reason it is called Mini Cooper. This version pumps out a very impressive 210 horses and 177 lb. ft. at the same rpm.
Our 163-horse test car was a sheer delight with oodles of oomph from the get-go. Torque was plentiful at even very low revs making for a supremely tractable and flexible drivetrain. Although there is very little need to shift with so much grunt spread across the rev range from less than 2,000 to the rev limited, you find yourself doing so simply for the pleasure and to hear the whistle of the supercharger as it spools up to force more air into the little engine. The six-speed Getrag gearbox is a delight with short, sharp throws, positive indents for each gear and a light and positive clutch.
You have to be very careful how you drive this car, if you wish to remain licensed. It’s instant power from low rpm and squirtability in tight quarters means you are all too often going much quicker than anyone else and situations where you might be comfortable, but unaware of drawing attention to yourself.
But it is not only tight quarters and slow speeds where the Mini excels. It more than holds it own at the silly end of the speedometer as well. It will understeer as expected of a front-driver but all the way to its considerable limits it remains balanced and exhibits little lean. Our tester had the optional performance tires mounted on 17-inch duplicates of the 12-inch Minilite wheel made famous by the original Mini. Grip was stupendous, the steering razor sharp and braking of the nosebleed variety.
The ride quality is from the surprise and delight school. A small car capable of this degree of grip and flat-cornering could be expected to ride like a pogo stick, but the Mini Cooper S remains supple and comfortable over all but the nastiest surfaces. If you’re worried about slippery winter conditions, you can opt for an effective electronic stability control system – something not even dreamt of in the days of the original.
How much for these show-stopping looks, grin-producing handling and serious squirt? $30,500. You can get into a lesser Mini for $23,500 or a topless version of our tester for $36,500. Not cheap – but few truly enjoyable things in life are.
Technical Data: 2005 Mini Cooper S
|Options||$3,750 (Premium Pkg: sunroof, heated seats, multi-function steering wheel; Sport Pkg: DSC, foglights, 17 inch alloys and tires)|
|Price as tested||$35,645|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger compact hatchback|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.6 litre, SOHC, 16 valves, supercharger|
|Horsepower||163 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||155 @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||6 speed manual|
|Curb weight||1215 kg (2679 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2467 mm (97.1 in.)|
|Length||3655 mm (143.9 in.)|
|Width||1688 mm (67.0 in.)|
|Height||1416 mm (55.7 in.)|
|Trunk space||150 litres (5.3 cu. ft.) seats up|
|670 litres (23.7 cu. ft.) seats down|
|Fuel consumption||City: 9.5 L/100 km (30 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 6.3 L/100 km (45 m.p.g.)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/120,000 km|