The Mini Cooper S: A personal test drive

Posted By on October 27, 2005

MiniCooper S
Yeah Baby … I had fun driving this little puppy! I had a chance to test drive a friend’s 2004 BMW MiniCooper ‘S’ in Northeastern Ohio. I’ve looked with envy at these little go carts since their re-introduction, and have been waiting for an opportunity to buzz around a bit. It was fun.

John BJohn was quick to toss me the keys and let me zip around some corners … and ‘zip’ is the optimum word.

Center Exhaust

The short wheel based, ground hugging ‘shoebox’ handled like very few other vehicles. Its ‘run flat’ low profile tires stuck like glue to the cold asphalt and the BMW like control was very precise. I really enjoyed the super tight handling characteristics.
Perhaps the telltale sign of a higher performance ‘S’ model is the center exhaust, that and the ‘S’ on the rear hatch. From the front, the functioning scoop cools the super charger and boosts the standard 115 HP/110 lb. ft. to 163HP/155 lb. ft., impressive for a 1.6 liter gasoline engine. Unfortunately the even the S model with a 6 speed transmission left me wanting. It failed to impress me while I navigated some traffic filled streets as there wasn’t any low rpm torque. The ‘git up and go’ was really missing when the revs were low; maybe I’m too accustomed to the low end torque available in a ‘tuned’ diesel?
Hood Scoop
For those of you unfamiliar with the Mini, it was introduced in England in 1959 and has a transversely-mounted engine and front wheel drive. This was unique for cars in the fifties and sixties but is the norm today. The original Mini was a tiny, boxlike two-door sedan about ten feet long and hold four people ‘with’ luggage in surprising comfort. The designer was Alec Issigonis and within a short period of time his Mini design theme became mainstream.
MiniCooper S Engine
The original Mini was powered by an 850 cc engine, enlarged later to 997, 1071, and ultimately 1275cc. The old Mini’s engine was a pushrod overhead valve design, where the new engine has an overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. In the early 1960s, Formula One builder John Cooper was called upon to improve Mini performance, and the Mini Cooper was born. (there is a John Cooper Works version of the mini today as well) The racing world primarily tuned the 1275cc engine in the early days where they now have a whopping 1600cc to work with. The Mini’s most famous win was not on a race track. It was at the Monte Carlo Rally, in 1964. One of the progenitors of today’s World Rally Championship, the Monte Carlo Rally (or, in French, Rallye Monte Carlo) was – and is, as it continues today – run over regular European roads in the depths of winter. Slippery conditions were and are the norm, with plenty of snow and ice, especially as Hopkirk and co-driver/navigator Henry Liddon started from Minsk, then in the Soviet Union. The Mini’s traction, Hopkirk’s driving, and Liddon’s navigation beat all competitors, even those with considerably more power and factory money behind them. The win was not a fluke; Minis went on to win the next three Monte Carlo Rallys in a row.

The old Mini was nicknamed “the flying shoe box” for its functional, boxy shape and diminutive size. Today’s Mini is of the same mold, although larger – at 12 feet long versus 10 – and more rounded in the front. Cooper S models, have a functional hood scoop to feed the intercooler. Although the Mini Cooper is small, it is a fully-functional car, with more interior space than some much larger sports coupes. Six-footers can fit comfortably in the front buckets, and two adults can fit in the rear as well. The rear hatch opens and provides storage behind the rear seat. The battery is in the rear and although the car is without a spare, it does have low profile $200+ a piece 205/45 VR17 ‘run flat’ Goodyear tires. Did I mention it “sticks like glue?” Fun, Fun, Fun.
MiniCooper S Interior
I found it very comfortable and was impressed with all the switches ‘literally at my fingertips.’ With my hand on the gear shift I was practically able to control every creature comfort feature, including windows.
MiniCooper S Dash
The original mini had a four-speed gearbox; the S has a 6-speed Getrag box that is a true pleasure to shift. Low ratios in first and second make the most of what power is available below 3000 rpm, not enough IMHO. It takes off over 3000 rpm, and around 5000 there is noticeable a supercharger whine and a serious kick from the blower. Unfortunately I have forgotten how to drive a car over 5000 rpm and perhaps didn’t get to experience driving it while keeping the tach in supercharger territory.
MiniCooper Sunroof
Sunroof – WOW – this is the only photo I need to show my wife if I want to convince her that we need a Mini Cooper! There is a lot to like about this great headturning package of ‘zip’ … it is functional, fun car and can still averaged over 30 mpg.
MiniCooper Door


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