Review: Mini Cooper S a fun ride with mini flaws


This is what you will say every time you drive a Mini Cooper S. The whole car just feels like the coolest gadget in the world, except this gadget can do 0-60 in under seven seconds and can get more than 30 miles per gallon.

This was something I had been looking forward to, I thought, as I drove over to Moritz Mini of North Arlington. I was on my way to see Phil Pattengill who would get me into what is widely referred as one of the most fun cars to drive. Not just for the money, but just a good drive period. Boy does it deliver. The Mini in both its past form and its modern form is a great drivers’ car and makes it very easy to ignore its few flaws.

The first issue to take care of is to dispel the commonly held belief that a Mini is a woman’s car. Yes, they are cute I suppose, but even if you are a man, a Mini is quite a cool car, especially if its an S model or the new John Cooper Works version. This is of course reinforced by the car’s performance.

To make the common reference, driving a Mini S does feel reminiscent of driving a large 170 horsepower go cart. It is truly brilliant. However, its ride does have a problem or two.

First is just that it is a sporty car. The ride is quite firm and you will feel it when the road is rough. This is not a problem to a driving enthusiast, but it is more of something to take note of if you are just planning on very smooth drives everywhere you go.

Second is the torque steer, which is just bad enough to possibly drive you into a tree if you accelerate without paying attention; but to a Mini enthusiast the torque steer just adds to the playful character of the car. So the Mini is playful or potentially dangerous, but at least you have six airbags.

The rack and pinion steering gives it a very communicative and heavy feel, and lets you know what your tires are doing on the road. Once you exit out of a turn then you get to use another highlight of the car.

The turbocharged engine is a joy to drive and it is just fantastic when you feel that power hit down low in the rev range. There is only a small amount of turbo lag, but that is what a gearbox is for. Just downshift and the power is right there.

With hope, you will be able to control your acceleration enough to look around at the cars retro interior. While it is all a matter of taste, myself and my co-test drivers loved the styling.

It must be said though, that there are a few things that take getting used to. You can tell the mini is a driver’s car because in front of you is only a tachometer and a small digital speedometer. The larger speedometer is mounted in the center console, with the radio or navigation unit inside of that. I personally do not like this because the digital readout jumps up and down as you accelerate as opposed to smoothly count up, and then to look at the actual speedometer you must take your eyes off the road. Then of course you get to the actual radio controls, which are a little complicated, and unless you have the navigation unit, the iPod integration is very difficult to manipulate. The rest of the interior is good with a quality finish.

The best thing about the Mini Cooper S, other than the driving dynamics and the interior, is the exterior styling. The car is all character. There is nothing else like it, and that is a rare occurrence in the automotive world. There are tons of customizable options from performance to extra lights to give the car that rally look.

Together, the car exudes character, and I adore that. It is just such a unique experience that is unlike any other car. Just take one for a test drive, if you are in the market, and realize you do not need much storage space; the Mini Cooper S is a hard package to beat.

Final thoughts: I really like the Mini. It is a quality product that maintains a balance between performance and economy. However, it is a very hard car to recommend to someone. It is a very personal decision, the car is expensive, and lacks much practicality, but if you do not need storage space, and accept the price. You get a great vehicle that even comes with BMW’s brilliant warranty.

One note though if you do buy the car. Be careful when walking around the rear end. The center mounted twin exhaust pipes protrude out from the bumper and have caused serious burns to people who accidently walk into them after driving.