June 13, 2011

Mini Cooper S

We decided recently as the weather has gotten nicer to find some convertibles and do a series of Summer Cars.  Car #1 of our Summer Car Series is a 2011 Mini Cooper S Convertible.  This is a brand that was “rebooted” here in the States back in 2001.  We have been seeing Mini’s everywhere recently and have just never really given them that much thought.  Mini drivers do tend to be in our way quite often, but that has more to do with our not so polite driving style than the cars themselves.  To get to the truth, we had to see for ourselves.

We were worried about the space available inside of a Mini.  After moving the manual seat back, we fit surprisingly well.  The “little people” joke is getting stale, so we won’t use it here, even though it still applies.  There is very little leg room behind the driver and front passenger seats.  Pretty much the only reason the back seat is there, is if you own a labra-doodle then it could lounge across both back seats.  There are two sets of LATCH mounts for the kids, but adult humans will prefer to drive their own vehicle than try to fit in the back of the Mini.
The giant circle in the middle is the speedometer.
The “been eating too much fast food and it’s starting to show” speedometer is located in the middle of the dash for all of the car and the car tailing you to see.  Seriously, it’s almost eight inches in diameter.  The bottom third of the large speedo is the media center, which was small and difficult to read and navigate compared to a number of models that we’ve driven recently.  We were able to change the radio station, but only after a couple minutes of focusing all of our attention (we don’t have any to spare…) on just that task.  Fortunately it was a long stoplight and didn’t take away from any of our playtime. 
The window switches, lock/unlock switch, and seat heaters are located under the climate control near the gear shift.  The salesperson told us the windows were auto up/down, but every time we tried, we had to hold the button to get it to go all the way up/down.  The climate control was easy to use and responded well to the humid day, even with the top down.  We set it at 70°F and left it alone the whole ride.  There is a meter for how much time has passed with the roof open; a legitimate dial for a statistic that has nothing to do with the car’s performance or maintenance.  This dial is a total waste of time, Mini designers and factory…
Since it’s a convertible, the roof was down before we were off the lot.  The Mini’s roof has an option to slide back the portion directly over the driver like a sunroof.  If that’s not enough, keep holding the switch in the back position and the roof will fully retract.  In the stowed position, the roof limited our view out of the rear view mirror.  Instead of seeing the wind screens of cars following us, we could only see top of their roofs…  The roof was raised and stowed at least four times to see if it was something we had done wrong.  It probably was our fault, but we couldn’t find the reason for the limited visibility.  When the roof was up, the joints and collapsible support structures were covered with hard plastic making it feel like a full roof automobile.  It was really well done.  Then again most of our experience with folding roofs is from a ’04 Jeep Wrangler and the roof structure there isn’t engineered to be aesthetically pleasing.   With the roof up, there is a wicked blind spot on the passenger side near the rear quarter panel.  It’s pretty thick, but the side mirror should help you clear this section of the car to make lane changes.  The visibility out the back with the roof up was much better than when it’s down, but still limited.  Almost all vehicles we drive feel like they have limited visibility out the back compared to the company Denali.  It helps to have side-view mirrors that are ten inches long…

                The exterior of the Mini is what we wished Chevy would have done with the re-introduced Camaro.  The outside of the Mini is a modern tribute to the throwback look of the 60’s and 70’s.  Chevy did that, but then really didn’t upgrade the interior.  The Mini’s lines haven’t changed all that much compared to the Mini’s of the past.  The roof line, headlamps, and wheels seem to be the most reminiscent of older Mini’s.  The new ones are stouter than the old ones, but that happens as you improve the car with electronics.  We don’t really have much to say about the exterior of this car.  It is a very unique look and one that few would confuse with other brands.  There are 11 different exterior colors including British racing green, but only white, red, and ice blue are free.  The other 8 colors add $500 to the sticker price.
                With the roof down and from the outside of the car, the engine noise is fantastic.  The Cooper S sounds like a throaty tuned-racing machine.  We really loved it with the top down, very guttural.  Every stoplight was another opportunity to hear it race through the gears!  We actually went looking for a street with a plethora of stoplights, so we could roar away from light after light.

                The performance of our little Mini was fantastic.  We had some difficulty getting the transmission into reverse on the way off the lot.  It’s another of those six speed manual transmissions that has you take the stick way to the left to put it into reverse, right next to first gear.  We still like the press down, beep, and move to the left from the Audi S4 to let us know we were in reverse.  Our Cooper S had a 1.6L four cylinder turbo charged engine turning out 181hp.  It worked too.  The Mini was quick.  Off the line, through traffic, and around corners the Mini responded well.  Its short wheel base allowed us to cut in and out of holes that the Denali wished were much, much bigger.  We felt like the car equivalent of those crazies on motorcycles that ride the mid-line and cut everyone off.  And with 27 city, 36 hwy, and 30 combined you almost get the same kind of mileage as the crotch rockets.  The 0 to 60 time is 6.6 seconds according to Mini (Edmunds.com), but isn’t really why we would have this car.  It felt light, tight, and quick.  With the roof down, we felt very aeronautical, like pseudo-pilots.  If they install wings, we’re pretty sure we could get it off the ground.  We achieved some fun wheel spin in this car.  On purpose, of course.  There is a sport button but we couldn’t tell a difference between it being on and off.  The sport button was supposed to tighten up the steering.  We did turn off the traction control and noticed it was easier to spin the wheels, but we were still in control of the Mini the whole time.  The brakes were great and the gear changes were smooth.  There is hill-start-assist.  When we took our foot off the brake to hit the accelerator on a hill, the Mini stayed in place until the accelerator was depressed.  There was none of the scary “I’m coming back at you” roll that most manual transmissions experience on steep inclines.

                For the price (over $34,000) we would probably stay away from this Hot Wheels car.  Just a little more money gets you two more cylinders, a half inch of legroom in the back, and a BMW 135i.  If Mini does come to their senses and decides to give us one of these, then it will be driven hard and often.  It was a great car for a warm day and really needed to be driven a little longer for us to find a true flaw (other than the sticker price) that would turn us away from it. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your assessment of the Mini's dials and controls. I borrowed a friend's for a date with my wife, and trying to figure out how to change the radio stations and adjust the volume was unnecessarily complicated. Same with the windows. And the speedometer right in the middle? I guess you'd get used to it, but my instinct after decades of driving is to look through the spokes of my steering wheel to see how fast I'm going, not to the middle of the console. I can see no reason for this, and found it to be incredibly annoying. And visibility out of the rear-view mirror was shockingly limited, too. Overall, it was a fun car to drive in many ways, but the designers of the interior got too excited by their cleverness and forgot that good design is subservient to the user's experience - elegant at first, it should ultimately become invisible.