First of all, the Mini Cooper S is not a toy – it's a real car. It's a real sports car. It just looks like something that comes in a box.
Despite the go-kart exterior and really, really cute interior, the Mini Cooper S is a true car. The proof is on the road where its turbo-charged engine, slick shifting transmission, and sports suspension reign supreme.
The 172 horses of the turbo 1.6L inline four cylinder launch the Mini to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. But hit the loud pedal too hard and the front-driver turns squirrelly – too much power overwhelms the front wheels and torque steering ensues. The front end slews back and forth until forward grip is established. That's why high performance sports cars are rear-wheel drive.
But, apply measured power and the Mini scoots. The six-speed manual transmission shifts quickly and accurately, helped by a smooth clutch.
Head into a challenging curve and the Mini steering feels like it's on center. The faster you go the more it digs into the curve. The Mini, like other nice-handling vehicles, makes drivers feel as if they are on the racetrack. Daytona, here we come.
The great handling payback comes with the ride. Occupants not only feel the bumps, they can identify their characteristics: rolling, sharp, corrugated, pebbles. The ride on expressways is firm bordering on bumpy. At 80 mph there's still plenty of accelerator pedal left.
Just because the Mini has cruise control doesn't mean it should go cross country. It will turn in 36 mpg on the road and 29 mpg around town.
|Mini Cooper S
•Engines: 1.6L turbo I-4
•Dimensions: 97.1" wheelbase; 146.2" length
•Base price: $21,200; As tested $28,850
•Fuel economy: 29/36 mpg
Aside from good fuel economy, the Mini Cooper S isn't that practical. The back seat room is nil. Trunk space? Maybe.
The exterior captures the look of the original 1959 British Mini. This one is still built in the United Kingdom but under the auspices of BMW.
The base price of the S model is $21,200. Togged out, it tested at $28,850. That included sports suspension, piano black interior surfaces, rear fog lights and a dual sunroof. The S also adds a fake air scoop and there are all sorts of striping available.
Inside, a center-mounted analog speedometer dominates the instrument panel. The necessary tachometer is right in front of the driver, mounted on the steering wheel. It also has a digital speedometer.
The three-spoke steering wheel is well padded and the driving position excellent. There's plenty of legroom up front.
The Mini Cooper S is the kind of vehicle you want to take outside and play with. Ok, so maybe it is a little bit like a toy after all.