2007 Mini Cooper Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2007 Mini Cooper

Gary Anderson and Barry Brazier
© 2007 NewCarTestDrive.com

With the Mini still capable of generating smiles on both owners and passersby five years after the introduction of the first generation model, the completely new 2007 Mini Cooper still thankfully displays the same insouciant appearance and offers the same fun-loving performance.

To meet European environmental and mileage requirements, BMW designed a completely new engine for the 2007 Mini Cooper in cooperation with Peugeot. It produces approximately the same horsepower as before: 120 in the Cooper and 175 in the Cooper S. But the devil lies in the details. A turbocharger in the Cooper S in place of the old supercharger produces 177 pound-feet of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm, significantly improving the sportier model's performance.

The new engine, as well as new European pedestrian safety standards, required that BMW redesign the front panels. To maintain overall design integrity, the stylists chose to tweak the contours of all other panels. Nevertheless, without the old model to compare, most observers would have difficulty spotting the changes. The Mini still is most aptly described as looking like a cheery English bulldog.

There are changes in the headlamps and turn signals, now mounted on the chassis instead of attached to the hood, but they retain their large oval shape. Combined with the broad grille, chrome on the Cooper and black mesh on the Cooper S, the car has the same smiley face as before.

The interior has been redesigned to increase space, but continues to pay homage to the Mini heritage. The speedometer, now larger than ever, is still placed prominently in the center of the dashboard, with the tachometer conveniently mounted behind and moving with the tilting steering wheel.

Though the Mini is still the smallest four-passenger car on the road in North America, the interior is large enough to accommodate all sizes of drivers and front passengers in comfort, and the rear seats are actually functional, if not capacious. With the hatchback and folding rear seats, the car can even haul reasonable amounts of gear.

Recognizing that the Mini appeals to a broad range of buyers, from young single professionals to golden-age retired couples, BMW has responded with a quantum increase in styling options, with choices not only in upholstery style, material and color, but also in trim panels, accent panels, and ambient lighting.

With the long list of optional upgrades, buyers can easily go from the economy-level entry price, promised to be increased only slightly from 2006, right up into the near-luxury class, but BMW quality may convince many customers that's a reasonable trade-off.

Model Lineup

Mini Cooper ($18,050); Mini Cooper S ($21,850)

Walk Around

The new Mini is still unmistakably a Mini. Though forced to extensively redesign the car for safety, mechanical, and manufacturing considerations, BMW designers were reluctant to risk messing with a successful formula. Anyone who is not already a Mini owner will have difficulty distinguishing the new Mini from the old one, unless the two are side by side. Nevertheless, though the same chassis has been used, there is not a single exterior panel that is common between the two cars.

The front of the Mini had to be restyled to conform to more rigid European restrictions on exterior panel shapes for pedestrian safety, as well as to adapt to the shape of the new engine. However, because the designers didn't wish to alter the iconic bulldog image of the new Mini, the remainder of the car had to be restyled as well.

Close inspection of the exterior shows that in almost all areas, the design and execution of trim features is upgraded from the 2006 model, with examples such as the incorporation of turn signals into the headlamp clusters, incorporation of the headlamp clusters into the fenders but fitting through openings in the hood (in contrast to the previous model which had the headlamps built into the hood), and the grille.

Interior

Describing the new model, the designers call it evolutionary on the outside, revolutionary on the inside. However, since major design cues have been retained, revolutionary may be too strong a word. The interior still has a sporty feeling, though now a bit less extreme, with the enlarged round speedometer in the center of the dash, and the tachometer mounted on and moving with the tilt-adjustable steering column to remind owners of the classic Mini heritage.

Audio controls have been moved from the center stack into the bottom half of the speedometer dial and the heating and air conditioning controls on the optional automatic climate controls have been compressed into a smaller Mini-wing shaped cluster. These changes reduce the width of the center stack which increases knee and leg room in the foot wells, a complaint in the previous model.

For a car that has the smallest exterior of any four-passenger car on the road, the Mini is surprisingly spacious inside. Even a six-foot, five-inch driver will be comfortable in the front seat, and the three manual levers, controlling height, rake, and front-rear position, allow both driver and passenger to find a comfortable sitting position.

Having had the experience of driving 5000 miles in 15 days in the 2006 model, I can attest to the surprising comfort of the seats and driving position of the car. The few changes that have been made in the seats in the 2007, improving the shape and position of the bolsters, have only improved these characteristics.

Upholstery and trim has been upgraded, with the range of customizing possibilities expanded for 2007. At the one extreme, by electing sport seats with leather and contrasting cloth trim and metal accents and ambient lighting, the buyer can create a very trendy, fast-and-furious interior look. At the other extreme, by electing all-English leather seats with contrasting piping, trim panels matching the piping color, and real wood accents, a more conservative buyer can evoke an upscale, almost Rolls-Royce appearance on the interior.

Heating and air-conditioning controls in the base model are straight-forward, but owners can also elect the automatic climate control system, cleverly configured in the shape of the winged Mini logo, which maintains a constant temperature dialed in by the occupants.

The audio system controls, now built into the speedometer dial, are almost too clever for their own good, sacrificing ease of control for design symmetry. For example, though the tuning knob is in the audio cluster, the volume knob is placed below the speedometer in the center stack, closer to the HVAC controls than to the audio controls.

A six-CD changer, or an alternative plug-in connector that allows control of an MP3 player, are options (they both plug in to the same circuit in the audio system) for owners who wish to have more musical variety, and an optional Sirius satellite radio receiver is available as well. An upgraded 10-speaker Harman-Kardon audio system is also available. However, the integrated design of the audio controls in the speedometer dial will make it nearly impossible to fit any other aftermarket sound system.

Cosmetically, the audio and HVAC controls are one feature that nearly every reviewer has criticized. Made obviously of plastic, with a matte-gray in finish, the controls could be described as being refugees from a Buzz Lightyear remote control system. With their prominent positioning, they detract from the otherwise high-quality interior appointments.

A navigation system is optional, and if elected, replaces the central speedometer with a round screen of the same size as the speedometer, which has a central rectangular navigation and display screen, surrounded by a digitally generated needle displaying vehicle speed around the perimeter of the dial.

BMW has carried forward from the previous model chrome toggle switches that look like something out of an aircraft or racecar cockpit. Positioned a

Driving Impressions

Driving this car first on the technically challenging racetrack at Zandvoort in the Netherlands, and then on the streets and highways around Barcelona, we found it sporting to drive and comfortable at the same time. Though changes in the suspension, the increased torque of the engine, and the incorporation of the electromechanical assisted steering make the car easier and safer to drive fast than the previous model, the satisfying responsiveness of the previous model, called go-kart-like by nearly everyone who drove it, is no longer an obvious trait.

The new engine is the major and most obvious change in the 2007 Mini. To meet increasingly stringent European environmental regulations, which now focus on both mileage and CO2 emissions, BMW realized several years ago that the Tritec engine that had been jointly developed by Chrysler and Rover for the first-generation new MINI would have to be replaced. Development of the new engine was jointly funded by Peugeot and BMW, with BMW doing the engineering design and Peugeot seeing to manufacturing considerations. As used in the Mini, the engine is manufactured in the BMW Hams Hall engine plant in England.

In its basic form as used in the Cooper, the new engine has the same capacity and produces approximately the same 120 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque as the previous engine. However, with BMW Valvetronic variable-valve technology using European standards (U.S. EPA tests are not yet available), the engine is now rated at 31 mpg in urban use and 51 mpg on the highway, better than many hybrids, and CO2 emissions are significantly reduced.

In the turbocharged form with direct fuel injection as used in the Cooper S that we drove, the engine gives the car very sporting performance. The 175 horsepower is more than adequate in the lightweight Mini to produce speeds twice most legal limits, but the 177 pound-feet of torque, which can be overboosted to 190 pound-feet for short intervals, and is available from 1700 rpm to 5000 rpm, is nothing short of marvelous. A sport button control gives quicker response from accelerator and steering.

The turbo engine takes the Mini from 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds, reflecting a slight turbo hesitation at the start, but produces satisfying acceleration at all speeds once in motion. Even on the track at Zandvoort, with its frequent elevation changes and notoriously tight hairpin corners, the car turned its fastest laps with the transmission left in third gear. Even with that performance, the turbo is still rated at 28 mpg urban and 41 mpg extra-urban in the European mileage tests.

The Cooper S comes standard with a sport-tuned suspension, but its behavior is still much more refined than other cars capable of similar track speeds. Using the MacPherson Strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension adapted from the BMW Z4, the car is flat and stable in corners, and absorbs most bumps without discomforting passengers.

Though this model still has the same short wheelbase as its predecessor, and the same tight turning radius, BMW has retuned the suspension to reduce its oversteer potential so that even with radical changes in throttle or brakes in the middle of corners, the car never feels at risk of spinning out.

This feeling of composure has been heightened through the programming of the electromechanically assisted steering, which uses an electric motor, instead of hydraulics, to alter and enhance driver steering input. Because the steering is still mechanically connected to the front wheels, this system can't be called drive-by-wire, and the driver still has a feel for the road and the car's changing cornering force can be felt through the wheel.

However, the system can alter the steering ratio and force required to make directional changes. This is most apparent in tight, slow parking lot maneuvers where very little effort or wheel motion is needed to make large changes in direction. In comparison, at highway

The Mini Cooper has offered since its introduction as a 2002 model a satisfying combination of peppy performance, a distinctive bulldog appearance, and custom ordering of a variety of trim and color options in advance of production at a very reasonable price. Though significantly re-engineered to meet BMW and environmental standards, the new models haven't changed this success formula, but simply improved on it.

MC2 editor Gary Anderson filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Amsterdam, with Barry Brazier in Barcelona.

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