Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted November 19, 2010 12:06
Fun is a one letter word
When BMW took over the iconic British car brand, the motoring world was eager for what would come out of the new Mini... and they would not disappoint. They stayed true to the design and engineering values that the original Cooper held dearly, and now with a 2nd generation model, the Cooper takes those elements a bit further.
The look is still classic Mini with the modern touches. While it may not look it, the 2nd generation MINI Cooper has significant design changes over the 1st gen model like the new front end and redesigned rear. There are more marked changes in the interior, featuring the unusual layout and design, with recurring motifs of the brands logo, seemingly odd shapes and controls.
Before you start thinking that this MINI Cooper S is just some funky retro style statement, think again. It's a truly red-blooded performance car, and there are many obvious cues. The tachometer stares the driver in the face, just behind the steering wheel, just as most racing cars do. The steering wheel is perfectly shaped for vigorous driving, and the seats offer plenty of support. Since BMW owns the MINI brand, there are BMW-style paddle shifters (push to shift down, pull to shift up to complement the shifter on the center console. There are buttons to deactivate stability control and next to it is the button to activate sport mode for the transmission. These touches are subtle, but to the mind of an performance enthusiast, they are essential.
Being a Cooper S, what lies underneath the retro skin is the pumped up version of the standard Cooper's British built 1.6 liter, twin cam, 16-valve inline four engine. To boost power, literally, from the standard 120 horsepower, MINI engineers installed a twin scroll turbo system, bringing the grand total for the powerplant to a very respectable 173 horsepower, minus the turbo lag. Nail the throttle and the front wheels madly spin forward, kept in check by the traction control system. Once they are able to lay the power down, the Cooper S reaches the 100 km/h mark in just 7.3 seconds, and tops out at 220 km/h.
While those power and acceleration figures aren't mind blowing on their own, having them at the heart of a light car car is. At 1200 kilos, the Cooper S is assured of a high 142 hp per tonne power to weight ratio. And with super short overhangs, thanks to having all the wheels pushed out as far as possible (read: like a go kart), it's an obvious observation that the Cooper S is a definite handler.
To match the inherent dynamics in the design, the suspension has been likewise tuned to deliver supreme handling and sharpness. It may be a bit bumpy on city streets, but take it out on a mountain road such as this and the Cooper S comes alive like no other. Turn in and the Cooper remains remarkable flat. Hitting any apex is easy and oddly enough, there's quite a hint of oversteer, unusual for a front wheel drive car as the rear exhibits a willingness to play around, and thus shutting off DSC isn't really for the faint of heart.
The Cooper S comes as a smart, sharp little package, and proves that you don't need big engines and big power to have such a big smile on your face.