The Truth About Cars » MINI The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » MINI BMW Mexico Plant To Build 150,000 Annually Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:00:06 +0000 2015-MINI-Countryman-Cooper-S-8

Though BMW may announce Thursday where in Mexico it will build its second North American plant, sources close to the matter said the plant will pump 150,000 units annually into auto trains bound for the United States.

Automotive News Europe also reports a Mexican government official claimed the new plant would come with a €1 billion ($1.36 billion USD) investment, and may either be located in the state of Hidalgo just north of Mexico City, or in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico.

The plant — following on the heels of a new Daimler-Nissan small-car factory to be built in Aguacalientes, as well as an Audi factory in San Jose Chiapa — will likely be used to build MINIs and the FWD 1 Series, with localized 3 Series assembly also speculated based on the automaker’s potential need to better compete against the U.S.-assembled Mercedes C-Class on price.

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BMW May Bring MINI Production To Mexico Fri, 16 May 2014 12:00:07 +0000 2014-MINI-cooper-yellow

Already considering a new plant in Mexico for its 1 and 3 Series, BMW may also bring MINI production to the line when the factory doors open in the near future.

Automotive News Europe reports the automaker’s execs prefer Mexico for the location of the small-car plant, proclaiming higher profits under a robust euro from building lower margin vehicles in the country’s growing manufacturing base.

The decision on where the plant will go could come sometime in the second half of 2014. Should Mexico get the nod, total annual production capacity in North America would climb to 600,000 units, the bulk of which would be fueled by the Spartanburg, S.C. plant’s 450,000 units per year.

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New York 2014: 2015 MINI Countryman Debuted Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:53:47 +0000 2015-MINI-Countryman-Cooper-S-8

The biggest MINI of them all, the Countryman, debuted its refreshed looks for the guests at the 2014 New York Auto Show.

The compact SUV still rides on its current platform, and still uses the 1.6-liter four-pot that pushes anywhere from 121 to 208 horsepower, depending upon whether the owner selects the Cooper, Cooper S or John Cooper Works trims. A six-speed manual is standard on all, with a six-speed auto available for a few more dollars. All-wheel drive is optional for the Cooper and Cooper S, standard for the John Cooper Works model.

Starting price for the 2015 Countryman is expected to be around $23,000, and will arrive in showrooms this July.

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No Replacements For MINI Coupe, Paceman, Roadster Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:38:49 +0000 2012 Mini Coupe

BMW’s MINI may not replace the Coupe, Paceman or Roadster when their day comes, opting to focus on three “pillar” models that allow the brand to be “more relevant to more people,” according to MINI head of product management Oliver Friedmann.

Automotive News Europe reports Friedmann’s first priority for MINI “is to roll out a portfolio that has strong pillars,” with each pillar being clear in what it means to the overall brand. With the original hatchback and Countryman identified as the first two pillars, a potential third pillar could come in the form of a compact model based upon the Clubman concept shown in Geneva.

As for the Coupe, Paceman and Roadster, Friedmann says the trio aren’t a priority to the brand at this time, with the possibility all three may end up in the crusher of history in the near future.

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Vellum Venom: MINI Cooper Hardtop (2012) Tue, 31 Dec 2013 12:00:03 +0000 title

The end of the year, the end of an era for a famous British Marque.  Let’s get crackin’ before the ink on the vellum dries for the (all new) 2014 model.

1Everyone knows this face, it’s Brand Recognition 101.  Or maybe 202, as the original MINI (the 100% British one) was redesigned even less regularly/extensively than the BMW-owned MINI.  Perhaps not even Ford’s iconic Mustang remained this true to form.  The MINI’s snout sports a traditional grille and round headlights on a small canvas, but the bumper could be any modern car.

The proportions are right.  The elements are well-formed and harmonize together quite well.  Just like it’s always been for this brand.



Both grilles work well together, the bottom opening is almost a mirror reflection of the top, as it pushes into the air dam’s real estate much like the grille’s forcible entrance to the bumper. Well thought out and clean!


And even though this is a small and (somewhat) cheap car where corner cutting is acceptable, well, this lower grille is a rather fancy casting.  The solid portions of the egg crate are deeply recessed, so it takes a while to see the mass-market cheapness.  Add the chrome strip in the middle and perhaps you’ll never even bother to notice this doesn’t belong on a high dollar 7-series BMW!  Well…


If the grille didn’t slide down into the bumper, the MINI would be surprisingly devoid of panel gaps.  That’s the beauty of a clamshell-style hood: the insurance industry may hate replacing these in a minor accident, but the way the hood and fenders blur into one panel is a work of fine art.


MINI’s always had the coolest headlights in its class, if not one of the coolest designs for any budget. Just the right amount of chrome inside the lense (not swept back into functionless blingy real estate) so there’s room for an expensive looking outer chrome ring: a modern interpretation of vintage Jags, Ferraris, etc.

More kudos for not using the chrome signal light body (or the cap for the headlight) for a branding opportunity. That notion’s been played out. And there’s a nice corporate logo on the hood if you think this might be a Ferrari.

OMG YES CLAMSHELL HOOD. But seriously, note the reflection of the lights above: there’s a subtle fender flare from the headlights on back.  It’s beautiful.  It is really such a sin to want more affordable vehicles with fewer breaks in the body for the singular reason of aesthetic delight?


A cheap(ish) car with expensive old world craftsmanship: the chrome trim around the clamshell is another subtle reminder that you coulda bought a more car for the money at damn near any other dealership…except that you actually wouldn’t!

8The Bayswater Edition replaces the standard logo with something straight outta 1981.  I think I have the same pattern when I crank up Giorgio Moroder on my Pioneer cassette player’s VU meter. But still, this mini billboard (get it?) should be binned for straight sheet metal around that light. Cleaner is better on a vehicle with a clamshell hood with such a racy cutline!


Oh yes, I did say racy.


MINIs are all about customization to an owner’s needs, and the Bayswater definitely appeals to my inner Max Headroom. But wait…do I see…


No DLO FAIL!  Even better, the black A-pillar blends nicely into the greenhouse, while that chrome trim continues around the side.  The three blue panels, the clamshell hood, the cowl paneling (for lack of a better phrase) and the door cut lines aren’t necessarily minimal, but they work well together.

If only the clamshell’s end point was the same as the front door’s beginning point like a C4 Corvette!


While that backslash on the clamshell is a MINI hallmark, using another horizontal line above this rocker moulding instead lets the clamshell go all the way back to really spice up the package.

Then again, the (rear hinged) hood probably wouldn’t open if that request came true…damn you reality check!



The gloss black wheels are a unique touch, only because the leading edge of the spokes and the rim’s lip is polished.  The wheel’s lines are logical and symmetric, so this bit of color ingenuity is certainly welcome and not outstanding like a black eye on a pretty face.13

So much for logical!  Perhaps employees of New World Pictures approve, yet both mirror skullcaps should be the same color.  This is nonsense, and not that systematic failure endemic of a failed organization nonsense that brought us the Pontiac Aztek…it’s just plain silliness with no value on an automobile.

Whatever graphical theme the Bayswater name implies, this isn’t how you do a gray and blue color scheme.


Although it might look better if both mirrors were that french gray instead of radioactive blue…what say you?


Invisible B-pillar that lines up well with the door cutline.  Unlike the CTS coupe, MINI did a fantastic job hiding pillars under glass.  Also note the chrome trim that started on the clamshell continues apace.

Sure, this is a round and cute vehicle.  But the round theme is more of an ovoid, and the negative area behind the door pull should emulate the shape seen in the headlights.  Or the ovoidness seen here in the door cutline.  This is “too round”, if such a thing is possible.



No A-pillar. No B-pillar.  No C-pillar. Be it wrapped in glass or covered in gloss black, the MINI does a fantastic job looking far more expensive than anything else at this price point.  All it needs is (illegal) limo tint and the greenhouse would look like a pillarless space ship! Very cool, very much approved.

Cute proportions, charming interplay between design elements, short overhangs and cheap yet expensive detailing.

This is why people love the MINI: staying true to it while advancing the game.  This is what us Panther Love/RWD American Sedan fans wanted.

18Retro gas caps usually look out-of-place (SN-95 Bullitt Mustang) but if there’s one mainstream machine that needs one…and it’s a clean and flowing design elegantly recessed into the body.


19_1Just like the side profile, the MINI’s rear greenhouse looks surprisingly sharp with this chrome strip.  The glossy C-pillar helps, as does the black roof.  A brighter roof color to accentuate the attention to detail in the glass work and pillar trimming is actually preferable! Whether or not the Union Jack treatment is needed is always up for debate.


Like many small hatchbacks, the C-pillar has a ridge to keep the cute little MINI tracking straight in stiff cross winds on the highway.  Supposedly these details matter, consult your local Aerospace Engineer if you don’t believe me.


Another aero touch: the spiraled antenna on the roof.  It’s surprisingly tall for such a small car. Or perhaps the MINI-ature dimensions are why it seems small!


Speaking of, the reflector/marker lights both front and back must be placed on the wheel arches because there’s simply no other place available! Short overhangs have their benefits!  22_1

Because of poor lighting at my “test” vehicle’s location, here’s a stock photo showing the Bayswater from the back.  Note how low the side view mirrors sit (at least on the Euro spec model) and the stilt-like tire width.  This model also has a different bumper (with fake grilles) and a central exhaust, which sells more exotic performance than the wrong-wheel-drive MINI can possibly produce.

22Logical cut lines for the hatch and bumpers. A complete chrome “belt” at the base of the greenhouse.  Chrome rimmed lights and something that only works on British cars like MINIs and Jags: a chrome mustache above the license plate that both adds English charm and is a handy place for a grab handle and license plate lighting.


The sleek rear wiper arm is another modern touch that proves that classic designs can always live to see another day…or millennium.


While not as punchy as the headlights, the logical use of chrome inside and the upscale chrome rim outside are hallmarks of good vintage British design.  25Last and perhaps least, the central lighting pod with backup lights, and used for a rear fog light in Europe (maybe America too?).  It, just like the front grilles, extends into the black lower valance to continue that theme.  All of which is in very good taste, at any price.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a lovely New Year’s Eve…and beyond!


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BMW to Turn FWD Up to Eleven With UKL1 Chassis Fri, 06 Dec 2013 15:31:19 +0000 BMW Active Tourer Concept

If thought of a front-driven ultimate driving machine seems like either the best thing ever or a nightmare, then BMW Sales and Marketing board member Ian Robertson has some good/bad news for you: 11 BMWs and MINIs will soon arrive in the showroom, all underpinned by the UKL1 FWD/AWD chassis.

Though the UKL1 already made its debut last month as the next iteration of the MINI, Robertson confirmed that the first BMW to wear the chassis — the Active Tourer, to be exact — will bow sometime early in 2014. He says that not only will the production version of the mini-crossover be the Bavarian’s first-ever front-driver, the Active Tourer will also sport their first-ever three-pot behind the famous kidney grill.

Regarding the 11 UKL1-based models overall (cut down from a proposed 20), eight MINI variants are expected to come down the ramp, including a Mazda MX-5 fighter and a saloon tailored for the Chinese market, as well five- and seven-seat versions of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, an SUV slotted underneath the X1, and supermini aimed at Audi’s A1.

The BMW Group as a whole has enjoyed a record year in sales, with 1.6 million total units through October 2013 heading out to the motorways of Europe. Robertson adds that his employer moves 300,000 MINIs and 200,000 1 Series annually, and is confident that the UKL1 will do just as well.

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MINI Seeks Partner For Smaller MINI Wed, 04 Dec 2013 15:47:48 +0000 front_licht_ 005

Though MINI’s lineup hasn’t (literally) lived up to its name since its reboot by parent BMW, product boss Pat McKenna would like to see the Rocketman — a MINI that truly is mini — appear in showrooms all over the world.

For that scenario to play out, though, the Rocketman needs a flight partner.

The main issue is one of platform; while the newest MINI hardtop rides on the same platform that will make its way into BMW’s smallest offerings, it’s impossible to scale it down to the size of the Rocketman, and BMW doesn’t want to invest the money in an all-new front-drive architecture of that size, especially if its just for one model. Therefore, BMW is looking for a Toyota-Subaru arrangement where two companies would split the development costs.

Alas, McKenna still hasn’t found what he’s looking for in a suitable partner chassis, due to MINI’s focus on driving performance. That said, he does see potential in the Rocketman in markets near and (especially) far, and would love to sell the fun-size coupe in showrooms all over the world should the right partnership were to be forged.

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Los Angeles 2013: MINI Unveils 2014 Cooper, Cooper S Thu, 21 Nov 2013 05:12:56 +0000 2014 MINI Cooper S 01

MINI’s new Cooper and Cooper S aren’t so mini anymore — which is wonderful for the backseat occupants in your life, for starters — but the BMW brand had done its best to maintain the spirit. Under the bonnets are either a three-pot pushing 134 horses out the front gate with 162 lb-ft of torque or, for the S, an extra cylinder helping to produce 189 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, with either engine paired to a six-speed manual or automatic.

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NAIAS 2013: MINI Paceman JCW Mon, 14 Jan 2013 14:15:52 +0000

I thought the Mini Paceman was an extraordinarily stupid idea until I saw it on the show floor. The execution is much better than the bloated Countryman. This one has the John Cooper Works engine, which means you’ll get charged an exorbitant amount for 208 horsepower, giant wheels, awful ride quality and $2 worth of badges. But it does have all-wheel drive. Think of it as a cut-rate Evoque. That still costs a lot.

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Updated Car Reliability Stats: Who’s Up, Who’s Down Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:08:02 +0000

TrueDelta has updated the stats from its Car Reliability Survey to cover through the end of September, 2012.

Elsewhere you’ll read that, for the 2013 Mazda CX-5, “first year reliability has been well above average.” We can’t tell you how the CX-5 performed during its first year, since the first few cars only arrived at dealers late last February (less than two months before that other survey was conducted). We can tell you that, in the seven months after the first Mazdas were delivered, few of them required repairs. Same conclusion, just an average of 3.5 months of data per car instead of a couple of weeks.

We came within a response or two of having a full result for the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports cars. Through the end of September they were looking better than average. But enough owners have recently reported problems with tail light condensation and a chirping fuel pump (the latter probably experienced in our press fleet pre-production car) that their score will worsen with future updates. If no further problems creep up they’ll have middling-to-poor scores for a few quarters, after which they could regain a better-than-average stat.

Among 2012s, the designed-for-Americans Volkswagen Jetta and Passat have improved enough that they’re now about average. Earlier problems largely involved trim and rattles. Meanwhile, the FIAT 500 has worsened in recent months, with no clear common problem. So far this has only taken it from better than average to about average, but if the recent repair frequency continues they’ll fall below average.

Continuing our review of new-for-2012 designs, we’ve yet to have a single repair reported for the Honda CR-V, with 47 owners participating. The redesigned Honda Civic, Hyundai Accent, and Subaru Impreza have been nearly as flaw-free. The Toyota Camry and Hyundai Veloster have required repairs a little more often, but are also clearly better than average. More of a surprise: the all-new Audi A6 and A7 have been as glitch-free as the Camry and Veloster.

In the next grouping, the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Sonic are both about average. Finally, no 2012s for which we have at least 25 responses are substantially worse than average.

For a “sad face” (worse than average score) you’ll have to go back to the 2011 model year, where you’ll find two, for the Infiniti M (experiencing the sort of glitches people normally expect from Audis) and the MINI Cooper (common problem with the thermostat). With first-year common problems with the air suspension and panoramic sunroof now behind it, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has improved to about average.

You’ll find far more sad faces among older cars, especially European ones.

To check out the stats for other models and years, and to sign up to help with the survey:

Car Reliability Survey results

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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MINI To Begin Production At Nedcar Thu, 29 Nov 2012 16:31:01 +0000

The long rumored move to build MINI vehicles at Mitsubishi’s Dutch plant has finally come to pass. Starting in the second half of 2014, MINI vehicles will be built at the former home of the Mitsubishi Charisma and Volvo S40.

Automotive News reports that a Dutch consortium known as the VDL Group will take over the plant and provide manufacturing to BMW under contract. Production capacity was not announced. The company hasn’t announced which vehicles will be built at Nedcar either. Nedcar joins the Magna-Steyr outfit in Austria (which builds the Countryman and Paceman) as the second non-English production site for Mini.

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BMW Maximizes Mini Investment. With The Mini Paceman Wed, 28 Nov 2012 17:07:19 +0000

BMW will enter marketing history by bringing McDonalds to the automotive industry. Just like McD took one food platform as the basis of a panoply of products (Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Double Cheseburger, McDouble, Daily Double) BMW’s MINI perfects the art and science of mass customization. The latest iteration: The long awaited Mini Paceman, debuting for North America at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

At a base U.S. price of $23,900, the Mini Paceman offers “powerful, dynamically stretched coupe lines and the hallmark MINI go-kart feeling” on a lowered sports suspension and optional all-wheel drive.

We celebrate this momentous occasion with a maxi-sized picture library, a small selection of hundreds offered by BMW. The MINI Paceman will go on sale beginning March 16, 2013. You want fries with that?

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Experiment Shows: Mini Most Powerful Babe-Magnet Thu, 15 Nov 2012 15:08:09 +0000

An experiment conducted in London shows that the new MINI is the world’s strongest babe-magnet. This 2012 MINI attracted 28 very skinny and flexible ladies.

The 2012 MINI out-attracted the classic Mini by 5 ladies. The old MINI attracted only 23 ladies. Both are new Guinness World Records™ .

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Capsule Review: Honda Fit, Made In China Edition Fri, 09 Nov 2012 14:00:59 +0000

TTAC’s fascination with all things Chinese mandates that we get our hands on the first Chinese car to be sold on North American shores, lest we betray our mandate. That first example happened to come from Honda – and the Made In China Fit you see here might be the one vehicle most true to the company’s roots.

Small, practical, fuel efficient and underpowered. These are the traits of Hondas past, and they all live on in the Fit.  The Fit was a jolt to the moribund subcompact segment when it debuted in 2006, winning universal acclaim from the automotive press. Ex-TTAC scribe Jonny Lieberman was effusive in his praise of the first-gen car, wishy-washy on the second-gen example.

The interior was a point of contention for Lieberman, while it’s not any worse than say, a Chevrolet Sonic’s interior, it is undeniably dated, with what Jonny called “…huge, over-sized twisty knobs put in place via a drunken round of pin the tail on the donkey.” The plastics on this car have somehow escaped the criticism that the 2012 Civic took in spades, though they seem to stand out more on the Fit. Certain surfaces wouldn’t be out of place on a Kozy Koupe, and little details, like the cover for the auxiliary cable input, were embarrassingly flimsy.

The Fit’s drivetrain was equally uninspiring. The 1.5L 4-cylinder engine’s 115 horsepower made for Miata-like acceleration without any of the sensation of speed. Drivetrain noise was prominent, and the tall, rubbery shifter was hardly a joy to row. On the plus side, fuel economy, at 26 mpg in heavy urban driving, was just off the EPA’ 27 mpg rating, and the Fit was hardly subjected to test-cycle-like driving conditions. I didn’t spend too much time on the highway, but when I did, the engine produced a mighty racket, while wind noise was ever present.

On the plus side, the Fit’s legendary practicality remains intact. The Magic Seat turns a B-segment hatchback into a Cotsco hauler; groceries and a surround sound system fit easily, with the groceries in the back and the seat cushions flipped up. And the build quality isn’t a problem either. Honda has been sending Chinese Fits to Europe for years, and while some of the materials may be sub-par inside, things like panel gaps, paint quality and other little details are all up to the same standards as any other Honda – including the Japanese built Fits I’ve seen.

The biggest problem with the Fit is that it’s now outclassed after having been on the market for this long. The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio are the superior choice for the average consumer (and get better fuel economy than the Fit, ha ha ha), while the Ford Fiesta offers a better drive and a better interior (albeit with a much more fragile automatic gearbox). My own favorite in this segment is the Chevrolet Sonic with the 1.4T engine and 6-speed manual, which is a budget Mini Cooper S rather than a grocery-getter. The Japanese may have pioneered the well-built small car, but there’s no doubt that the Fiesta and Sonic are the superior choices compared to the Versa, Yaris, Mazda2 and yes, the Fit. How ironic. Then again, who ever thought that the one of the last true Hondas would be come from China?


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Now You Pick The Coolest Car For Under $25,000 Thu, 08 Nov 2012 12:54:43 +0000

In September, click-hungry Kelley Blue Book celebrated its “10 coolest cars under $12,000” (With click-triggering gallery!) Two months later, rampant inflation sets in. Now, it’s the “10 coolest cars under $25,000.” Necessarily, the September choices were a bit low rent. Let’s see what you get when you double your budget. All 10 of them. With pictures. And then, we’ll take revenge on Kelley and crown our own super cool car.

10th Place: 2013 Dodge Dart

The car sitting on the tried & true Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform can be made even cooler with a 160-horsepower MultiAir turbocharged engine. In SXT trim, the car was test driven and reviewed by Michael Karesh.

9th Place: 2012 Prius c

For people who think gas stations are not cool, Toyota’s hybrid gives city fuel economy of 53 mpg, for (not much) less than $20,000. The Prius c was fussed over by Bertel even before the car was born, it was driven through Tokyo, and reviewed by Alex Dykes.

8th Place: 2013 Miata MX-5

Topic of a lot of smack talk, and heated debates. Cool, especially when red. The car made first place in TTAC’s Boomerang Basement Bolides triple crown.

7th Place: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro

The $25K budget barely is enough to buy the base version. We have not reviewed the 2013 Camaro yet, but here is Michael Karesh’s take on the 2010 model, along with leafy pictures of repossessed mansions.

6th Place: 2013 Ford Mustang

Maybe not in mint green, but half of the adolescent to semi-retired population will call this the epitome of cool, whereas the other half has to read on. Car TTAC track tested.

5th Place: 2013 Volkswagen GTI

In America, they dropped the Golf name and they only call it GTI. We have a review of the 2010 model. 2013, not yet.

4th Place: 2013 Jeep Wrangler

Come to the cool outdoors (especially in that one)! Alex Dykes took to the woods in the 2012 model.


3rd Place: 2013 MINI Cooper Coupe

Now we are getting to the creme de la cool. Two seater. No inlaws in the back. Aerodynamic roof! 6-speed GETRAG transmission! Tested for you by Alex Dykes.

2nd Place: 2013 Ford Focus ST

Finally, here in America, one of those high-powered hot hatches we saw on websites written in strange languages. Michael Karesh tested the 252-horsepower Ford Focus ST for TTAC.

1st Place: 2013 Scion FR-S

Kelley thinks what we call the hachi-roku is über-cool, or totemo cool, for that matter. We have followed the car long before it was produced. Tests? Each person on TTAC’s masthead must have tested the hachi-roku, at least twice. Here, Murilee Martin’s rendition. And what the heck, I am in Tokyo, it’s Indian Summer in Japan, maybe we’ll take the hachi-roku into the mountains over the weekend. For my signature (ouch) “from the back seat” review.

Vote your own!

Who are we to let allegedly expert Kelley Blue Book editors tell us what’s cool? Cool is what we decide. Please do vote. This time, it’s fun. No lines, no regrets.

Which is the coolest of them all? free polls
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New or Used: Seatown, not Snowtown! Tue, 16 Oct 2012 14:00:13 +0000

TTAC Commentator Horseflesh writes:

Hey Sajeev and Steve,

Winter is coming. Like any true Seattle suburbanite, I dread the debut of the white stuff. We’re so scared of snow up here that the local insurance company even aired commercials teasing us about it.

I have to admit, the truth hurts, and I am a big snow-baby, choosing to stay off the roads as much as possible. But sometimes, you have to drive. And here’s the question: I need a hand from the Best & Brightest on selecting a snowy steed, because I just don’t have enough experience to know which of our vehicles is best suited to the job.

Option One: 2010 Mini Cooper Clubman, with manual transmission and Michelin Ice-X snow tires. This car is front wheel drive, obviously, including an automagical “dynamic stability control.” Sometimes the DSC light on the dash comes on under hard cornering, so you can be sure that something is happening… but how helpful is the system behind the dashboard light? I have no idea.

Option Two: 2000 Impreza RS, with manual transmission and all-season tires. This is a normally aspirated sedan, with AWD 50/50 power split and a limited slip rear differential. It has no form of electronic stability control. Surprisingly, the Scooby only weighs about 100 lbs more than the Mini. Lastly, if it makes the difference in the Snow Day Showdown, I’ll put on snow tires.

Option Three: 2003 E350 cargo van, with automatic transmission and all-season tires. Weighing more than the other 2 cars put together, and featuring the refinement of a coal train, I cannot see this being a good choice. Also, it is glacier white. The inevitable wreck would therefore be well-hidden from first responders.

What say the B&B? Does a FWD car with stability control and snow tires beat an AWD car without either? If the AWD car gets snow tires, does that change the outcome? There is likely at least one long, snowy drive ahead of me this winter, so I very much appreciate any input.


Steve answers:

It’s a good thing you’re thinking about it. As a former resident of upstate New York, let me clue you in on a few things.

First off, both the Mini and the Impreza will be perfectly fine in the snow. Although I would favor the Mini due to the snow tires and the electronic stability control. All wheel drive will not save your bacon if you don’t have any traction for the wheels. Snow tires make that difference in real world driving.

Front wheel drive is fine for most regions (which is where by the way?).. Snow tires are even better. Electronic stability control is one more strong plus.

The Impreza would offer a bit more ground clearance if you have to commute in an area where the snowfall is near Buffalo levels and the public services are near Detroit levels. All things being equal, I would stick with the Mini. If you really want to improve your snow driving prowess I would encourage you to strike up a few local conversations and watch some Youtube videos.

Sajeev answers:

Aside from LSX-FTW, tires have the most impact to a car’s performance: various sizes, inflation pressures, tread designs and rubber compounds are in play.  The Econoline might be okay with a ton of ballast in the rear, but it’s the worst choice. The best is the rig with the snow tires.  Plus, it’s front wheel drive!

The MINI is the only choice, total no brainer. Unless you sell it and get a Panther with the aforementioned ton of ballast in the trunk.  I only say this because my first car (1965 Ford Galaxie, automatic, open differential) lived in Palouse most of its life, with snow tires and a couple of sandbags in the trunk for ballast. And if my relatives could tough it out (as if) in a Galaxie for decades, why not treat yourself to a Panther?

I’m just sayin’…who else could make this question all about Panthers???

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MINI Countryman Buyers No Longer Have To Sweat The Buckets Wed, 10 Oct 2012 15:51:55 +0000

Utility vehicles with seating for four don’t do much to endear themselves with buyers who may actually carry people as well as cargo.

As useful as the Honda Element was, anecdotal evidence suggests that families were put off  by the lack of a middle seat. MINI was smart enough to offer the option of either a bench seat or two individual bucket seats for the Countryman, with the 2+2 configuration offered as standard.

For 2013, the bench will now be the default configuration, with the buckets offered as an option. Apparently, NHTSA mandated a minimum width for vehicles to offer three-across seating in the rear, and until the requirements were altered, MINI was forced to offer the car as a 2+2 only. Once the bench seat became available, hardly anyone opted for the buckets.

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Review: 2012 Chrysler 200 S Convertible Sat, 08 Sep 2012 13:00:27 +0000

So you want your next car to be a cheap drop top that seats four? If you live in America, your options are strangely limited. By my count, only five convertibles are available on our shores that seat four and cost under $30,000. If you cross the “convertible hatchbacks” (Cooper and 500c) off the list you’re left with three options. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, Ford Mustang and the former king of the convertible sales chart: the Chrysler Sebring 200. Does this re-skinned front driver have what it takes to win back the “best-selling convertible in America” crown?

Click here to view the embedded video.


Convertible sales have been on a downward spiral since 1950. At the rate we’re going, only 1.1 percent of new cars sold in America in 2012 will be drop-tops. What’s to blame? Well, the old Sebring certainly didn’t help.

Since a euthanization just wasn’t in the cards, Chrysler opted for a re-skin. Much like a freakish face transplant from your favorite B-grade movie, the Sebring was nip/tucked everywhere except the doors and the roof. I can almost see the mask being peeled off by Sean Connery. Trouble is, as Mythbusters demonstrated, a new face can’t hide what’s underneath. The awkward hood strakes are gone, replaced by smooth sheetmetal and a new nose sporting Chrysler’s wavy corporate grille. Unfortunately nothing could be done to make the enormous trunk lid disappear, so the 200 still has more booty than a Sir Mix-A-Lot music video. Frankenstein touched off the transformation with new wheels, LED running lamps and bling-tastic 17 and 18 inch wheels. The result is a design that is strangely more cohesive than the original, more of a statement of how wrong the original vehicle was than anything else.

As with the Sebring, shoppers can choose between a traditional canvas top or a trendy three-piece folding hard top for an extra $1,995. Top operation is restricted to speeds under 1MPH and takes 27 seconds to complete with the cloth top and 30 with the hard top, essentially precluding stop light top drops.


Inside our 200 S, the Sebring origins are obvious despite the redesign. How so? It’s all in the shapes. The parts are at least as snazzy as anyone’s, but because Chrysler couldn’t afford to change the car’s hard points, the Sebring’s silhouette is unmistakeable in the strange door handle position and the incredibly tall dashboard. Shapes aside, nobody can fault the materials and workmanship. Gone are the made-like-Rubbermaid plastics, gone are the faux-tortoise-shell accents. Thankfully the “fin” that dominated the dashboard like a veruca has been sliced off. Replacing the strangely shaped (and strangely appointed) rubbery steering wheel is Chrysler’s new corporate tiller from the 300. The same soft leather, chunky rim and audio controls hidden on the back of the wheel are also along for the ride.

Seat comfort is something of a mixed bag. The rear seats are unusual for a convertible: they are sized for normal adults and shaped the way you’d expect a seat to be shaped. Why does that sound amazing? Most “four seat” convertibles have rear seat backs that are either strangely upright or angled forward to get them to fit in the vehicle. Meanwhile the 200 has rear thrones suitable for a 2 hour wine tasting excursion. Sadly the front seats aren’t as comfortable suffering from a firm and “over stuffed” bottom cushion that made me feel like I was perched on a large gumdrop. Or a tuffet. This is a seating position only Ms Muffet would appreciate.

Carrying four people with relative ease is something of a marvel, but asking any convertible to carry four people’s luggage is just a pipe dream. At 13.3 cubes, the 200′s bootilicious rump can easily swallow four roller bags and some hand luggage. Drop the top and the space shrinks to 6.6 cubes, good for a garment bag, one roller bag and a purse. A small purse. Don’t think buying the soft top will improve things, Chrysler designed the roof sections in such a way that the hard and soft tops share some common design elements and occupy the same space in the trunk.


The one interior item not touched in the Sebring-to-200 transformation was the infotainment system. We get the same six-speaker base unit in the 200 Touring with the same CD player and Sirius Radio. If you want to pair your Bluetooth phone, that will set you back $360. The limited model comes with a 6.5-inch head unit that adds standard Bluetooth, USB and iDevice love and a 40GB hard drive based music library. A $475 Boston Acoustics speaker package is available on the 200 Limited and standard on the 200 S. Chrysler’s last-generation nav system is also available for an extra $695 in the upper trims of the 200, but honestly you’d be better off going aftermarket.


Perhaps the biggest change during the 200′s metamorphosis is under the hood. The weaksauce 2.7L and aging 3.5L V6s have been replaced with Chrysler’s new 283HP 3.6L V6 mated to their in-house built 6-speed auto. As a mid-year change, the unloved 2.4L four cylinder also gets some 6-speed love. The extra two cogs on the four-banger mean it is finally the economy choice delivering 20/31 MPG vs 19/29 for the V6. Before you discount the V6 in favor of economy, our real-world figures put them on equal footing and with over 4,000lbs to motivate there is a serious penalty for not checking that $1,795 option box.


The Sebring was horrible on the road. The chassis felt like a wet noodle, the cowl shake was so bad you could have churned butter and the whole car was so unresponsive that steering and throttle input were more suggestions than commands. Despite shedding none of the nearly 4,100lb curb weight, the 200 does offer some rather unexpected improvement. While there is no hiding the fact that the 200 is a heavy front-driver, the 200 proved enough fun on the winding Northern California back roads that I found myself wishing for upgraded brakes. Seriously. Who would have thought?

The 200′s suspension tweaks have finally put the kibosh on wheel hop. When equipped with the V6, front-wheel-peel is easy to achieve and fairly amusing. Drive the 200 back to back with a Mustang however and you’ll forget all about the comfier back seats. You’ll also be painfully aware how overweight the 200 has become. There is no question that however improved the 200′s handling is, it will always play second fiddle to Ford’s topless pony.

How it stacks up

If the Sebring and 200 existed in a vacuum, we would laud the 200 for being a substantial change and the best convertible ever. The problem of course is that shoppers have options and pricing is the ever-present bugbear. In my mind, anything can be forgiven for the right price. Is the Nissan Versa cheap and “plasticky”? Damn right. But it’s the cheapest car in America, so who cares? The Chrysler 200? It has a $26,995 problem. Yes it is cheaper than the Mustang, Camaro, Eclipse, and EOS. But is it cheap enough? Let’s do the math.

First off, nobody should be subjected to the four-cylinder 200, so $27,600 becomes the real base price. The Mustang convertible starts at $27,200, toss in the automatic transmission and you’re at $28,395. For the extra $795, the Ford delivers vastly improved handling, more power, less weight and improved fuel economy. Win: Ford

The Camaro convertible is $32,745 (base with the automatic) and delivers at least $3,500 of standard equipment when compared to the 200 making the true cost of 326HP and a better RWD chassis $1,645. Win: Chevy

The 200 gets some relief when pitted against the ancient and expensive Eclipse Spyder with its old 4-speed automatic and haphazard interior. Mitsubishi wants $27,999 for admission to the four-cylinder, four-speed party and a ticket to the 265HP V6 show will run you an eye-popping $32,828. Win: Chrysler

The 200 delivers a bigger trunk than many mid-size sedans, more rear legroom than Mustang, better visibility than Camaro and better “everythings” than an Eclipse. The 200 is certainly not the best convertible in the segment, but at least Chrysler’s changes mean you don’t have to pretend you’re just renting a summer car anymore. Don’t believe me? Rent one yourself and see. TTAC’s last word? If you want a front-driver, save $1,000 and buy the MINI Cooper convertible.

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Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 7.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile:  15.3 Seconds @ 94 MPH

Average fuel economy: 21 over 645 miles

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Suspension Truth #2: Sport Suspensions – The Illusion of Performance Fri, 07 Sep 2012 17:26:11 +0000

Edit: Now with updated graph

So, what the heck does a manufacturer mean when they offer a ‘Sport Suspension’ and is it something you actually want? While I haven’t examined every version available, themes have carried through various makes/models, so what follows are safe generalizations. I even throw in a dyno chart!

OEMs give us lots of specs to get us warm and fuzzy about a car but the majority don’t affect your everyday, commuting-to-work driving experience. How they decide to set up a suspension does. They assume an average commute-only driver just wants a comfortable car. The enthusiast will opt for an (expected) upgrade via the sport version (with infinite colorful names). And if they happen to have a hard-core race version, that is another level all-together. What might feel fun on a 5 minute test drive (and help sell the sporty version) could get annoying (or literally painful) with ownership. Even more so with a disgruntled passenger (“I told you not to get this car!”). I believe (just as I’m writing this) that car makers know they have very little time to close a sale, like a first impression. If they can’t get your attention to begin with, they won’t capture it with pretty brochures or slick commercial spots. Your test drive experience is what will likely sell a particular package.

Fast forward to your first few months with this car; if you commute, most of the time you’re pointed straight and you really don’t want to be jostled all over the place. As I like to say (and have made a video using suspension potentiometer data to prove), there’s no such thing as a smooth road. The dampers and suspension are always working.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Even if most of one’s commute is a mountain road with 99 turns in 4 blissful miles, one still has to cross intersections, deal with potholes and other mundane events. Having a car that doesn’t beat you up is important, even if you’ve cultivated an immunity to the effects of poor damping. Why poison yourself to begin with?

In many sport suspensions, what you get is ‘the Illusion of Performance(IoP).’ I’d trademark it but would rather focus on the Perfect Ride! That IoP  gives your body the sensation of activity – remember that we only sense acceleration, not velocity – but a damper with sharp edges on its force profile will cause time-varying load on the tires. The effect is being jerked around, a change in acceleration over time, like being on a rollercoaster.

An ideal suspension needs to soften the edges of the road, so the tires maintain contact and you get a human body-friendly ride (via muted vertical accelerations) plus solid lateral grip (minimal change in contact patch load during cornering). If the suspension designer felt its buyers would associate roughness with speed (which younger drivers – myself included – usually do), then it’ll emphasize creating jerk via more low-speed damping). For a more sophisticated audience or more expensive car, the low and mid speed will change more smoothly (still not necessarily optimal, esp. due to less compression than the chassis could use) they will typically add more high-speed rebound while keeping high-speed bump lower.

For this article I’ll make reference to 2 suspension options available on the 99-05 Mazda Miata, with a third introduced for 04-05 years. Standard was a twin-tube damper made by Showa, then a ‘Hard S’ package which used a Bilstein monotube and ostensibly stiffer and/or lower springs. From 04-05, the Mazdaspeed Miata came with its own package that had a 1mm larger front bar, 3mm larger rear, and stiffer/slightly shorter. The dampers had been tuned even more aggressively than the Hard S but were otherwise dimensionally identical.

The graph at the top of the page shows the various rear dampers only, but the fronts follow the same trend. A few observations: notice how the standard suspension has a much more smoothly varying shape, a more constant slope from 0 to +/- 2 in/sec (negative = bump, positive = rebound in this graph and all the ones we’ll share). The slope determines how much jerk the tires and you experience. The Hard S is 50% stronger in compression @ 1 in/sec and the MSM another ~15% on top. The difference in rebound and ratio of bump to rebound is what determines the degree of jacking down. At 1 in/sec, where small, repeated movements (like any rippled road surface) will affect the dynamic ride height, the ratio is a little less than 1:1  R:B for Showa, then 1.5:1 for Hard S and about 2:1 for MSM. The ‘sportier’ suspension specialize in more immediate steering feedback, yes (turning the wheel results in movements up to ~3 in/sec at the damper in the Miata’s case). But that degrades ride quality and road holding as well. Notice that the mid and high-speed damping isn’t very much different. In fact, the Showa has a strong slope for both bump and rebound, so it would tend to resist bottoming out better than the ‘sportier’ OE, Bilstein-based suspensions! One could also argue that the Bilsteins will blow-off better, which is true but I don’t find the amount of damping to be objectionable and in fact one could almost do a rally setup which was the inverse of the OE curves and have a wicked fast, comfortable car. Yes, I’ve done this! Yes, we’ve built this for customers. How stupid fast do you want to go?

I want to make it very clear that 99% of all complaints of poor ride have to do with jacking down via excess rebound damping, potentially combined with frequent engagement of the front bump stops which gets worse due to excess rebound/jacking down.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Jacking down can be an automakers best friend for numerous reasons. First, you get an additional ‘jerk’ when the bump stop acts as a supplemental spring. Two, the front end will get stiffer as the bump stop engages, increasing weight transfer across that axle and inducing more understeer. So even if you chuck the car into a turn (a novice driver won’t be trail-braking), it won’t want to turn. At least, not as eagerly as you’d like. Jacking down exerts a self-corrective effect on the driver. You are going slower in turns, you’re actually driving 50 though it feels you’re doing 80 (‘wow, what a sporty ride!’). And if you have bigger sway bars, then that jacking effect causes a coupled (cross-axle) time-varying load on both tires! Holy understeer, Batman!

I don’t fault them for doing this. Putting a very capable car in the hands of an inexperienced driver could be a bad thing. But they don’t tell you that this IoP is what they’re up to and that lack of fine print has bothered me since I learned these Truths. Pricier vehicles get better suspensions though it seems there’s always room to remove a bit of understeer, to have a bit more grip and sure-footedness, a bit more confidence.  This isn’t including active suspension … although we did tune a Nissan GT-R last year using the OE Adaptronic Bilsteins. Results were very good and we could retain the Soft/Sport mode settings. It was a 2009 GT-R and the damping was definitely more biased to jacking the front down.

In the next article I’ll illustrate a few setups that have strong high-speed rebound and what effects you’d notice with that.  This will include accelerometer traces showing the strong downward (negative) accelerations which are very hard on one’s body. I’ll also continue discussing the effects of bump stops on ride and handling.

HOMEWORK! For fun, check how close your front dampers (strut or shock) are to sitting on the bump stops. Report back in the comments section! I know for certain the Mini Cooper rests on the front bump stops, the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX essentially do the same.

Shaikh Jalal Ahmad is the owner of Fat Cat Motorsports


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Mini Paceman; A Lesson In Economies Of Scale Fri, 07 Sep 2012 16:30:15 +0000

Nowadays, the only way to make cars profitably is to take advantage of economies of scale; and nobody is better at maximizing the “one sausage, many lengths” method of automobile production than Mini. Forget talk of “brand values” and “heritage” – we’re in a different era now.

The Paceman, a two-door version of the Countryman crossover/four-door Mini, is intended to maximize volume for the brand, and capitalize on the two-door crossover niche currently monopolized by the Range Rover Evoque. Hopefully it drives better than the Countryman.

MINI Paceman. Photo courtesy MINI. MINI Paceman. Photo courtesy MINI. MINI Paceman. Photo courtesy MINI. MINI Paceman. Photo courtesy MINI. MINI Paceman. Photo courtesy MINI. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 28
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Versus 2012 Ferrari FF Sat, 01 Sep 2012 13:00:07 +0000  

A few months back, Bertel decreed that TTAC would have no more duplicate reviews. If we wanted to test a car that had already been reviewed, we’d better have a dramatically different take on it. I had a FIAT 500 Abarth for the week. Jack and Alex had already covered it on track and off. I thought someone had a comparison with the MINI Cooper S on the way. What else could I possibly compare the Abarth to that would make sense? It’s not like there are any other high-performance Italian hatchbacks offered in North America…

You’re a single guy (not me) with an appointment to keep (sadly, me) when you happen across a supermodel. You have only a few minutes to spare, but you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t chance a pass, and she’s going to reject you anyway. Except Jeff Cauley is a top-notch dealer with enough of a sense of humor to agree to an “Italian hatchback comparison test.” So here we have all of the insight I could glean from a quickie with “this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy” looping inside my skull.

There are some differences between the FIAT 500 Abarth and the Ferrari FF. We’ll cover those. But the similarities are uncanny. For $1,590, you can grace the fenders of your FF with “Scuderia Ferrari” shields. These are yellow topped with the Italian tricolor.

The Abarth’s fenders include shields as standard equipment. They’re smaller in size, with a scorpion rather than a horse (startled by a scorpion?) displayed sable, but the colors are the same.

A 2+2 two-door hatchback configuration distinguishes both cars from alternatives. The rear seats might barely fit adults, but they’ll do in a pinch, and should serve well with smaller humans. The FF has a considerable edge in cargo volume with the rear seat up (15.9 cubic feet vs. 9.5), but it goes away when the seat is folded (28.3 vs. 26.5).

Matching fitted luggage isn’t available from the FIAT factory at any price, much less $9,967, but there are other ways to contain your empties.

The leather inside the FF is of very high quality, and covers nearly every surface. Nearly every creature comfort is either standard or (in some unexpected cases) optional. Cruise control adds $1,067, a parking camera $3,463, and a dual-screen rear seat entertainment system $5,298. The nav system is as easy to use as that in a Chrysler, perhaps because it’s the same unit. The reconfigurable LCD instruments effectively convey a huge amount of information. (Hopefully they prove as durable as they are functional.) But you can find equally opulent cabins in cars that cost half as much.

Similarly, the Abarth’s decidedly less organic interior materials resemble those in cars that cost roughly half as much (though the red-stitched and upholstered instrument binnacle is a nice touch). Unlike in the Ferrari, cruise control is standard. Nav is provided by a portable unit that plugs into a hole atop the dash, but at least it only adds $400. As with the FF, you’re mostly paying for performance hardware.

What sort of hardware? The FF is powered by a normally-aspirated 6.3-liter engine that produces 660 horsepower (PS) at its 8,000 rpm redline. Torque peaks at a similarly lofty 6,000 rpm, but there’s plenty to be found just off idle, courtesy of the Vette-like displacement. Not that you’ll want to keep revs low. The V12′s tenor wail, more like that of a sport bike than any non-Italian car, is pistonhead nirvana, with never a note out of place. No manual transmission is offered, perhaps because none would be nearly as quick nor as smooth as the rear-mounted seven-speed automated dual-clutch unit. An ingenious all-wheel-drive system is standard. Instead of a transfer case, it employs a two-speed automatic transmission connected to a clutch pack for each wheel to grab power as needed (to maintain stability and traction) from the front of the engine. Is it quick? Of course it’s quick, so quick that you can barely scratch the powertrain’s potential at semi-legal speeds on public roads. In track testing, sixty arrives in about 3.5 seconds. This said, there’s more of a sensation of speed than in some other extremely powerful cars, where you arrive at 60 with little memory of the trip.

Does the thought of clutches that must continuously slip to do their job scare you? Or perhaps your environmental sensibilities cannot tolerate EPA ratings of 11 city and 17 highway? Then the 28/34 500 might be more your thing. For the Abarth, FIAT turbocharges the 500′s 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to yield 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm. Unless you forget to hit the sport button, in which case the engine peaks around 135 horsepower, the throttle lags, and the car feels unworthy of its fancy badges. So be sure to hit the button to the right of the red-stitched, flat-bottomed steering wheel each time you start the car.

Even with the sport button pushed, there’s little torque below 3,000 rpm even after the turbo spools up. The Abarth’s song isn’t remotely as refined as the FF’s, such that “song” seems an ill-chosen term, but what it lacks in quality it strives to make up for in quantity. Some will find its boom, snap, and crackle overly raucous, but for me the Abarth’s drone is reasonably low when cruising and its exhaust doesn’t bark loudly on deceleration the way the Dodge Neon SRT4′s (tuned by some of the same folks) did. The five-speed’s shifter is mounted oddly high, its shift feel is slightly sloppy, and the clutch vaguely grabs at the very top of its long travel. Despite this iffy execution, a conventional manual remains the best partner for the Abarth’s engine. A good thing, as no automated option is offered. The front wheels are driven all the time, the rears never. As in the Ferrari, the engine’s testa is dressed in rossa.

For a mere $1,445 you can get the FF’s massive calipers (which squeeze 15.7-inch rotors) in red.

The Abarth has red calipers as a standard feature (perhaps because less paint is needed). Its smaller brakes are charged with retarding far less curb weight, 2,512 vs. 4,145 pounds.

Both cars have reasonably raked windshields and so no need for extra-deep instrument panels. But here the similarity of their driving positions ends. To achieve a 47/53 weight distribution, Ferrari mounted the FF’s long engine entirely behind the front axle, yielding a very long hood. For less obvious reasons, the FF also happens to be very wide. Consequently, while the FF might feel lighter than it is, it doesn’t feel smaller than it is. Instead, it feels at least as large as a Panamera, and similar in overall character. The tape measure reports similar dimensions (193.2 x 76.9 x 54.3 inches vs. 195.6 x 76.0 x 55.8). The FF has less length abaft the driver but more inches ahead, and you sit a little lower behind a taller instrument panel and longer hood. But, compared to the driving position in one of the science fiction experiments from Lamborghini, the FF’s is downright practical.

The Abarth’s driving position occupies the opposite extreme. You sit so high that the car feels tippy even though, once the firm suspension takes a set, it’s not. Seat adjustments are far more limited than in the Ferrari, and unless you’re in the left tail of the bell curve you won’t be using the one for height. There’s far less hood ahead of you, and you don’t see the little there is. Excellent for forward visibility, not so good for sporting character.

During my test drive, where the FF’s suspension remained well within its capabilities, the car felt every bit as balanced as one with a 47/53 weight distribution should. The throttle can be used to nudge the rear end around, and the FF feels more lively than the typical all-wheel-drive car, perhaps because in balls-short-of-the-wall dry road driving the front wheels are declutched. The FF’s steering is light yet fairly communicative and shockingly quick (perhaps even too quick for such a large car). Compared to a Porsche Panamera, it takes longer (and longer than I had) to become acclimated behind the control-festooned wheel of the FF. The Porsche, while also feeling like a super-sized sports car, is a more intuitive car to drive quickly. But even in casual driving the FF engages. Once everything is tweaked to taste (a mind-boggling number of adjustments are available, but unlike in the FIAT the settings appear to be retained when the car is turned off) and the Ferrari becomes familiar it would no doubt be the more satisfying car to drive.

Simply due to its could-hardly-be-more-different dimensions, proportions, and weight distribution (64/36), the Abarth handles much differently. Contrary to some other reports, understeer isn’t excessive, but you’ll never forget that the FIAT is a tall, nose-heavy, front-wheel-drive car. Despite its much more compact dimensions and lesser weight (1,600 vs. 1,950 pounds) over narrower front tires (205/40ZR17 vs. 245/35ZR20), the Abarth’s steering is less communicative and lacks the quickness I expect in a tiny hatchback. No surprise given its much shorter wheelbase (90.6 vs. 117.7 inches), higher center of gravity, and far less sophisticated suspension, the Abarth also doesn’t ride nearly as smoothly as the Ferrari. The FF might also have the Panamera beat in this last aspect.

The FIAT 500 Abarth starts at $22,700. The 17-inch wheels add one grand. Leather adds another. A convenience package, nav, and red mirrors plus stripes (a box I’d uncheck) bumped the tested car’s price to $26,200. On the one hand, this seems a little steep given the car’s size, performance potential, and amenities. Another thousand will get you a roomier, much more capable and considerably more enjoyable MazdaSpeed3. On the other hand, the Abarth’s price is well under one-tenth of the Ferrari’s. The FF is theoretically available for just $298,750. But options added over $60,000 to the car I drove, and over $100,000 to another in the showroom. Air freight (not included in the sub-300 price) added $5,000 to a car that had been shipped to Michigan, $9,000 to one that had originally deplaned in Arizona. It’s not clear if the gas guzzler tax is included in the base price or buried in a substantial “other options” figure (both cars included far more items than could fit on the window sticker).

So, which Italian hatchback is the best one for you? The FF is an exercise in what happens when cost isn’t much of an object and the sheet starts clean. You fit a highly-tuned, naturally-aspirated V12 for seamless power, mount it far back for balance, pair it with an automated manual for quick responses, and employ all-wheel-drive on an as-needed basis for traction. The apparently unavoidable downsides of all this optimization are size, weight, and cost. Enough money fixes the last, and the second isn’t terribly evident, but the first doesn’t ever go away. The FF is very much the ultimate expression (until its replacement arrives) of the GT concept. For similar performance in a smaller car, you’re going to have to give up some cylinders, the rear seat, a lot of luggage capacity, or all of the above.

Perhaps you want a tidier hatchback that can be more fully exploited on public roads at legal speeds. Or your budget simply doesn’t extend north of $300,000. But you also want Italian style complete with red highlights everywhere the Ferrari has them and tricolor fender badges. Then the Abarth is the obvious choice.

Cauley Ferrari in West Bloomfield, MI, provided the FF. For those with smaller budgets, Cauley also operates a used car dealership with its heart in the right place—you’ll find no boring cars on the lot. They can be reached at 866-353-8629.

FIAT provided the 500 Abarth with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, a provider of car reliability and pricing information.

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Suspension Truth #1: Planes, Trains and Automobiles – The Psychology of Suspension Tuning Fri, 24 Aug 2012 16:11:53 +0000

Our newest segment, “Suspension Truth”, comes to us courtesy of Shaikh J Ahmad.  An engineer by training, Shaikh is the owner of Fat Cat Motorsports, and a self-styled “Suspension Wizard”. Shaikh creates custom suspension components for a variety of cars, including the Mazda Miata and RX-8, the Nissan 350Z, Mini Cooper and Honda S2000. Back when I had my 1997 Miata, I ordered a set of coilovers from Shaikh, based on his reputation for creating suspension setups with a previously unheard of balance between ride and handling. The Fat Cat coilovers are one of the few products I’ve ever bought that were able to live up to the hype. Over the next few weeks, Shaikh will delve into the science of suspensions, and provide his own analysis of a number of production cars.

What’s your least memorable train ride? Simple question, right? If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume all of them. Unless a screenwriter threw you into an adventure film without your consent, it’s what we’d expect. This brings to mind a popular driving metaphor – ‘handles like it’s on rails.’ That’s our ideal in suspension tuning, to be glued to the ground and also as comfortable as possible. Easy when you’ve controlled every degree of freedom as with a train track and groomed earth beneath.

But what about your least memorable plane flight? Again, I’d hope most of them. How about the most memorable one – turbulence anyone?  Whether chop, CAT, or simply bumpy air, turbulence can be annoying, as in delayed beverage service, or utterly terrifying. The unpredictable, jerky movements of an airplane caught in Mother Nature’s fury sharply draws your attention to the immediate environment. You aren’t relaxed anymore, thinking about the miles of air between you and the ground. You have to trust in your pilot, crew and the plane itself to handle the situation, working in harmony to return you safely back to Earth.

In between these extremes is the spectrum of what an automobile suspension can offer.  As a driving enthusiast and amateur racer in my 20s, I only wanted suspensions that made my car handle better and go faster. Comfort was secondary and in fact I believed (as many do) that to be fast you must be uncomfortable. Ah, brainwashing by race companies and the follies of youth! Having trusted marketing hype from both automakers and aftermarket companies, I’ve come to see patterns in the past 15 years of my pursuit of Suspension Perfection. Ultimate speed and ultimate comfort. How are they linked, if at all? Can I make my trip to the race car unmemorably smooth and also have razor-sharp handling for a backroad jaunt, autocross run, track session or hill climb? What about safety, responsiveness and predictability?

Any automaker has to fulfill the task of keeping a vehicle on the road. They can do it in a bare-bones fashion, like a budget economy car that doesn’t inspire much confidence but gets you from point A to B. At the very high end, we have the Holy Grail: a buttery-smooth ride with incredible handling. Normally you pay superlative prices (Aston Martin, Ferrari, etc) for this achievement, but I’ve found that cost has very little to do with making an exceptional suspension. You need to understand the designer’s mandate, see if that matches your needs, then choose components (or a vehicle itself) that deliver. But we don’t get handled a personality test results for a Honda Civic, Toyota Camry or Porsche 911 Carrera. We have some bias based on past experience, what we’ve read, felt or been led to believe. But what really goes on in that murky black magic area of suspension design? By starting with an examination of the psychology behind a vehicle, why it exists, we can understand certain design choices then make targeted improvements to a production-based road car to the point it feels truly amazing.

Please note, this kind of suspension harmony matters whether one get groceries or chases championships. It’s been a fascinating process of discovering the truth of how grip produces both great ride and handling both. For a street-driven passenger car, how the suspension deals with the road, mile after mile, creates a somatic experience that can promote either ease or dis-ease. I’d rather see a driver smiling and relaxed after a trip than stressed and hurting. A relaxed (not numb), in-control driver is a safer driver and a happier human being. There’s also a very important somatic experience to the race car driver, who needs to have hyper-confidence in their machine’s responsiveness to dance it on the edge of adhesion.

One video in particular was very illuminating to me. It was of a journalist who had a chance to drive a few laps in a Formula 1 car. Once the lengthy process of preparing him for the experience was complete (simplified as it was in his not-very-physically-fit case), he took his laps, whooping the whole way through. Once he stopped the other reporters asked a seemingly rhetorical question ‘you just drove a Formula car! Wasn’t it really harsh?’ to which our lucky journalist gives a surprising answer: “No, in fact it was quite smooth once you were up to speed!”

Is it that really all that surprising to hear this truth? To give a driver confidence and ultimate speed, the proper suspension has to keep the tires in contact with the road. What’s good for the rather-soft tires (imagine driving around on a partially cooked egg) is good for the very soft driver.  Going stiffer than is necessary robs grip and induces more discomfort. The just-stiff-enough setup will reward the aggressive, competitive or racing driver in many ways.

We’ll continue our explorations next time with a topic that is even more subtle – what does it mean to have a “Sport Suspension” and do you really want one?

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Hedonist vs Frugalist: 2012 Scion FR-S (Street Edition) Sat, 18 Aug 2012 13:00:25 +0000

There is a well traveled myth in the animal kingdom when it comes to dogs.

Seven years = One human year. In reality, dogs will often reach their version of adulthood within the first year to two years of their life.

The same is true with certain sports cars.

The Mazda Miata quickly became a car of legend within the first two years of its release. The first Ford Mustang did so well, that Ford managed to build over a million units in the first 18 months alone.

On a far smaller scale, the AC Cobra, Ferrari 250 GTO, and Jaguar E-Type may never be a common sight in the flesh. But they have adorned millions of posters and magazine covers, and established a benchmark of what sports cars represent in the eyes of auto enthusiasts.

The Scion FR-S may not ever come near these heights of popularity. However, it will help redefine the current image of a sports car as some testerone poisoned icon that tries to invoke power and muscle above all else.

Hedonist: This car reminds me of a well-designed suit; smooth, svelte, with an eye towards the conservative side of design. It’s not meant to draw attention in a brutally obvious way like most other sports cars of today.

There is no bling. No steroid ridden look to the front fascia, and as a result, it doesn’t get the eyeballs of anyone other than the enthusiast.

Frugalist: I consider that a good thing. There seems to be a minimal level of ostentation to the outside that blends well with the extreme focus on functionality and sport with the interior. The driver’s window lowers itself about a half inch when you grab the door handle and you see…

Hard plastics are kept to the simple functional aspects of the dashboard along with the precious few buttons that adorn it.

The armrests on the door panel are well padded and well stitched. Speaking of which…

You better like the color red when it comes to all the stitching on the door panels, steering wheel and seats. If not, then just enjoy the road ahead.

Hedonist: I rarely stopped smiling for the first thirty minutes I had this car on the road. There is a linearity to the handling, the acceleration and the overall design that makes the FR-S a fun daily driver.

For perhaps 25% of the population.

If you are in a part of the world with rough roads. If noise is not your thing. If you have even a slight orientation towards driving isolation, don’t buy this car. The Scion FR-S is a noisy, hard riding vehicle that is nearly as unforgiving as a first generation aluminum bodied Honda Insight.

But if you live in an area where the roads are relatively smooth. If driving involvement to you is not so much about speed as it is about handling and finding that quick little spurt of joy in a humdrum commute, this car should be right at the top of the list.


Frugalist: 34.5 mpg overall and 37 miles per gallon on the highway. That is what I averaged in a long commute through metro-Atlanta where I spent about 20% of my time stuck in various traffic jams and construction backups. The Scion seems to take an almost perverse pleasure for those drivers who feather the pedal when the road ahead is chock full of cars.

There is one down side, or good virtue, if you want to look at it through the economics of long-term driving.

When you’re not in an enjoyable environment, the Scion will lock in 6th gear at around 37 mph and keep the car moving without the feel of a heavy pedal or lag in the acceleration. This makes the FR-S a far easier and economical vehicle to drive on a daily basis than most other sports car of today.

Hedonist: But where it excels is in the country. If you’re one of those folks who gets to enjoy endless winding one lane roads in your commute, the Scion FR-S will represent a sweet spot of satisfaction well worth the $26,000 MSRP. Precise real world handling devoid of nervousness. Solid mid-range torque. Exceptional fuel economy. In real world driving it’s all there.

Frugalist: Most sports car enthusiasts will never spend any time in a race track. Even the ones who would like to have that experience simply have too many other things going on with their life. The real world of driving is where a Scion FR-S can outshine a heavier and more powerful sports car because it never feels ponderous or laborious while handling the misfortunes of traffic.

Hedonist: Lightness has its virtues. A 2700 to 2800 pound drivetrain engineered with a focus on handling and balance is a far better companion for most daily drivers than a high revving glorified go-kart or an overwight muscle car.

Even the noise levels and patterns of acceleration for the FR-S are designed for you to find a comfortable limit, and enjoy it. Many sports cars encourage stupid behavior on the open road. This Scion is the exact antithesis of a stupid sports car. The set of tools that it provides you; a 2.0 Liter 200 horsepower engine devoid of turbo boost or lag, and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, is a solid fit for the winding road.

There was one other surprise underneath this car.

It’s maintenance friendly. Oil changes are easy to do. All the fluids and nearly all the basic maintenance procedures should be easy to perform. Unlike most other cars of the modern day, the Scion FR-S seems to take pride in letting the owner get to know the vehicle and be directly involved with its long-term care.


Hedonist: There are a slew of competitors to the Scion FR-S. The Fiat Abarth is a bit lighter, smaller, even more go kart like, and has the thrill of turbo boost. But the interior and packaging are not up to the same standards as the FR-S.

The Ford Mustang V6 is an excellent alrternative consideration if you want more power and plenty of fun. But the spirit of that car is from a different age and the greater curb weight makes it a better fit for those seeking an American styled daily driver. The Camaro and Challenger have nearly the same virtues of the Mustang. But all three are hard to find well equipped in this price range.

Then you have a slew of four door models and European hatchbacks. The upcoming Ford Focus ST, the VW GTI, the Mazda 3i and Mazdaspeed 3, the Hyundai Genesis coupe, the Mini Cooper S. Even the Subaru WRX and FR-S cloned BRZ will fight the Scion FR-S for the souls and pocketbooks of American sports car enthusiasts.

The competition is exceptional (let’s not forget the Mazda MX-5 as well). Overall, Toyota has performed an exceptional job as well. If you are in the market for a $25,000 to $28,000 sports car, test drive one.

It will be time well spent.

Note: Toyota provided gas, insurance, and the Scion FR-S pictured for a full week. 


]]> 42
Review: 2012 MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 Sat, 11 Aug 2012 13:00:04 +0000

MINI is the most unlikely successful new brand in America. Why? Because the brand’s “tiny transportation” ethos is at odds with America’s “bigger is better” mantra. Of course, these contradictory philosophies explain why the modern MINI is nowhere near as mini as Minis used to be. Still with me? Hang on to your hats because the German owners of the iconic British brand have decided American domination hinges on making the biggest MINI yet. Enter the MINI Countryman. Or as I like to call it, the MINI Maxi.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The outside of the Countryman is full of firsts. It is the first MINI with 5 doors, the first MINI with available AWD, the first MINI longer than 13-feet. And the most dubious honor of all, the first MINI to weigh over 3,000lbs. To be exact, our Countryman S All4 weighed in at 3,220lbs. MINI fans will note this is 655lbs heavier than a two-door Cooper S. The MINI maximization makes the Countryman look like somebody was inflating a MINI balloon and forgot to say “when.” Your opinions will vary, but this overinflated MINI is quite attractive to my eye. From the perky round headlights to the signature hood scoop and the optional sport stripes, nobody will confuse the Countryman for anything-but a MINI.


A logical shopper would look at the Countryman and assume four doors equals five seats. Not so fast. Keeping with MINI tradition, the Countryman is a four passenger vehicle at heart, and on the lot. A quick search revealed that between the four local MINI dealers, only six of the 134 Countryman CUVs were equipped with the $250 fifth seat option. Availability aside, the middle seat should be thought of as an “emergency” seat due to the narrow proportions of the Countryman. Adding that fifth seat causes another unexpected problem: no rear cup holders. You see, the Countryman uses an interesting center “rail” system that normally stretches from the instrument panel to the rear seat backs. The rails allow you to snap-on various accessories like storage boxes, phone holders, sunglasses storage and most crucially; cup holders. Family minded shoppers should keep in mind that the rear door pockets won’t hold fast-food style sodas. In compensation for the rear amenities, the Countryman offers three times the cargo space of the Cooper with the seats up (16.5 cubic feet) and twice with the seats folded (41.3 cubic feet.)

As with all MINI models, a low rent headliner coexists with snazzy switches, rich leather upholstery, a thick rimmed steering wheel and an occasional smattering of hard plastics. Style rather than luxury is what MINI is all about, as is made most obvious by the ginormous “Disneyesque” speedometer/infotainment/HVAC vent cluster. Practical folks will find the switchgear positioned too low in the dashboard for comfort (it’s an eyes-on-the-road nightmare), but the look is undeniably swish and unlikely to bother the MINI faithful.


Frugal shoppers should skip this section as MINI infotainment price tags are far from mini. All Countryman models start with MINI’s AM/FM/XM/HD Radio/CD unit. Should you want some iDevice love and a Bluetooth speakerphone, add $500 to your tab. An additional $500 (or $250 if you planned to get the armrest anyway) gets you the MINI Connected system sans nav. MINI Connected is BMW’s iDrive (circa 2011) adapted to the smaller screen and MINImalist controls. As with BMW’s iPhone app, you can Tweet, Facebook, stream internet radio, Google, and view some extra “sport” themed instrumentation on the LCD.

MINI takes “the app thing” to a new level with “Dynamic Music” and “Mission Control.” Dynamic Music plays digitized, beat-heavy, music that changes as you drive. Speed up and the tempo increases while the system adds more instruments. Flip your turn signal on and cymbals start ringing out of the speaker on the side that you’re indicating. Mission Control plays canned phrases in stereotypical British accents in response to driver inputs. Floor the MINI and the system says “fulllll throttle!” Press the Sport button and several canned voices have a conversation about sporty driving. While it is entertaining for a day or two, I can’t imagine owners using this app daily.

Like a gateway drug, once you have MINI Connected, it’s hard to say no to the $750 nav up-sell. Once you have the nav, the $750 Harman/Kardon speakers aren’t a huge leap. After all that’s been added, your MINI sales rep will tell you “if you select the Technology Package you can add the parking sensors for half price” ($250.) Total up-sell: $2,750. “Ain’t technology grand?


Under the hood you will fine the same engines as the rest of the MINI lineup. The base 1.6L engine is good for 121HP and 114lb-ft. As you would expect, pitting 121HP against 3,000lbs results in leisurely acceleration. Our tester was the “Cooper S” which means direct-injection and a turbocharger have been added to bring power up to 181HP and twist to 177lb-ft from 1,600-5,000RPM. MINI’s turbo engine employs an “overboost” feature to bump torque to 192lb-ft from 1,700-4,500RPM under certain conditions for a limited time. Either engine is mated to a standard 6-speed Getrag manual or an optional 6-speed Aisin automatic.

Once you’ve selected the option box for the turbo engine, you have access to the $1,700 Haldex AWD system dubbed “ALL4.” The system is essentially the same as other Haldex implementations and uses a wet clutch pack in place of a center differential. The clutch unlocks during low-speed maneuvers for better handling feel, locks completely during hard acceleration, and varies the connection depending on traction requirements. MINI tells us the system is programmed to keep the clutch pack connected more often than competing systems to improve feel.

MINI has confirmed that 2013 will bring some JCW love to the Countryman. The engine will be the same 1.6L direct-injection turbo as the S model, with the boost cranked to the maximum. MINI has yet to release power figures, but expect it to slot in around 220HP.


Expectations are important in drive reviews. If you expect the Countryman to drive like a regular MINI despite having AWD, seating for five and a large cargo area, you’ll be disappointed. When the road gets twisty, the Countryman responds exactly like an AWD MINI that’s been jacked up a couple of inches and gained 26% in weight. That being said, expecting the Countryman to handle like a Cooper means you’re missing the point. Compared to the premium CUVs on the market however, the MINI is small, nimble and tight in the corners bringing the classic MINI feel to a CUV. The ride height increase and greater suspension articulation make the Countryman lean in corners but the tradeoff is the ability to tackle some soft-roads when required.

The addition of the Haldex AWD system takes away the perverse pleasure I find in torque steer, but enthusiast drivers will appreciate the change. Enthusiast drivers will also appreciate the fact the ALL4 system makes the Countryman far more neutral than the other MINIs when applying throttle in the bends. Don’t get me wrong, this MINI is still nose-heavy and will head for the grass like a wild horse if you push it too hard, but I wonder what a JCW Cooper hatch with AWD would be like.

MINI has never been known to make fast cars, they make quick cars. As you would expect, 655lbs more car, an additional passenger and twice the cargo causes forward progress to fall from swift to average. A run to 60 took 6.89 seconds with overboost and 7.3 without, which is about the same range as a Camry… Hybrid. Ouch. If you have a need for more speed, MINI has announced that 2013 will bring a JCW Countryman that will hit 60 in a claimed 6.6 seconds, or 0.6 seconds slower than a V6 Camry.

When the Countryman arrived, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. As MINIs go, this thing is huge, but as crossovers go, it’s quite MINI. If you want a German vehicle with British styling, mild off-road prowess, four doors and four seats, this is the vehicle for you. It’s also the American-sized MINI destined to introduce the brand to a wider variety of shoppers. There are only two problems. The first is price. While the Countryman may start at $22,450, the S should be the real base model at $26,050. Why get the CUV if you don’t get AWD?  We’re up to $27,750. Add the minimum in gadgetry and you’re over $30,000. With pricing like this, styling becomes the only reason to buy a MINI Countryman over BMW’s own internal competition: the BMW X1.

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MINI provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.46 Seconds

0-60: 6.89 Seconds

1/4 Mile:  15.38 Seconds @ 88.8 MPH

Average fuel economy: 24.9 over 248 miles


2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior,  Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, Driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, dashboard, MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, dashboard, MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, MINI Connected controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, door panel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats folded, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman S-011 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats folded, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, all 4 logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, Cooper logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, MINI Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, speedometer and MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, speedometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, tachometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 54
Review: 2012 and 2013 MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Coupe Sun, 29 Jul 2012 16:38:30 +0000

Before 2011, if you were looking for a hot hatch but wanted something MINIer than a Cooper, your options were limited to the less than smart Smart BRABUS. With fuel costs on the rise and fuel economy targets looming, MINI and Fiat are hoping to tempt “sporty” shoppers into something smaller and more practical. This week we have the MINI answer to the question: why doesn’t MINI make a heavier John Cooper Works (JCW) without back seats? We kid, we kid. But in all seriousness, why would you buy the MINI Coupé instead of the four-seater JCW Cooper, JCW Roadster or even the sexy Italian we tested last week?

Click here to view the embedded video.


The modular car strategy has been around for some time, but few auto makers take the “one sausage, different lengths” school of design to these heights. The MINI Coupé is instantly familiar with its large headlights, hood scoop and perky side view mirrors. To “coupify” the basic building blocks of the MINI brand, the engineers raked the windshield back, lowered the roof, ditched the hatchback for a “liftback” with a faux-trunk and added the infamous ” backwards baseball cap” spoiler. MINI prefers to call this design cue a “helmet,” but to my eye it’s just funky. And not in the groovy kinda way. Completing the look is a spoiler that deploys from the faux-trunk at 50MPH and retracts at 40 MPH. My bottom line: if you wan an attractive 2-seat MINI, just buy the Roadster.

While this may be splitting hairs, MINI tells us the Coupé is based on the Roadster which is based on the Cabriolet which is ultimately based on the Cooper. This game of semantics lineage is important because while the Coupé rides on the same 97.1-inch wheelbase as the Cooper, it inherits all the chassis stiffening from the Cabriolet and the Roadster, then adds the rigidity imparted by a solid top. Oh, and it ditches the Cooper’s rear seats.


All MINI models share more than just their design DNA – the interior bits are shared across the range, too. This is by no means a dig against MINI, as on the whole MINI’s parts bin is a nice place to be. As with every other MINI, the interior greets you with a ginormous round speedometer front-and-center and more chrome toggle switches than you can imagine. As always, the speedometer’s location means it’s more of a styling exercise than a useful gauge and thankfully MINI continues to provide a digital speed readout in the tachometer on the steering column. If you were hoping the MINI Coupé would improve on the few problem areas of the modern MINI, you’ll be disappointed. The same blend of first-rate stitched leather and bargain-basement headliners still exist.

The relative roominess of the Cooper gives way to a cabin that feels cozy, bordering on “tight.” The raked exterior design required moving the driver’s seat rearward which yields a seating (position relative to the wheels) that is similar to many RWD coupés. Headroom is still fairly good despite the lowered roof thanks to the novel way the headliner is molded with “divots” above the driver and passenger. Although this is unlikely to be a feature tested regularly, these “head wells” mean the MINI Coupé is one of the few cars I have tested recently where you can sit in a comfortable driving position wearing a helmet and not have it constantly hitting the ceiling.


The infotainment system on the JCW Coupé is a basic, 6-speaker AM/FM/XM/HD Radio/CD unit. That’s right, iDevice  integration and a Bluetooth interface are $500 extra. If you’re a gadget hound like I am, be ready to open your wallet because the options list is extensive, full featured and high-priced. An extra $500 (or $250 if you planned to get the armrest anyway) gets you the MINI Connected system (without navigation). MINI Connected is essentially BMW’s iDrive (circa 2011) with a rounded LCD and a more minimalist control interface. Like iDrive, Connected provides an elegant, snappy interface for browsing your tunes along with iPhone app integration. As with BMW’s iPhone app, you can Tweet, Facebook, stream internet radio, Google, and view some additional “sport” themed instrumentation on the LCD.

MINI takes the app thing to a new level with their “Dynamic Music” and “Mission Control” apps. Dynamic Music plays digitized, beat-heavy, music that changes as you drive. Speed up and the tempo increases while the system adds more instruments. Flip your turn signal on and cymbals start ringing out of the speaker on the side that you’re indicating. Mission Control plays canned phrases in stereotypical British accents in response to driver inputs. Floor the MINI and the system says “fulllll throttle!” Press the Sport button and several canned voices have a conversation about sporty driving. While it is entertaining for a day or two, I can’t imagine owners using this option daily.

Like a gateway drug, once you have MINI Connected, it’s hard to say no to the $750 nav. Once you have the nav, it’s easy to up-sell the $750 Harman/Kardon speaker system. After all that’s been added, your MINI sales rep will tell you “if you select the Technology Package you can add the parking sensors for half price” ($250.) Total up-sell: $2,750 and we have only just begun. The JCW Coupé has a base MSRP of $31,900 ($32,050 for 2013), but if you’re buying “off the lot,” expect to pay around $38,000 according to our survey of 4 local MINI dealers. Our tester rang in at $38,450 and included metallic paint, the Connected system with navigation, chrome accents, black headlamps, sport stripes, white turn signals, chrome mirror caps and the up-level speaker system. This represents a nearly $2,000 premium over a similarly equipped four-seat JCW hatchback.


Powering the JCW Coupé is the same 1.6L four-cylinder engine shared with every MINI model (as well as select BMW, Citroën and Peugeot models), only this one’s had a twin-scroll turbo and direct-injection bolted on. New for 2013 is a variable valve event system based on BMW’s Valvetronic technology to reduce emissions (power output remains the same.) The JCW tuning increases power to 208HP at a lofty 6,000RPM and torque jumps to 192-lbft from 1,850-5,600RPM. MINI incorporates an “over-boost” function to bump torque to 207 lb-ft (2,000-5,200RPM) automatically under the right conditions. A six-speed manual is the only cog-swapper on JCW models in 2012, but for 2013 MINI has announced you’ll be able to have the car shift for you. MINI has yet to release official pricing on 2013 options, but expect the Aisin six-speed automatic to add around $1,250.


Before our week-long stint in the JCW, I had an opportunity to drive a similarly equipped JCW Coupé on Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. The impression that resulted is a classic problem in our business. The JCW Coupé impressed with impeccable track manners, incredible grip, perfect poise in the corkscrew, moderate steering feel and a feeling of confidence. Note that I didn’t say “fast.” Sorry MINI fans, with only 208 horses motivating 2,811lbs, the power to weight ratio ends up around 13.5:1 (lbs:HP.) This means the JCW Coupé scoots to 60 in 6.6 seconds, notably slower than the Volvo XC60 R-Design we had last month (5.6 seconds) or even a V6 Camry (6 seconds).

Back to the problem with testing a road car on a track. First and most obvious, the only place you’ll find perfect pavement in California is on a track. The rest of us must contend with potholes, loose pavement, stop-light races, off camber corners, and parking lots. The “glued to the ground” handling feel the JCW exhibited on the track was replaced by a vehicle that felt decidedly unsettled over corners with broken pavement. The increased chassis rigidity, stiffer springs  and run-flat tires that made the JCW Coupé a delight on the track also make it a back killer on Highway 101. The road noise that wasn’t a problem when you were wearing a helmet was a problem when you’re trying to have a hands-free conversation on the speakerphone. On the track you’re looking forward, on the road, the roof design and B pillars cause enormous blind spots while the seating position and small rear window make rearward visibility poor with the spoiler down and nearly non-existent with the spoiler deployed. Keep in mind, these trade-offs are nothing new, many manufacturers follow exactly the same formula to create performance versions, especially those with low curb weights.

There is little practical reason to buy the JCW Coupé over the regular hatchback JCW Cooper, unless you live in an area with three-person HOV lanes and your carpool is a dynamic duo.The regular JCW Cooper delivers 99% of the fun for nearly $2,000 less, has two extra seats, more cargo room and is far more attractive. If money is no object MINI has an even better solution for you: the MINI JCW Roadster. The drop-top MINI two-seater solves all the aesthetic issues of the Coupé and goes topless to boot. The problem? The price. A roadster is $3,300 more than the Coupé in 2012 and $4,350 more for 2013.

Because of how great the JCW Coupé felt on the track, I spent an entire week trying to find a compelling reason to buy one over the regular JCW Cooper hatchback. I’m still searching. Likewise the MINI Coupé seems to be the answer to a question few have asked. If you are one of the few people I met that liked the way the Coupé looked, or you just want one of the rarest MINIs around, then the JCW Coupé is for you. Everyone else should stop at the Fiat dealer and check out an Abarth on their way to buy the JCW Cooper hatchback.

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MINI provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 6.6 Seconds (I’m sure a professional driver could eek out a 6.4)

1/4 Mile: 15.0 Seconds @ 98MPH

Average fuel economy: 25.6MPG over 754 miles


2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, spoiler, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, exhaust tips,  Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, Steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected nav, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected mission control, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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