By on October 13, 2006

front.jpg“It handles like a go-cart.” For the past five-years I’ve taken this description of the BMW’s born-again clown car’s dynamics at face value. Living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen more of these faux-Brits than Carnaby Streeters ever did. And I’ve often wondered if the MINI was small and extraordinarily nimble like its forbearer, or just plain small. Other than sipping cheap wine next to the trio of stunt cars used in the third Austin Powers movie, I’d never had a chance to get up close and personal with a MINI. More importantly, I’d never put the British-built roadster’s handling to the test– until this week, when RF charged me with the task of assessing the “old” new MINI before the “new” new MINI arrives stateside.

Deconstructing a design icon is tricky at best. At the risk of alienating the faithful, I’ll say this much: the new car is nearly twice as large as the original and violates designer Alec Issigonis’s basic tenet (80% of the vehicle is dedicated to passengers, the remaining 20% is for mechanicals and luggage). Other than that, I think the new MINI looks like a toddler’s high top sneaker. Oh, and I love the J Mays’ cribbed headlights and the fact that the rear is wider than the front. So, um, moving on.

chrono.jpgOnce inside, I felt an overwhelming urge to pop a Prozac. Call me a frumpy, but I could barely cope with the unrelenting designer-ness of the thing. The cabin is awash in chrome, plastic that looks like chrome, plastic that looks like plastic and twinkling glass. Our tester came with the Cockpit Chrono Pack, which is even more ADD-inducing than the default set-up. MINI’s speedometer moves to the top of the wheel (next to the tach) leaving the space for oil, fuel and temperature readouts (where's the boost gauge?). Although the MINI is billed as pint-sized luxury, I reckon the point of luxury (in any amount) is to relax. The Cooper’s innards almost induced seizures. Moving on.

The MINI Cooper S is loaded to the gills with go-faster bits: oxymoronic performance run-flat tires, 17” inch aluminum wheels, McPherson struts (front), a multi-link suspension (rear), equal-length drive shafts and a supercharger. The blower bangs out 168 horses for just 2678 pounds of, um, style. A ludicrously tall first gear (4.455) and the inherent FWD dragster drawbacks means it takes nearly seven seconds for the MINI to get from rest to 60mph. This stat wasn’t all that bad back in 2001. In 2006, the similarly priced Mazda Speed3 does the deed a full second faster. The MINI’s not slow, but it’s not a whole lot of fun to flog the transverse-mounted 1.6-liter four in a straight line.

side-s.jpgI’ve never been a big fan of any BMW cog-swapping solution; in the MINI’s manual, the good people of Bavaria don’t disappoint my sense of disappointment. First of all, the MINI’s gearbox is a long-throw shifter. Such a device might have seemed appropriate back when the Sixties were swung, but today it just feels cheap and clumsy. The supercharger’s horsepower-sucking reality means that the second you lift your foot from the gas to shift, the engine loses 1500rpm. So even when you get the gear you think you wanted, it’s not the gear you actually need. Try as I might to whip this little whip, my plans were foiled first by the engine, and then by the gears.

I’ve been driving go-carts quite a bit lately, so I feel qualified to judge the MINI’s similarity to same. After caning the MINI through California hill and dale, I can proclaim here and now that the MINI Cooper S is indeed the world’s fattest go-cart. The initial turn-in is awesome: tight, accurate and eager. Right until the apex of a turn, the MINI lives up to the hype, steering and responding with the kind of rapid fire, laser-guided confidence that makes motorized dinner trays such a kick in the ass. From the turning point on, the go-cart analogy drives straight into the metaphorical tire wall.

back.jpgLest we forget, go-carts are rear wheel-driver machines. After you finish the turn, you plant your foot and power your way home. The MINI is front wheel-drive. Assuming you’re lucky enough to find 4000rpm and summon 162 foot-pounds of torque, flooring it out of a corner creates a nightmarish mix of understeer plowing and angry steering. I tried the same trick with the traction control off– and wondered if my insurance premiums were up to date. While cute, the MINI is not a track-day option.

Though not yet on our shores, BMW is embiggening the newish “MINI” and ditching the blower for a turbo. Let’s just hope the company’s chassismeisters have sorted the MINI’s on-the-limit handing. If so, the British go-cart will fully deserve the pistonhead plaudits it already receives.

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87 Comments on “MINI Cooper S Review...”


  • avatar
    superfly

    What a perfectly cromulent review.

  • avatar
    chanman

    How do you and other people fit into the Mini? Compared to the new subcompacts, it's quite erm… short in terms of height.

  • avatar
    blalor

    Ok, I’ll be the one to nit-pick: there’s no boost gauge in the chrono pack; it has gauges for oil pressure and temperature, fuel, and coolant temperature.

    I’ll admit to being an MCS owner and fanatic, but, having tracked my car several times, I take umbrage with this statement:
    While cute, the MINI is not a track-day option.
    Maybe it’s because you’re used to driving performance rear-wheel drive cars, but the MINI rocks on the track. Then again, you’ve been spending a lot of time in trucks, lately. In my rungroup at a BMWCCA school, I had no problem getting around the car-shaped obstacles like E46 M3s, Porsches, and the occasional Gallardo. Let the car settle into the corner and then bury your foot into the carpet and it’ll haul out of the turn hard enough to give you whiplash. Get it drifting a bit, and you can induce under- or over-steer with a nudge of the throttle. It’s supremely controllable, and a helluva lot of fun. Especially with the optional limited-slip diff.

    Perhaps the interior is a bit brash, but that’s one of the things I like about it, and something I feel is being lost a bit in the ’07 redesign. The brashness sets it apart from all of the other cars that make you think about nappytime instead of having a big grin on your face when you settle behind the wheel. But this car’s really about driving, and if you know what you’re doing, the understeer’s not as bad as you intimate.

    Thanks for spelling MINI properly, by the way. ;-)

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Jonny,
    Great review — I’m glad to see you back on the job.

    Finally, a review that calls BMW/Mini on their lousy gearboxes and long clutches. It’s funny, on the one hand, BMW is the only luxury carmaker that actually offers a stick on most models, but then you drive it and realize it’s just a way for them to keep the sticker price looking low, and then charge 2 grand for the geartronic. Lame.

  • avatar

    I’ve never been a MINI fan, but I have seen one do incredibly well at a track, beating out several Evos, a couple Corvettes, and a GTO. It was extensively modded though…

  • avatar
    jaje

    The “new” Mini is only a go kart b/c of its dimunitive proportinos compared to the size of today’s SUVs. I’ve driven both the standard and the “S” model. Both are nicely appointed small cars but the Brazilian built Chrysler engines just don’t have any soul (even when the air is forced into it). And it’s not like Chrysler is known for sewing machine sized engine prowess (hey – the Mini has a DCX engine in it!). The Handling is nothing short of understeer (sure it handles better than most other 3k pound plus fwd family sedans). But put it up against competition in weight and price and the Mini falters greatly. Or add rwd to the mix and the Mini is just that Mini fun.

    The current Civic Si is the car to beat in the Go Kart handling analogy as we know Honda makes some of the best Hamsters (on steriods – without the need for iron lungs to force air in) in the business and the company is a suspension tuning whiz. Thank Sorichiro Honda for the passion and focus that stays with the company today. In fact the only cars in recent memory that can truly be considered to have go kart like reflexes in a fwd chassis has to be the CRX (mainly the 88 model Si that had brilliantly so passive rear steering – this was later put on the Integra Type R) – my other vote goes for the original Miata (it is a blast to drive and handles like a go kart…but it is rwd).

  • avatar
    NeonCat93

    I’ve heard that Alec Issigonis also meant for his design to be uncomfortable for the driver so that people would pay attention to their driving. Maybe the interior is meant to mirror this, but to me it just looks like a nice, clean design. Is the MINI supposed to be luxurious or is it supposed to be fun? (Yes, yes, no reason why it can’t be both)

    To you it looks like a high top baby bootie; at least it doesn’t look like a blandmobile like so many other reasonably aerodynamic cars on the road. And yes, I would love to have a MCS, though your issues with the trans do make me question how much fun it would be to drive it.

    Great pun on the first picture, BTW.

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    If anyone is confused by the “embiggening” and “cromulent” references, here’s your link—>

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neologisms_in_The_Simpsons

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    how can a car site use the words “cromulent” and “embiggens” without mentioning the velocitator and the deceleratrix?

  • avatar
    Steve-O

    As another MCS owner, I have to agree with blalor’s comments above.

    Now repeat after me: This car IS a track day option.

    FWD or not, this Cooper S has to be the King of point & shoot racing. It is extremely difficult to fluster it at the limit, and she stays controllable all the while.

    And to your point about the “ADD-inducing” interior setup: My advice to any prospective buyer would be to pass on the Chrono-Pack. It is needlessly busy, so I opted for the standard setup which is more functional, more stylish, and highlights the tons of personality this car exudes.

    Hmm… Tons of Personality. How many cars offer that?

  • avatar

    My bad on the supercharger display reference. I’ve fixed the text.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I totally agree with you that the MINI is not a track day car and can also get floaty over even minor rough patches at speed but that is not really the point of the MINI. What attracted my wife to it was that it is a fun car. It has personality rather than the generic design of a lot of todays cars. It handles great in off-track driving and has so many customization options that you won’t see two alike. In that way its design goal is more in line with a tricked out Scion xB than a sports car. And it seems those goals judging by the sales figures.

    I love TTAC but I have to admit that the focus of your reviews is getting narrow. There is more to cars than just track performance. Maybe you should rename it to the Truth About Track Cars and then it would be more in line with its current content

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Sorry Jonny I’m sure you’re a great driver in your cars of preference, but from your cornering description it’s quite obvious you don’t know how to drive a fwd. you would never try to power out of a corner like in a rwd. you want to swing the car so it’s situated in a way that the front wheels are going close to a straight line out of the turn. it’s quite a different technique than rwd cornering. take a srt4 or mini-s back to the track and practice for a few days and you might see that you are able to get through those corners quite a bit faster.

  • avatar

    I don’t think the Aveo review would fit well if we used that url. Then again…

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Chanman:

    I fit quite well in the MINI — plenty of headroom, legroom, hiproom, etc. My only gripe was that there was not much room to my left. You ever been in a Land Rover Defender? Sort of like that, left-wise.

    Steve-O and Blalor:

    You are both right, I mistpoke. The MINI IS a track-day option. So is a Dodge Stratus. Anything is an option. It’s just not a very good option.

    I’m also of the opinion that E46 M3s aren’t great track-day options, as I’ve been beaten round courses by Dodge Neons — meaning that I’m not a very good track-day driver.

    I stand by my comments that A) the engine, while cute in theory, is too pint-sized to handle the supercharger B) the gearbox is bad, especially for such a pricey car C) the handling is greatly exaggerated.

    As for the car’s “personality…” I knew a guy once who bought the first generation RAV4 — the tiny two-door model — because he liked the commercial where it was trying to park and the little dog barked at it, and the RAV4 backed up and drove away. I say it’s an overcooked mess, but if you like, you like it.

    NeonCat93:

    Absolutely right — Issigonis felt an uncomfortable driver was an alert driver.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    carguy and dolo54:

    I say right in the lead of the review that I was mostly concerned with, “Handles like a go-cart.”

    It doesn’t.

  • avatar
    Joeypilot

    I opted for the John Cooper Works package on my S. The extra HP would no doubt change your mind about the performance. It is a shame you did not have a car so equipped. I love the Chrono Pack because I would rather have the gauges than the big speedo; but that is all personal choice which is one of its strong points. There are so many different ways one can order their car, which cannot be said of the Japanese makes.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Joeypilot:

    I would be very curious to get behind the wheel of a JCW.

  • avatar
    Joeypilot

    You won’t be dissapointed. I hope you get to drive one soon!

  • avatar
    qfrog

    The only club event where I’ve seen a MCS’ weakness come to any disadvantage was a winter driving school. Who knew a mini with snow tires wouldnt climb like an Audi quattro? Shy of that I’ve seen the few that show up at ACNA events perform pretty well. Perhaps the MCS is better suited to autocross circuit mania than road course antics.

  • avatar
    NathanielSalzman

    I own an ’06 MINI Cooper S with the LSD and even most of the weightier options (panoramic glass sunroof, heated seats, so forth) and as I read this review, I can’t help but wonder how much time you got to spend with the car. At initial drive, I can understand some of your comments, but spend a longer season with the car and its character for both speed and precision become more apparent than its inaugural drive. With the optional limited-slip differential especially, the car’s propensity to understeer is all but eliminated – even more so with the traction control turned off. The car pulls through the corner from the outside front wheel in a manner that’s as consistent as it is thrilling.

    Furthermore, you of all people should know that there’s more to life than 0-60 times. What the MINI lacks in drag car aptitude it more than makes up for in handling talent, positive road feedback, and predictably precise “chuck-ability.”

    Though the MINI is built by BMW, it makes no claim (nor do any who drive them) at being a “luxury small car.” The understood class descriptor – at least within the drivers’ community – has been “premium small car” and there’s an important distinction there. Having driven the 330i, the X4, and the 525i, I for one am thankful for the MINI’s lack of BMW-bred civility. In my estimation, the car is only about 85% BMW and the remainder a delightful, old-style british sensibility. And though it has economy car stats and dimensions, the MINI lacks any sense of cheapness in my opinion – something even the new Civic Si hasn’t yet fully shaken.

    Now I won’t disguise the fact that I’m an Art Director and couldn’t be more enamored with the aesthetics of the MINI. But beyond my appreciation for form, the MINI is bred for what is in my estimation one of the most specific purpose of any car on the road in this price range. The MINI isn’t trying in the slightest to be all things to all people. Instead it succeeds in being the absolute most fun you can possibly have on the race track of your daily commute. I drive 53 miles one-way everyday in mine and in every speed range from stoplight starts and 80 mph highway cruises, the MINI is positively the most fun I’ve ever had on 4 wheels. The near-perfect balance between handling capability, speed (and I can certainly testify that the MINI squarely crosses the line from “quick” to “fast”), economy in both price and fuel consumption, style, and driving character make the MINI a fantastic driver’s car option for people that value that combination. The car is designed with enough specificity of purpose to limit some of its universal appeal, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that distinction. Sure there are cars on the road with more horsepower, bigger trunks, more predictable interior appointments, and even a handful with a better cornering experience. But I have yet to experience a vehicle at any price with so much joyful character. It appeals to a specific kind of driving, and that appeals to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Val

      Please help me out guys,I have driven Mits eclipse for yrs I have had 2, I love the look of the mini-s, but will be purchasing used with no warranty. 2002-2007 probably, can anyone tell me if this drives similar to the eclipse and if there are problems with the car? I am older female with a son who is a GM mechanic who would work on it should I have issues. I love eclipses, but also ready for a change,maybe. Thanks for any imput

  • avatar
    carguy

    Jonny – point taken and I agree that it doesn’t handle like a go-cart. However, the item was presented as a review and also covered non performance aspects so I’ll reiterate that for the target audience the MINI was designed for, it does a great job which is reflected in its sales. Reviews need to take into consideration the purpose of the vehicle which is why we don’t judge a sports car by the same criteria than a minivan (“The Porsche 911 doesn’t offer seating for 7, disabled access options or stow and go seating and is thus inferior to the Chrysler Town and Country”)

    I don’t mean to bug (but I am doing a good job of it right now) but I hold TTAC to a much higher standard than other car publications and I would hate to see corners being cut for the sake of making two daily postings.

  • avatar
    cretinx

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cromulent

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cromulant

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Cromulent

    That said, FWD and Performance should never be used in the same sentence. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you reference the Acura Hype-R, a Celica GT-S, the MazdaSpeed 3, Civic SI, or VW GTI –

    Front wheel drive is for housewives and people with heart problems.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    carguy:

    Fair enough. Part of the challenege when writing about cars in this format — at least for me — is that we are somewhat limited in terms of length.

    So, if you have a point to get across (ie. handles like a go-cart?) AND need to review the full car, things get tricky.

    I appreciate the fact that you hold TTAC in such high regard. Not cutting corners on this end.

  • avatar
    cretinx

    Front-Wheel Drive is for housewives and people with heart problems.

  • avatar

    >>Both are nicely appointed small cars but the Brazilian built Chrysler engines just don’t have any soul (even when the air is forced into it).

    I’ll go further. The car feels as if the engine’s vibration is sucking power away from the drive wheels. Why BMW would shoot for a “premium small car” and then put such a POS engine in it is beyond me. I hear they’re switching to a Peugeot engine. I hope it’s an improvement (haven’t driven a Peugeot since my parents sold the ’65 404 wagon more than several decades ago–a very nice car), but I have a feeling they should have gone for something from Toyota or Honda if they didn’t want to build it themselves.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    David — I really think the key is the swift from super to turbo.

    Remember, superchargers take horsepower to spin.

    A 1.6L just ain’t going to stump up the power.

  • avatar
    blalor

    I believe the Chrysler lump was chosen before BMW bought Rover. The new engine was jointly developed with PSA. You can read more here. So they *are* building it themselves, mainly relying on PSA for production. Final assembly of the engine for MINIs will be done in the UK by BMW.

    Despite the current engine being made by Chrysler (in Brazil), it’s a damn solid little motor. It might not be the most refined powerplant, but I think you’ll find few enthusiasts bashing it.

  • avatar
    Tommy Jefferson

    I didn’t know Mini’s were sports cars intended for canyon carving.

    I thought they were for running about town.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Tommy

    I think part of the MINI’s problem — or my problem with it — is exactly that.

    It is trying to be too many things.

    Anyhow, I’m very curious to drive the Mk. II

  • avatar
    Joeypilot

    cretinx:

    “Front-Wheel Drive is for housewives and people with heart problems.”

    What does that mean?

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    The MINI is the only compact/subcompact I would ever think of owning. It has what 90% of cars do not, distinctive attractive style (over 200,000 people per year seem to agree as well as pay MSRP or more for). The cockpit is a tad busy but it is so unique. I’d love to have an MCS Vert as a daily driver. It does need a little more in the Go dept. which hopefully the new turbo mill will take care of. It also has a fairly broad appeal, even if it’s too small for some and they wouldn’t buy one they still enjoy looking at it.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Joeypilot….

    I’d imagine it means he’s never driven a FWD that handles… or he has never learned how to drive a FWD at limit. The technique and line is not the same as an AWD or RWD car. A FWD car can be very fast if you the driver have the aptitude to feed the machine just the right inputs.

    Send him out to ride shotgun in a BTCC or STW car, I’m sure his opinion would change about as quickly as the cleanliness status of his undergarmets.

    The reality is that FWD is for packaging and production costs… not a particular type of person.

  • avatar
    cretinx

    qfrog and joey pilot

    what I mean is FWD is NOT the platform you want to use for performance.

    Ive never driven a FWD car that can handle? You mean like my old street-prepped 200 hp-2450 lb Celica GT-S with its quaife helical limited slip differential or my STS prepped Civic DX?

    You can only do so much before front wheel drive limits you – the problem is that the front wheels are doing all the steering, all the accelerating, most of the braking – not to mention the weight distribution of the car is incredibly wacked from all the weight being in front of the car (even worse if the majority of the weight is in front of the axle . . . hello longitudinally mounted audis). A car with the running gear in the back and the engine in the front, plus a transmission tunnel through the center is going to be more inherently balanced (though my Celica did transition like a glue-sniffing gazelle).

    What I mean by FWD is for housewives and people with heart problems is that FWD is NOT for performance – it is for more cabin space, more efficient transfer of energy from the engine to the wheels (looking at 10% driveline loss compared to 15% from RWD) resulting in better fuel economy, and predictable understeer that many argue is safer in the hands of bad drivers and people who use their car as an appliance while zombieing to work (99% of the population, the people I refer to as housewives and people with heart problems)

    Give me tail out shennanigans any day of the week, rain, snow, or shine (and dont argue FWD is better in the snow, anyone with snow tires and throttle restraint will fare just as well in a RWD car).

  • avatar
    middleNameIsEarl

    I own a FWD car right now (Granted, its an A3, not an MCS), and while I agree with the handful of folks here claiming that A diminutive FWD car can be a VERY competent track car if you know how to drive it, the fact is I don’t like the way the physics drive you in a FWD car. Miatas and Elises drive like go-karts because its fun to correct all that drift and oversteer that happens as a consequence of going fast. I always feel like achieving that kind of oversteer (purely for the sake of fun) takes too much work in a FWD car. In short, “go-kart handling” might not be taken to be “fastest car around the track”, but rather just “fun” and “toss-able,” and I’ve have yet to drive a FWD car that provides that as well as a light RWD car.

    I’m not of any reputable track talent, so maybe my comment is only worth so much.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    So then say what you mean… dont quip a cute little comment which holds water about as well as a pasta strainer.

  • avatar
    middleNameIsEarl

    qfrog

    I’m assuming you are responding to my comment. I did say what I mean, which is that I think a lot of people’s idea of “handles like a go kart” doesn’t have anything to do with the true speed of the car around a track, but rather how easy it is to make it do fun things like getting sidewards. This whole review is written around that figure of speech, and I’m not sure that track folks and day-to-day driver’s see eye to eye on what it means.

  • avatar
    jaje

    FWD is made for all weather performance…if you’ve live in the snow belt and had to choose between a FWD and a RWD car you’ll choose the latter 9/10 times.

    Having ~ 60% of the weight over the wheels that both drive and turn the car makes them much easier to control and drive in bad weather. I grew up in Chicago/Michigan and FWD (and now AWD) is an absolute necessity during the winter.

    The engine in the Cooper is nothing short of Tractor-riffic (reminds me of the MB SLK compressor – loud trashy anti revving mill). I was ashamed and upset that BMW put in the Brazilian built Chrysler engine (they did their best to hide this fact). Couldn’t get something more with more soul or potential? That leads us to why BMW had to add forced induction b/c there was no other way to make the engine more powerful (besides replace it). Now, there are many nice engines out there that would easily fit, not upet the balance, and more importantly bring this car. These are engines such as the Yamaha 1.8 engine (rebadged as a Toyota for their discontinued Celica GT-S or the Elise) or several high output racing derived Honda engines.

    Now if you want a true “go kart” for the road (if you can get it to pass) – it’s the Ariel Atom. From 220hp up to 300hp (s/c form).

  • avatar
    cretinx

    jaje,

    I grew up in Rochester, NY – that’s the snow belt.

    Like I said, the myth that FWD is so much better is just wrong – a RWD car with snow tires is just as good. I drove through the snow in my parent’s 1994 VW Passat as a kid – my dad went from that to a BMW 5-series and my mom went from an Explorer to a Lincoln LS – both RWD cars – let me say, I felt more competent in the BMW and Lincoln than in the tipsy Explorer. The key is equipping the car with snow tires and having throttle restraint. I have even driven my old 517 hp single-turbo converted FD3S RX-7 and 360 hp custom turbocharged RX-8 through snow (I live in DC now – and yes I talk about driving a lot of cars, I have owned 11 so far) with minimal problems – TIRES TIRES TIRES.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I prefer RWD over FWD and even AWD. It just allows a skilled driver more consistency (RWD does not overpower the tires like FWD or AWD car does) and better overall laptimes.

    However one thing I did notice is when you lower the hp of the car the RWD / FWD becomes less of an issue. In fact if you take a CRX (1.6) and race it against a stock Miata (1.6) you’ll be surprised with the outcome. FWD cars have lower drivetrain loss than RWD and AWD (most parasitic). The FWD has to transfer power over a shorter distance and in a more efficient manner. Engines are lighter so balance is better and more towards 50/50 rather than the typical 65/35 of most FWD cars today. As power is also lower traction / torque steer become less of an issue (main killers of FWD for momentum based racing out of corners). Materials used today make an even bigger difference as they are lighter (no more iron blocks in most modern 4 cylinders – transmissions are become more streamlined and smaller = lighter)

  • avatar
    Joeypilot

    cretinx,

    OK. I understand now. One of the reasons I bought the car is because that it is unique and fun while getting good mileage. The writers at TTAC seem to point out quite often how many cars want to/do look like another, (and I agree) which I certainly did not want. Thanks for the clarification.

  • avatar
    Joe ShpoilShport

    Oh, you kids. Why must you be so mean to one another. Look: both FWD and RWD and 4WD and AWD have their place and their supporters. Does calling someone who prefers FWD a name make one more of a “pistonhead”? Well, maybe but it makes them a worse person.

    Jonny: why do a review of a FWD car panning it for not handling like a go-cart. I don’t see this serving any purpose. Do some people think it DOES handle like a go-cart?

  • avatar
    jaje

    cretinx:

    I’m sorry but that’s absolutely false. In fact for your premise to be even somewhat plausible you had to put on different tires on the RWD car (which only makes you think it handles better than a fwd. I have owned many a RWD car in the winter with snow tires (and even chains), but back to back driving with that car and a FWD car is still a night and day difference. You note TIRES – well put snow tires on the FWD car and it will still be superior to RWD.

    Some newspaper (could have been Detroit Free Press) did a comparison of FWD versus RWD (with the common option of traction control) and noted that even RWD with traction control didn’t make the driver as confident as the FWD car.

  • avatar
    Joe ShpoilShport

    Hoo-boy. Just saw the google ad on top. My apologies, Mr. Lieberman. Let ’em have it.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I would like to point out also… fwd and rwd are appropriate for different vehicles. I can’t imagine this mini being better off as a rwd just like i can’t imagine a corvette being better off as a fwd. fwd makes sense in a tiny hatch, not a longer heavier car. when you are talking all out sports performance of course you want rwd or awd, but if you are talking hot hatch you want fwd. and fwds can be really fun to drive and handle great at speed in that configuration. also ‘go-cart’ handling can mean just a precise handling, small, light, low-center of gravity vehicle, not necessarily exactly like a go-cart (which btw-would only leave actual go-carts fit for that description).

  • avatar
    qfrog

    middleNameIsEarl:…. I apologize for the confusion…. below is what I was bent over. I was typing a reply while you posted… all was lost out of sequence.

    cretinx:

    “Front-Wheel Drive is for housewives and people with heart problems.”

  • avatar
    cretinx

    I 100% agree with you jaje, with regards to the lower the horsepower, the less difference there is. Thats why economy cars can get away with FWD – better gas mileage due to the more efficient transfer of power and less driveline loss. My friend had a 1.6 ZC CRX and it was as fun to drive as my 1991 1.6L Miata.

  • avatar
    cretinx

    Just read the first sentence of this review –

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467

  • avatar
    NeonCat93

    Sweeping generalizations are for small-minded people.

    I do not believe I have enough experience with RWD vehicles to be able to speak to their strengths. The last RWD I drove on a regular basis, God help me, was a 1979 Lincoln Town Car sedan, aka The Big America Mobile. I have only driven nimble FWD vehicles, though I consider CV joints the creation of the devil since I drive beaters.

    I don’t care about winning races. I want to have a fun car to drive. If I could afford one, I’d buy a MCS John Cooper Works. If someone gave me a brand new Corvette, I’d sell it and buy the afformentioned MINI or something else. (This is not an invitation for offended Vette owners to tell me How Wrong I Am. I am not speaking to the quality of them or how wonderful you find them. For me, personally, they are unattractive and unwanted.)

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    The thing is, for the money you spend on a MINI JCW, you could get… a WRX.

    Which, front a handling perspective — rain, sun, snow, mud, track, muddy track, snowy track — is a better choice.

    The reason then to choose a MINI is looks and the interior.

    • 0 avatar
      Val

      If I just want a fast little daily driver and I am used to eclipse cars ( which I have had 2 problem free used ones), do you think I am going to like a mini s used car? I am 55 yr old female. Thanks for any info on these cars.

  • avatar

    Jonny Lieberman:
    David — I really think the key is the swift from super to turbo.
    Remember, superchargers take horsepower to spin.
    A 1.6L just ain’t going to stump up the power.

    I’m actually not even talking about the power. My father had a big ol’ Volvo 940 which didn’t have much of a power to weight ratio. But you could flog that thing and the engine would feel silky even at high RPMs struggling up a hill. Whereas my old Saturn would complain bitterly (NVH) at anything above 4000 rpm, even though that is where the torque kicked in.

    To use an analogy, bells can sound clear and sharp, or dull whether they are loud or soft. The MINI engine is like the dull sounding bell whether you’re flogging it or dooky-dooky-doing along.

  • avatar
    anathema

    Check this out and read how a stock MINI Cooper S took SCCA National Championship…

  • avatar

    cretinx: >>Like I said, the myth that FWD is so much better is just wrong – a RWD car with snow tires is just as good. I drove through the snow in my parent’s 1994 VW Passat as a kid – my dad went from that to a BMW 5-series and my mom went from an Explorer to a Lincoln LS – both RWD cars – let me say, I felt more competent in the BMW and Lincoln than in the tipsy Explorer. The key is equipping the car with snow tires and having throttle restraint. I have even driven my old 517 hp single-turbo converted FD3S RX-7 and 360 hp custom turbocharged RX-8 through snow (I live in DC now – and yes I talk about driving a lot of cars, I have owned 11 so far) with minimal problems – TIRES TIRES TIRES.

    If you need tires to even the balance, then FWD is intrinsically better in snow. Nonetheless, I don’t remember getting stuck in the ’50s and ’60s when my parents drove us through blizzards, and I do remember back in the ’80s that my ’77 Corolla with POS cheap tires did as well as a lot of front drivers in the snow, and that my Saturn didn’t do as well as the Toyota after I put H rated tires on it.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    anathema:

    33-years of racing experience — I should hope he wins.

    I don’t think the car mattered all that much.

  • avatar
    C.D.Weir

    Track day egos:

    Back when the new MINI was new, I sat and watched a track day in progress at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course whilst my eldest daughter did the teen driving school, out back in the large parking lot with the instructors and about thirty other teens.

    I couldn’t see what was happening on the backside of the track, but I was amazed to see that with each lap, a well driven MINI was gaining, gaining….gaining on a few hot-looking Porkers. About the time each was about to be passed by the MINI the Porsche of the moment would peel off and do a slooowwww pass down the pitlane. I assume because they couldn’t stand the insult of being passed by the little “infant’s high top”.

    It was both hilarious and very telling.

    Jonny, you keep getting better and better. Respect!

  • avatar
    glnr13

    jonny, it’s glen from hop louie’s… im trying to send you an email and i keep getting bounced back. hit me up…

  • avatar
    akitadog

    Hi all,

    First time commenter, looong time reader here.

    Up until two months ago, I owned an ’05 MCS (electrical lemon, long story) and that car was absolutely the most fun-to-drive car I’ve ever piloted. Most road feel in any car I’ve driven. All I had to do was think about where I wanted it to go, and it did my bidding. It took the local freeway ramp, a longish sweeper, at least 15 mph faster than my previous car, it was the most neutral-feeling FWD car I’ve driven, I loved spinning the engine to 3500 RPM and beyond. And say what you want about how the engine feels and sounds, those Brazilian things are indestructable.
    In technical terms, it was a hoot to drive.

    I have to strongly, yet respectfully, disagree with JL’s assessment. Jonny, I bet if you took that MCS on the Tail of the Dragon, you’d have a lot more respect for the car than you let on.

    Question for you, what year MINI did you drive? I know that the ’05s and ’06s have a verrry short 1st gear. In fact, all gears were shortened in ’05. 1st gear is anything but “ludicrously tall.”

  • avatar
    pluzall

    i do agree with you on the shortcomings of the drivetrain – especially engine – gerabox is decent –
    but geee…why so bitter? bad luck with the ladies? –
    why hate so much on a design that is (especially the exterior) very well executed? –

    Clearly you are NOT the target demographic for this design –
    May I recommend a an A4 or a C320? – something more appropriate for a…lets say…more mature audience.

  • avatar
    Steelman

    1st post so take it easy on the greenhorn…

    Let’s face it guys, this car has looks, and looks matter more than just about anything.

    You know that you would give up your left kidney for a shot at Heidi Klum even if she was as mad as a feral hamster.

    This car looks like nothing else on the road. It has sheet metal bent as nicely as just about anything under 100k.

    Sure you could get a WRX that can pull 0.90 G on black ice but so what? Everybody watching you just sees an awkwardly creased econobox.

    People line up to get this car because the design speaks to them.

  • avatar
    anathema

    Yeah, I could have bought a WRX, but I didnt want to be lumped in with the A-holes who drive them… and I didnt want a crap, un-inspired interior either.

    To each their own, and all that..

    This is my first article read on this site, and I can immediately discount the rest of it due to this writers over biased opinion.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretin

    When you measure 164 lb/ft @4000 rpm of torque, that’s what you have. Superchargers are torque robing devices because they hook to the crankshaft and steal energy to compress the air.

    Turbos do the same thing. They don’t steal from the crank directly, they steal from the exhaust gas. The losses in the engine action are both from pumping air inside the cylinder and pumping it out as exhaust. If you hook a turbo to the exhaust, the resistance it will create (using those moving exhaust gas) will add strain on the engine. It robs power just as well.

    Of course, to compare both engine (the old supercharged and the new turbocharged) it would be great to compare a torque curve from both.

    Unfortunately, the marketing department does not want us to see those charts (too complicated to explain, too confusing, or maybe revealing) instead they want us to focus on ONE number, and only ONE: Max HP.

    Invariably, peak HP happens at the very top of the rev band, just where you (almost) never take your engine. Torque, however, is what is usefull at all RPM, because that’s what is actually pushing your car.

    I’m guessing the MCs turbo will feel just like the supercharged one. Fortunately, turbos are easy to tweak, waste gate and engine management tweaks are a plenty.

    MINIs sell on look. The go-kart handling is a nice gimmick. At least it’s fairly light as opposed to all the porkers on the road right now.

  • avatar
    crackity jones

    All this mechanics talk is over my head. But I did get the tonality of this piece, which was to piss on the fire that is MINI.

    Dude, the truth doesn’t always have to hurt. It’s possible to give truth in a nice way, where people feel respected and even informed.

    “Go-kart handling: It isn’t.” O-kay. Point taken!

  • avatar
    C.D.Weir

    I think we all need a major review of turbocharging vs. supercharging. Take a compressed air wand and blow it on a squirrel cage blower fan and you will immediately realize that, no, it does not add appreciable drag to the airstream once spooled up. And if you can direct the air from the blower back into the compressed air stream, things get real exciting very fast!

    Why would so many racing applications and turbodiesel (Audi even races them now) motors be so successful if it was a power robbing, energy sucking thing? There is nothing like the torque boost a turbo engine gets at relatively low rpm. It makes a weak kneed motor feel much larger than it is. Am I stating the obvious here? Reading some of the comments I get the feeling there is some lost logic somewhere.

    Of course dropped throttle is what turbo wastegates are for…that and for avoiding overpressure limits. Furthermore, some superchargers have cut-out clutches that do much the same thing. But they have a more herky-jerky feel that most consumers don’t like. Turbos are smoooooth. Goooood.

    I predict the turbo’d MINI will be hugely praised.

  • avatar
    Humourless

    I’ve purchased two Cooper S models – a 2003 and a 2005. Simply put, it is the most fun car (or rather pair of cars) I’ve ever owned, and certainly the most entertaining to drive of any car under $75,000 (Canadian, mind) that I can think of. and yes, I’ve driven two WRXs as well. Good cars, certainly, but handlers? I’ll decline the affirmative.

    Yes, the engine is rough in a Cooper S, the gearbox is notchy, the reliability is subpar, fuel economy is middling, the car will understeer when pushed hard, and regular servicing at a BMW/MINI dealership is an exercise in colon (and wallet) cleansing every six months. This all matters not one whit on my daily commute, which is always a pleasure because the car is just so damned fun to pilot. The steering is lively, detailed and communicative in a way no other non-purist sports car could hope for. I’ve driven Porsches that didn’t provide as much information as my MCS.

    I think that MINI ownership is a “I get it and you don’t” sort of experience, kind of like Saabs were 20 years ago, or your typical British sports car was 30+ years ago. No for everyone, but an almost obsessive joy for those who do.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I agree 100%. For performance FWD just sucks!

    But for all weather driving without having to swap tires each winter or for the average driver FWD is the best platform for the majority of the drivers.

  • avatar

    I didn’t get off that much on the way the MINI handled. Maybe I need to try it again, but it felt disappointingly front-heavy, and as I said previously, I disliked the engine. I tended to agree more than not with the reviewer. Having said all that, I do love the way the car looks, both outside and in, and if others get off on the handling, and don’t mind the engine, great. The more fun people get out of cars, for whatever reason, the better. Part of the fun is critiquing them, but if you love the car, don’t let my critique or JL’s detract from your enjoyment.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    For all MINI owners I have a question:

    I have read “professional” reviews of the MINI that state that unlike other FWD vehicles, the MINI has no torque steer. Zero. Is this true or are these reviewers simply repeating and perpetrating a myth/hype from the manufacturer? Do you not get any torque steer in wet wheather?

    I have heard it from some reviewers saying that the two drive axles have the same mass, and others say that both transaxles have the same length. Has anybody actually measured both drive axles, or is everybody ok with taking BMW’s word for it? (I am not ok with it.)

    What exactly causes torque steer to begin with? Let’s get down to this nitty gritty right here and now. Automotive driveline engineers with masters degree in ME, please shower us with your knowledge of FWD drivetrains.

    The reason that I am so curious about this is because my 2001 4 dr Honda with the 4 cyl VTEC 5-spd has torque steer, particularly in wet wheather. And then along come these reviewers who swear that the MINI has no torque steer….

  • avatar
    ASK

    Johnny,

    You just don’t know anything about what you are writing about. It’s like you didn’t even drive the MCS. Your comments are so off-base, so far from the truth, it’s unbelievable you have a position even writing for this type of site.

  • avatar
    Humourless

    I wouldn’t say there is no torque steer, but there is minimal torque steer (at least in the non-LSD equipped models). Certainly (and ironically), a MCS with about 160 ft/lbs has far less torque steer than many of the Honda Civics I used to drive, despite the fact that the latter marque’s cars typically have very low torque figures.

  • avatar
    tincanman99

    Having just finished shopping around for a pocket rocket for myself I can say the Mini is nice and does indeed handle like a go-cart. I also drove the VW GTI and the Honda Civia SI.

    The Mini is very tiny and makes a normal sub-compact seem large. I loved driving it. I didnt love the dealer so much though. Can you say LIST PRICE? No discounts.

    Also the clientelle of the mini are YUPPIES. Chi-chi wearing metrosexual kind of guys. While the car is nice its as close as it comes to buying a gay car if there ever was one. Not that there is anything wrong with being gay if you are into that sort of thing.

    This car is a car for a guy that waxes his body and moisturizes ;). A guy that cares about every little piece of clothing and how coordinated he looks. He is busy pretending he is on TV. The Mini is just an accessory to his warddrobe. Even the salesman was a metrosexual guy.

    Sorry kids I love the handling but the straight line performance is just so-so. Also it rides stiff and lets not forget there is no spare tire. As tiny as it is its a bit scary to be on the road with all the SUV’s. Even though it was rated well in crashes what happens when that SUV clips this thing.

    Thanks but I will be shopping at the VW or Honda store.

  • avatar

    I’m confused about the complaint on the first gear ratio. Far from being “ludicrously tall,” 4.455 is about as short as they come.

  • avatar
    Joeypilot

    Apparently the Gay’s get it right then………eh tincan?

  • avatar
    jaje

    Humourless:
    “I wouldn’t say there is no torque steer, but there is minimal torque steer (at least in the non-LSD equipped models). Certainly (and ironically), a MCS with about 160 ft/lbs has far less torque steer than many of the Honda Civics I used to drive, despite the fact that the latter marque’s cars typically have very low torque figures.”

    Torque Steer has several factors that affect – engine torque & delivery, gearing, wheel width and size (tire contact patch). In a Honda with 13-15 inch skinny (usually 5″ to 6″ wide) wheels there isn’t as much of a contact patch (and usually oem Honda tires are made for high mileage and fuel economy rather than ultimate traction). That is why it may have torque steer as the engine is not the problem it’s the crappy tires on small wheels that amplify the power that little engine makes.

    The smaller the diameter of the wheel the less effort it takes to spin (reason why lower hp cars and drag racers usually use smaller diameter wheels). I own an 89 Civic racecar and have been road racing fwd & rwd racers for several years. On my racing Civic I use lightweight 13″ x 7″ wheels which helps in acceleration, braking, suspension (lower rotational inertia) – maximize contact patch but keep weight down. I don’t have torque steer problems whatsoever but run hoosier slicks on a 110 ft/lb engine.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    tincanman99,
    I am a hetero guy who is far from being a metrosexual, as my GF constantly questions my outfits. I prefer simple things like buzzcuts and inexpensive clothes (i.e. Target, Old Navy). In fact, I can’t stand MTV nor those enslaved by it, yet I pined for a MINI for a few years before I could afford one. How would you classify me on this? Your post sounds more like a disguised (even to you) diatribe against a type of person rather than talking about a car. Get off the hate speech and get back on track, okay?

    Michael Karesh,
    I asked the exact same question about the first gear ratio, but Lieberman doesn’t seem to have anything to say about it. NO ONE who has driven the MCS manual tranny would call 1st gear “ludicrously tall”. It makes me question whether he actually test-drove the car at all, and means I can’t put much faith in his reviews. I think he had his mind made up about the MINI before he got in, and it shows in his review. I’m surprised Farago or anyone else hasn’t called him on this flub.

  • avatar
    Humourless

    Jaje – your points are well taken, except that the Civic SiR I drove had worse torque steer with both aftermarket summer 205/50-15 and OEM all-season 195/55-15 tires than both my Minis have had any one of three combinations of wheel and tire (205/45-17 summer, 195/55-16 all-season and 195/60-15 winter).

    Long story short, I was forever starting in 2nd gear in the Civic on snowy days. I rarely find myself doing such a thing in the Mini.

  • avatar
    Jahmills

    It’s an awesome car. The comment about metrosexuals just shows that the guy who wrote it is probably gay & pissed about it. I’ve met a bunch of Mini owners & they range from black to white to male to female, old & young and everywhere in between. The only stereotype I could make is that there is no stereotypical MINI owner.

  • avatar
    BartMack

    As a long time MINI owner (I’ve had a Cooper, Cooper S tintop and currently an S convertible that I totally dig) I too am mistified at J Lieberman’s take on the car. It kicks ass without a doubt. I will say though that also being the owner of a Mustang GT stick, after working the clutch in one car I have to adapt all over again when I drive the other- they are totally different—but the Cooper S is extremely surefooted, and has clearly proved its worth against cars costing 2-4 times as much. (my MCSC was $35k and very worth it, typically a well done tintop is about $25k-$27k)

    Power on the S is great to start with, but is easily upped significantly by a 15% supercharger reduction pulley and CAI, those are offered by MINI in as part of the JCW kit for $6k, but from one of the renowned aftermarket sources like Alta or Helix it is maybe $400 installed and a sure bet. It’s the best $400 you’d ever spend.

    The big grassroots MINI event every year at the only paved roller coaster I know of- US129 (known as the Dragon, 318 curves in 11 miles) is proof of the bizzarre cross section of people who love the MINI- such a variety of people types who only have in common thier extreme passion for driving. (Well, and they tend to be a lot of fun to hang out with too).

    I think I would ask Lieberman to take a second (closer) look at the 1st gen Cooper S, and spend some time testing it’s limits on curvy roads. There’s simply no way he wouldn’t come away grinning from ear to ear…. I’ve driven enough cars in my life to know the MCS is an unusually capable machine. (And push it a little this time, ok?)

  • avatar
    sonichris

    this guy just wants to hate the mini. long throw shifter?! cheap, clumsy?? are you kidding me? the 6 speed getrag tranny is a wonder and delight to shift, snick-snick-snick! the engine drops 1500rpm instantly when shifting? how long does it take this guy to shift, 3 seconds or so? and the fact that he can’t find the right gear is just crazy. gee, let’s see… SIX close ratio gears not enough for you? ya want say, 10 or so? i mean, geez, shifting at 5k gets you to 4k in the next gear!! perhaps he would be more comfortable with a cvt in sport mode, that way the rpms would just stay high all the time!

    what a ultra marOON…

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Hey guys,

    My wife was MINI crazy about 10 months ago when I was looking to trade my 05 Saab 9-2x aero for an 06 civic SI.

    We went and test drove one…it was an interesting experience. The first time I got in a MINI, I though it was great….years later, I thought the interior was junk and couldn’t stand the “sticker” look of the buttons on the steering wheel.

    Anyhooo…it handles incredibly, feels great doing it, and pulls nicely for a little car. It’s not meant to be a straight-line monster.

    I talked my wife into waiting for the new one. Even then, it was known to be designed by BMW, built by peugeot, and it was going to be alot better.

    Now I’m so happy about that decision. The new R56 car will weigh about 2660 pounds….fairly lightweight in today’s world…and have very high amounts of torque available at 1600 rpms. A substantially improved interior. A better ride AND handling due to the chassis being tuned for run-flats from the start, and better run-flat technology…

    I’ll look forward to the review of the new R56 MINI. I would expect, at this point, for the reviewer to praise the engine, the calmed down and refined interior, the ride….I’ll be curious to see what he says about the handling and the design differences :)

    Joe

  • avatar

    Im not quite sure if what cars Johnny was comparing the cooper s to, but ive owned an RSX Type S and a Lanver Evo 8. The cooper seems to handle better than both and the overall quality feel is better than both too. As for the gearbox, its meh ok, but the throw isnt that bad. It sounds like you are comparing it to supercars in the performance category. I mean, what do you expect from a $20k subcompact “sports” car.

  • avatar
    westhighgoalie

    The MINI “S”

    This car will make you want to drive it near it’s limits.

    1)The Piercing exhaust note encourages you to go faster.

    2)The Confedence inspiring handling will have you pulling turns in the twisties that you never would have thaught of in your old car.

    3)The acceleration is somthing that is beloved by myself. The power of 168 horses in such a tiny package is quite intimidating! And if your really out for speed and you want a MINI for the Job… For an extra $3,000 +/- you can opt for the “Cooper Works” package. This replaces the stock super charger with a bigger one, puts new headers for better breathing, a new fuel rail, and reprogramed computer mapping… end result… 208 horsepower in a car that is probably one of the smallest on the road in the U.S.

    THE DRIVING EXPERIANCE (IN A NUTSHELL)

    Mash the gas and well to put it simply “It’s like taking a rocket and shoving it up your…”

    I digress…

    Best of all the Combination of the growling exhaust, emersive engine noise and Go-Kart handling will make even the most timid of women grow a pair!

  • avatar
    zhng my car

    I have an MCS and I think the review is about right. The shifter in a corolla or 1st gen focus is much better. Wish I had gotten the one with the solid roof and 16 inch wheels with regular sports tires instead of runflats, as I have a cellphone. Drove one like that with intake, reduction pulley on the blower, and exhaust- different animal completely. Mine is still fun, insanely easy to park, and I’ve never had a girl take her clothes off in a car (well, my car anyway) ’til I got the MINI. (Ironically she had to open the door to…well nevermind) So yeah, it’s goofy and cheeky but so are labrador puppies…who cares what mouthbreathing toughguys think as long as the first thing the ladies’ say to you is “oooh so cute!”

  • avatar
    divechick3

    All I know is that my mini is FUN to drive, love the way it handles, accelerating into turns is a like a big O. However, a bit of a lemon in other respects.

    First 2 years- the a/c broke (1st 30 min. of ownership and no loaner available), glove compartment broke, back seat lever broke, door handle broke was fixed, broke the next day and fixed again, transmission problems (told was normal, but then recalled and fixed), and tire pressure problems (again told was normal). tire blew (given new one for free, though).

    Year 3- battery died, hatchback fell off (hindge broke).

    This year the door handle broke again and the power steering went out- warranty was up, of course.
    kind of a pain in the ass

  • avatar
    djphonics

    Wow “Jonny Lieberman”.. I can tell by this review that you just WANT to hate the MINI. This is the most hatred for the Cooper S that I have ever read in one single place. It’s such a unique, stylish, amazingly fun to drive little car that I cannot imagine writing so many bad things about it.

    And about the transmission. Are you kidding me???? That 6 speed is precise and smooth as butter. What are we comparing the MINI to anyway?

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