MINI Cooper S (R56) Review

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker

News flash! The 2007 MINI looks like the 2006 MINI. As there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the “old” model, BMW’s decision to leave things well enough alone shows welcome restraint. Well, almost. BMW’s added two extra inches to the new MINI– and we all know how meaningful two extra inches can be for guys (legroom!). But you’d be hard pressed to see any exterior effects– good or bad. So is it still all systems go for MINI’s V2 rocket, or does the new model (codenamed R56) prove that more is less?

Truth to tell, I was feeling a bit blah about my MINI road test. But the moment The Man handed me the key to a 2007 MINI Cooper S, I perked up. The ignition device is now a circular pad with a stubby base; my first inclination was to open a channel to Starfleet and ask Scotty to beam me up. Once inside, I was instructed to stash the pad and press the button. Keyless ignition in a car the size of a 7-Series escape pod? Who’d a thunk it?

And who knew the Bavarians had a sense of humor? More charitably, the MINI’s interior looks like it was created by a grove of unsupervised Apple Computer designers. (It’s only a matter of time before the MINI’s key includes an I-Pod.) The fuel gauge is now a circular ring of digital lights on the speedometer pod, with a “range to empty” display on the information section of the tachometer pod, in script familiar to BMW owners (if not MS Word users).

Drivers are confronted by a wide range of organic looking toggles and indentures, operating all manner of controls. Who cares how it all works? And who cares that not all the materials are above average? Most are, and when you encounter the odd flimsy piece, the clever design more than compensates. Even the casual visitor instantly appreciates that fact that the BMW’s British box is a no-holds-barred style statement, not an Audi.

To that end, buyers can personalize their MINI Cooper S in a trillion ways, right down to checkered flag side mirror caps ($130) and a “Let’s Motor” license plate holder ($35). What’s more, the MINI is the only car you can customize without completely destroying its resale value. My favorite new interior color is the Tuscan beige; I love the look but could live without the pretentious name.

The biggest change from old MINI to new: a Peugeot-sourced, BMW-fettled, 1.6-liter turbo four. The new engine’s a more powerful lump than the old supercharged Brazilian mill (172 horsepower and 177 pound feet of torque vs. 168/162). As a result, the zero to 60 time is slightly quicker (6.7 versus 7.2 seconds) with better fuel economy (29/36).

While the new MINI has a wider (i.e. more useful) power band and will now cruise at triple digits without threatening to rattle itself to pieces, it doesn’t feel quite as eager out of the blocks as the old car. There’s a nasty lag between depressing the go pedal and the onset of acceleration. It feels… dumbed down. Until, that is, you press the Sport button.

In many sports cars, even some of the more expensive models, activating the Sport button creates little more than a psychological effect. In the new MINI, it’s undeniably transformative. In an instant, both the MINI Cooper’s electric steering system and its fly-by-wire throttle tighten up. Like a dull pencil thrust into an electric sharpener, the MINI is suddenly ready to draw the finest of racing lines.

Compared to the corner carving capabilities of the previous version, the new MINI Cooper S in Sport mode feels about 20% more wonderfully, joyously flickable. It still stays flat and level through vicious corners. It still turns in with all the eagerness of a toddler’s mother. But the added layer of maturity and refinement in the drivetrain and the additional feel through the helm build significantly more confidence into the system.

Enough confidence, in fact, to imperil the sporting driver’s license– and embolden him or her to switch off the MINI Cooper S’ DSC stability control. And yet, even without considering the necessity of the optional limited slip differential, there’s something important missing from the re-mix: an aggressive exhaust note.

For reasons most probably related to Europe’s drive-by noise regulations, the MINI Cooper S’ aural burble, zizz and growl are gone. On one hand, the relative silence (and proper autobox option) make the MINI Cooper S a more refined and therefore viable daily driver. On the other, the muted motor removes much of the reason for driving the thing as it wants to be driven. It's a major miscalculation mandating post-purchase mechanical surgery.

Otherwise, the MINI Cooper S is good to go. Literally.

Jay Shoemaker
Jay Shoemaker

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  • Cayman Cayman on Mar 01, 2007

    The Mini is one of BMW's best sellers primarily because of one reason: They didn't allow Bangle to touch it. Anyway, if you love your Mini, more power to you. I enjoy my much more fun and versatile GTI, thankyouverymuch.

  • Dubbs1 Dubbs1 on Jan 09, 2008

    People Mini Coopers aren't made by BMW, BMW owns mini but mini designs the cars. Mini is a great car. I think it is much different than the old one (2006). They are sporty cars. They get like 29 mpg. Although they have no hp they don't need it. The word mini is in the name. Lets Motor

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.
  • Lou_BC I suspect that since the global pandemic, dealerships have preferred to stay with the "if you want it, we will order it" business model. They just need some demo models on hand and some shiny bits to catch the impulse buyer. Profits are higher and risks lower this way.
  • Probert When I hear the word "patriot", I think of entitled hateful whining ignorant traitors to democracy. But hey , meant to say "Pass the salt."
  • Lou_BC A brand or inanimate object isn't patriotic. A person can buy said object based upon patriotism. I'd prefer to buy local or domestic. Is supporting one's fellow countrymen patriotic or logical? I'd rather buy from an allie than a foe. Is that patriotic or logical?