MINI Cooper S (R56) Review

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker
mini cooper s r56 review

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.

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2 of 54 comments
  • 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

  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.