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Hotter MINI-Coopers even more fun!

2004-11-05 16:32

The new dashboard, with both revcounter and speedo now in front of the driver. A lidded glovebox is optional

John Oxley

For those of you too young to remember, all three were winners of the Monte Carlo Rally in the 1960s driving the old-shape Mini-Cooper S - and in 1966 in fact had a 1-2-3 finish, only to be disqualified in what most of the world thought was a trumped-up regulation regarding their light bulbs!

Of course, the latest MINI-Cooper S and its slightly-less powerful brother the MINI-Cooper bear little relationship to the original save for the basic concept and overall look, but that certainly doesn't detract from the new cars in any way.

They are still front-wheel-drive, with transverse engines, and with ownership now firmly in the hands of BMW have moved upmarket in a bid to capture the hearts and minds of people who, quite frankly, want to have their cake and eat it!

And now BMW has gone one stage further, with a refresher course for the car that gives the Cooper S even more power - now up to 125 kW, enough to give it a top speed of 219 km/h and rip the standing start to 100 km/h time to just 7.4 seconds.

On top of that revisions both inside and out, as we outlined yesterday, make the car even funkier. Click here to read more about the changes.

Power output hasn't changed on the MINI-Cooper, but there's a new 5-speed gearbox, and 10 Nm more torque.

On the road

Our first mount was the Cooper S, and we had this dynamite machine through the twists and turns of the sea coast road between Gordon's Bay and Rooi Els, just outside Cape Town, and then on towards Franschoek.

Wow, what fun!

Not only is the extra power noticeable, but with an extra 10 Nm of torque punch out of corners is even better, while the shorter rations in the 6-speed gearbox add up to a whole lot more flexibility.

There are stiffer anti-roll bars front and back, too, and this all adds up to a car that drives handles like a go-kart, with enormous mechanical grip that is absolutely awesome and which means the DSC traction control system hardly ever needs to intervene.

On tight bends there's still some understeer, of course, but on the longer, faster bends the car just sticks to the tarmac and goes wherever it's pointed.

Precise steering

The steering is very precise, and the brakes bite hard without any sign of fade even after lots and lots of late braking into some really tight bends.

The best news I've saved until last - despite the low profile tyres and stiff suspension ride quality is still well within acceptable limits, and far better than some bigger, seemingly more luxurious machines we have driven of late.

However when it gets really bumpy, as it did in a couple of places, you have to fight hard to stop it from stepping out of line as the car's lightness accemtuates the bumps so at times you feel as if you're off the grouind more than on.

Of course, it all goes away if you slow down a bit...

But hey, we were having fun!

At the same time the new interior impresses. Three pieces instead of five means fewer bits to rattle, and definitively has assisted in improving build quality, while the redesigned door pockets are now useful - you can get stuff inside them.

And I specially liked the fact that both revcounter AND speedo sit directly in front of the driver, with other gauges - and an analogue clock - in the big central dial.


I also found the extra knickknacks space very welcome - and loved the optional glovebox lid.

With a lot less power - 40 kW in fact, the MINI-Cooper is a different car altogether, It takes nearly two seconds longer to hit 100 km/h from rest, but that certainly doesn't make it a sluggard, and it can hold its head up high in most company.

The suspension, too, is more softly sprung, and this improves ride quality a lot, without unduly affecting handling.

We still managed to stay well ahead of the rest of the pack - even those in Cooper Ss, so clearly there's nothing wrong with the "lowly" Cooper.

Our car came with a wood trim interior and satellite navigation, and I must say I was very impressed with the more upmarket look and feel.

All in all, a refreshing set of changes. The new cosmetics on the outside update the car, while the interior changes make it more appealing to a wider audience.


- MINI-Cooper R165 600 - an increase of R1 000 over the previous models.
- MINI-Cooper S R210 600 - up by R4 000.

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