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Reader test: Mini Cooper S

2008-08-27 07:31
Mini, Cooper S

Israel Skosana

While driving home this evening from the office I felt the urge to take a blast around Johannesburg and spoil my Turboed Beast. I drive many cars during a year, ranging from SUVs to sports cars, and each car is unique, but after owning my Mini for 15 months, I thought it was in order for me to do a write up on my Mini experience.

I know exactly what I want from a car. It has to have handling that is precise, performance, aural pleasure from the engine and exhaust notes, style and quality materials. It has to love enthusiastic driving while at the same time being a highway cruiser or traffic crawler, and has to receive excellent service and vehicle support from the manufacturer.

It is for these reasons, and not practicality, that I purchased my third Mini.

Definition of the car

My 2002 Cooper ownership of three years (95 000 km) resulted in me defining what a car should be and how it should make me feel. The Cooper was the perfect handler that completed the slalom faster than a Porsche Boxster, but lacked what I was craving in performance grunt.

This lack of power and the imminent expiry of the BMW Motorplan convinced me to purchase a 2005 Cooper S. Every aspect that I'd appreciated of the Cooper was amplified in the S. The car was responsive and constantly provided feedback through the steering, while the firm ride resulted in confident high-speed cornering and bone-shaking gravel road experiences.

This car was used for numerous drag races, daily Johannesburg to Pretoria trips and race track driving. The constant burble and pop from the exhaust while changing up or blipping down a gear, was always pleasing to hear.

Then, after two years and 50 000 km, Mini UK informed me that they would be producing the all-new Mini and that I should place an order with Mini SA. With this information, I specced my dream 2007 MINI Cooper S and received it two weeks ahead of the official South African launch.

Shocking stuff

This new Mini was a bit of a shock to the system. It was missing certain attributes that I had cherished on the 2005 version, namely the supercharger whine that was replaced by the "swoosh-whoosh" turbo sound. The firm hydraulic steering wheel of the 2005 was now replaced by an electronic wheel that adjusted weighting according to speed and the angle of the wheel to make parking a breeze.

I was a surprised at the size of the speedometer (think large pizza); I had had satellite navigation in the earlier model so there was no central speedo. I have gotten used to it now and actually appreciate that Mini has stuck to its roots.

The overall interior ambiance does look and feel superior to the 2005 model, but it does seem quirky at times. The double sunroof, with twin tilt, is one of the best in the business and allows plenty of light into the cabin. The Harmon Kardon sound is spot-on.

Safety is also one of my major purchasing requirements, hence the Mini, which was at that time named the safest small car with its five-star EuroNCAP. I also noticed that the brake disc and calipers were exactly the same as found on the 2005 JCW Cooper S, so stopping occurs in a heartbeat.

Service from BMW SA

This car's power is remarkable for a 1.6-litre. This engine has won World Engine of the Year in its category and with 130kW and 260Mm on tap, it pulls the 1,1 ton mass hard from standstill or in any gear.

Many owners have said that Mini has understated the power figure by 15kW - 20kW, which has been proven by dyno tests…

The handling of this new Mini can be a bit disengaging due to the amount of power going to the front wheels. So I have learnt to put the power down when the car is composed and as a result get that confident feeling when cornering or accelerating.

All my Minis have had technical / mechanical issues, but BMW SA offers excellent service and I know they will get me back on the road soon as possible. Every time my car goes for service I am given a loan car and they constantly communicate with me about the status of the service. The motorplan is the cherry on top with no payment required whatsoever.

It is that time again where I have to look for a new car for '09 and knowing that the 160 kW John Cooper Works Cooper S will be launched by next year, it might just be a Mini again.

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