Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The MINI Cooper offers a Spartan cockpit with a few luxury amenities sprinkled about. Dominating the dashboard is an oversized speedometer smack in the middle of the car. This large dial also houses the radio and computer display, but sheer size of it sets the tone that the Cooper S is first and foremost a car.
The steering wheel offers no extra buttons or controls, just like they built them back in the 60′s and the heating/cooling controls are equally simple. The design of the switches to operate the windows, door locks and fog lights remind me of cockpit controls from the 50′s, another subtle way to emphasize the history of the MINI brand and ties this updated version back to the original. It is a little detail that could have been overlooked, but the thoughtful execution of a little switch shows how carefully the folks at BMW reviewed every facet of this car when they created it.
One significant update from the 50′s era was the inclusion of some pretty decent iPod controls as well as some adjustable multicolor LED mood lighting for the cabin.
One of my pet peeves on sport cars has been the poor integration of cup holders, but the Cooper S has best design I’ve seen.
The panoramic sunroof added a carefree element to an already fun-filled design. BMW did their homework on the North American market!
A minor shortcoming in the interior was the use of vertically polarized glass on the radio display. When I wore my polarized sun glasses, the radio display became a black hole. I had to tilt my head 90 degrees to see what song was playing. I had the exact same issue on a recent BMW I drove, so MINI display glass must have come from the same parts bin.
A more significant shortcoming is the lack of rear leg room. I could not fit into the rear of this car for any length of drive.
The back seats are more useful when folded down to increase the available storage space in an otherwise minuscule trunk.
172 horsepower does not sound like a lot, but you can get a lot out of it when it comes on such a light platform of 2,700 lbs. The turbo charged 4-cylinder delivers peppy acceleration with surprising little turbo lag. The Cooper S is not a powerhouse that will rocket to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, but it is sprite ride that offers a lot of fun. With six gears, the engine easily gets you to highway speeds and keeps you there comfortably. Another benefit of the six gears is the amazing gas mileage. I drove my Cooper S pretty hard and was only able to get the mileage down to 24 mpg. I think the city rating of 26 mpg is way too low and can easily be beaten for some pretty good fuel efficiency. The clutch is the most forgiving I’ve driven in a long time, making this a great car for beginners.
As expected in a small car, the ride was pretty stiff. While the car offered a sport suspension mode, I could not tell much difference from the standard mode. Both modes telegraphed almost every bump in the road to your butt. Interestingly, the sport suspension mode turns off each time you turn off the car, forcing the driver to re-select it each time they get behind the wheel. I guess they really expect it to be used only during specific drives, not as a statement of your driving style.
Body lean was minimal, due to the ultra stiff chassis and tight suspension creating a handling issue. With testing the lean, I discovered the Cooper S doesn’t hug the road as well as a true sports car. The combination of the stiff suspension and the run flat tires lead the car to skip on high speed curves. Some more compliance in the suspension to smooth out those turns would really let this Cooper carve the road.
The highlight of this car was the turning radius. The electronic brake force assist enable the Cooper S to stop on a dime and the turning radius lets you turn around one. While I didn’t test it, I’m sure this car could fit into the smallest of parallel parking spots.
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