It’s Changed, But It Looks The Same
Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool MINI fan, you’re not likely to see much difference between this latest model and last year’s car. The 2007 MINI is a couple of inches longer, and BMW, the MINI’s parent company, says all the sheet metal is new, but the look is the same. Of course, this is not a bad thing, the MINI is still as cute as a bug, with just the right amount of hugability and feistiness.
My test car was a silver S model with a black top and racing stripes on the hood. It’s
aggressive stance made it look like it was ready to take on a Ferrari. The interior sported the MINI’s familiar retro styling, with the tachometer squarely in front of the driver, and the speedometer mounted in the center of the dash. The speedo is even larger than before, more like the size of a pie pan, but it now also houses the radio controls, which are small and inscrutable. The 2007 model carries over a lot of other quirky features too, like toggle switches on the dash, which seem overdue for an update.
MINI buyers like their cars to be customized, and BMW accommodates them with a laundry list of add-ons. My test car came with optional red leather seats, and matching red trim on the doors ($1900.) Other cosmetic options included glossy black trim on the dash and doors ($200) and chrome trim rings for around the gauges for another $200. If you put your mind to it, you could probably add another thousand in doodads.
BMW redesigned the seats in the 2007 MINI. The front ones are comfortable and supportive for even six-footers. The ones in back are still short on legroom and are best suited for small kids. Actually, the best thing you can do with those seats is to fold them flat to make more storage room. In this mode, you can stow a surprisingly large amount (24 cu-ft) of gear back there.
Under the hood, the MINI gets a new 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. It’s lighter than its predecessor, and gets four miles per gallon better gas mileage. It also puts out a bit more horsepower—118 vs. 115 in the standard model, and 172 vs. 168 in the S version. The S now gets a turbo assist, in place of last year’s supercharger. As with the previous model, a six-speed manual is standard and a six-speed automatic, with a manual mode and paddle shifters, is an option. If you are not comfortable with a stiff clutch pedal, the automatic would be a better choice.
The first thing that impressed me when I drove my Cooper S test car was the flexibility of the engine. It pulls well on hills at as low as 2000 rpm. You don’t have to worry about what gear you are in all the time. However, I was surprised by the hefty amount of torque-steer when I hit the gas hard to merge onto the freeway the first time. The car darted left and right before straightening out. This is something that I wished BMW had tamed better.
The next thing that caught my attention was the ultra quick steering. It takes only a slight touch of the wheel to get the MINI to change direction. My test car was equipped with the optional sport suspension, with stiffer shocks and springs. The combination of the quick steering and a firm suspension makes you feel like you’re driving a go-kart when you take a corner. This car is very responsive. However, if you value your comfort, you might want to forego the sport suspension—it makes for a choppy ride.
Although it has been changed in many ways, the 2007 MINI remains fun and quirky. It is sure to maintain its nearly cult-like following. Prices start at $18,700 for the base model, and $21,850 for the S.
Base Price (S): $21,850
Engine: 1.6-ltr, turbo, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-sp manual
Brakes: disc, ABS
Gas Mileage: 29-36 mpg
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