I took a road trip to New York City over the weekend and had the chance to log a lot of miles behind the wheel of our Four Seasons 2007 Mini Cooper S. To be honest, the Mini wasn't my first choice for the trip, but it turned out to be the right choice.
(Image by A.J. Mueller)
Driving the Mini Cooper around Ann Arbor is frustrating because the roads are so broken and rutted up the car feels like a bucking bronco. We recently added a John Cooper Works kit (exhaust, intake, and computer reflash) and the exhaust now resonates pretty badly at legal cruising speeds. I've noticed that it quiets down when cruising around 95 mph, but that's not very practical. Crossing Pennsylvania meant cruising up and down some decent grades, which made the resonance worse because there was virtually always a load on the engine. It wasn't as annoying as I feared it would be, but I much prefer the stock exhaust on this car.
Cruising at a constant 72 mph (according to my Passport 9500i), I was amazed by the Mini's fuel economy. I could easily run 450 miles on a tank without trying to conserve fuel. You're burning premium fuel in a Mini, but certainly not guzzling the good stuff. I actually thought the gas gauge was malfunctioning because I would go about 150 miles before one of the lights in the gas gauge went out. After seeing the incredible highway fuel economy, I really started to like this Mini.
Driving across Pennsylvania, I was pleasantly surprised by how composed the Cooper S is at speed. Other than a few stretches of road where the broken pavement wreaked havoc with the Mini's short wheelbase, the car was perfectly composed and felt very substantial. There was plenty of power for passing and, if you could ignore the exhaust droning on, it was surprisingly quiet. I would still like to ditch the runflat tires for some regular rubber and a membership to AAA, but the smooth pavement kept us relatively comfortable.
Racing around Manhattan, I had a great time shifting the close-ratio six-speed. I didn't think the manual transmission would be ideal for city driving, but it actually works much better than the automatic Cooper S I drove last year. The little turbo four-cylinder provides more than enough torque to keep ahead of traffic and the reasonable width of the car makes navigating the streets of a big city easy. I didn't see a single Smart car while I was in Manhattan, but I saw at least 40 Minis.
The Bluetooth interface is excellent in this car. I didn't find a way to reduce the volume of the ringer (it was several times louder than the radio and always made me jump when a call came in), but the sound quality of the calls was good and the system can read your phonebook without actually downloading the data to the car's memory. This is the sort of premium touch that sets the Mini apart from other small cars; you don't feel like you are giving anything up by going small.
After 1400 miles of driving over three days, I was happy I took our Mini. I generally disliked this generation of Minis before this trip, but those feelings went away. I can't think of a better mix of performance, economy, utility, and practicality than this Cooper. There are a few changes I'd make, like the exhaust and tires, but most everything else works very well. If you have to deal with a large city during your commute, but need a commuter that also plays well on twisty roads, it's impossible to beat a Mini.