2007 Mini Cooper S

Chris Harris
Tom Salt

The road is narrow; too narrow for prolonged hammering. Usually, this would render it unsatisfactory for the purpose, but sometimes a landscape matters more than any chance to decipher the dynamic merits of a new hatchback. We lope along for the next twenty-five miles, seeing few other vehicles, jaws sagging at the undiminished, rocky beauty of the place.

Fun is, rightly, an integral aspect of the Mini's DNA, and this revised car is just as infectious as its predecessor. Steering that seemed overenthusiastic on the autostrada is right on the money through these searching, mountainous passes. But its real achievement is the level of feedback it manages despite being electrically assisted.

Composure is the other foundation on which the new car garners real respect in the Mini tradition--despite the modest power output of the Cooper S, there are few sports cars that could dispense of it on these roads.

Having a full 192 lb-ft of torque available from 1600 rpm to 5000 rpm means gear selection isn't as critical as it ought to be in a small- capacity hatchback. This car is notably punchier than the old supercharged S, even if the claimed 7.1-second 0-to-62-mph time and 140-mph top speed appear similar. More impressive is the way the front axle maximizes the shove away from tighter turns: there's no limited-slip differential fitted on our car (it's optional), and yet the traction control is triggered only by abject hooliganism from the driver. And it's when you're indulging in these delights, leaning on the 11.6-inch front discs, wondering why all performance hatchbacks don't benefit from a 2492-pound curb weight, that you forget the crummy packaging.

But perhaps not the ergonomics. As Salt takes advantage of yet another chasm below us, there's a chance to sit in the cabin and have a prolonged look around. And you know what? It must be one of the least logical cabins in a current production vehicle.

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