The 2007 MINI Cooper and Cooper S...
All new, but mostly unchanged
by Gary Anderson in Amsterdam with Barry Brazier in Barcelona
Well, here it is, as much as information and insight into the 2007 MINI as we can provide from our testing on the road and track this past summer and recently in Scottsdale, Arizona at the U.S. press launch. Some of the information, such as the options available for interior decor are just too overwhelming to put into these pages, but we're using the pages of the magazine for a number of indepth stories about the new 2007.
With the MINI still capable of generating smiles on both owners and passerbys five years after the introduction of the first generation model, the completely new 2007 Mini Cooper still thankfully displays the same cheeky appearance and offers the same fun-loving performance.
To meet European environmental and mileage requirements, BMW designed a completely new engine for the 2007 Mini Cooper in cooperation with Peugeot. It produces approximately the same horsepower as before - 120 in the Cooper and 175 in the Cooper S - but a turbocharger in the Cooper S in place of the old supercharger produces 177 pound-feet of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm, significantly improving the MC/S performance.
The new engine, as well as new European pedestrian safety standards, required that BMW redesign all the front panels and hood, and to maintain overall design integrity, the stylists had to tweak the contours of all other panels. Nevertheless, without the old model to compare, most observers would have difficulty spotting the changes. The Mini still is most aptly described as looking like a cheery English bulldog.
There are changes in the headlamps and turn signals, now mounted on the chassis instead of attached to the hood (no more tricks of lighting the midnight sky with your hood pointed towards the stars) but they retain their large oval shape. Combined with the broad grille - chrome on the Cooper and black mesh on the Cooper S - the car has the same smiley face as before.
The interior has been redesigned to increase space, but continues to pay homage to the Mini heritage. The speedometer, now larger than ever, is still placed prominently in the center of the dashboard, with the tachometer conveniently mounted behind and moving with the tilting steering wheel.
Though the Mini is still the smallest four-passenger car on the road in North America, the interior is large enough to accommodate all sizes of drivers and front passengers in comfort, and the rear seats are actually functional, if not capacious. With the hatchback and folding rear seats, the MINI can even haul reasonable amounts of gear.
Recognizing that the MINI appeals to a broad range of buyers, from young single professionals to golden-age retired couples, BMW has responded with a quantum increase in styling options, with choices not only in upholstery style, material and color, but also in trim panels, accent panels, and ambient lighting. In their media handout materials they speak of the options being in the millions if you get carried away with the mix-and-match ability of the 372 interior options and 319 exterior options.
With the long list of optional upgrades, buyers can easily go from the economy-level entry price right up into the near-luxury class, making a MINI the alternative to a 3-Series for many buyers.
The restyled 2007 Mini Cooper hardtop with new engine is available in the 120 horsepower Cooper and the turbocharged 175 horsepower Cooper S; the convertible, available in 115 horsepower Cooper form and 168 horsepower supercharged Cooper S form, remains unchanged for 2007 using the present Tritec engine it's had since 2001. The engine upgrade will be part of the model's complete facelift for 2008. Both hatchback models come standard with six-speed manual transmissions; a six-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic controls is optional.
The Mini Cooper hardtop with conventionally-aspirated engine comes with air conditioning, CD stereo with six speakers, wired for auxiliary input and 6-disc CD changer, power windows with auto-down, power locks, remote keyless entry, and rear wiper standard. Standard wheels are 15-inch alloy with tubeless tires, and is fitted with a spare tire and wheel; 16 and 17-inch wheels are optional. An electronic signal transmitter in place of the ignition key is new for 2007 with a separate start-stop button. If the convenience option is selected, the key doesn't even have to be in the ignition clip to function; as long as it's in the driver's pocket or purse, the door can be unlocked and the driver can start the car.
A very convenient device for drivers with cumbersome packages, the electronic signal transmitter (once known as a door/ignition key) works only from approximately two yards away from the MINI, so it's not like a keyless entry system you may have for another car that works as much as seven yards away. The MINI transmitter is almost magnetic in its placement into the dash, with a firm grip; although it does turn slightly in its position. Press the button and the engine burbles to life.
The Mini Cooper S is equipped with a turbocharged version of the same engine, stiffer "sport" suspension, performance exhaust system, and 16-inch alloy wheels; 17-inch wheels are optional. The optional Sports Switch control (located ahead of the gearshift) gives quicker response from accelerator and steering. However, we can't speak to the exact feeling when enacted this system has, as it wasn't available for anyone's testing at either debut location. It's essentially a CPU-controlled system that decreases the shift time between gears, and at the same time interacting with the engine management for fuel control. The Sports switch also uses steering wheel-located paddles to shift gears, but don't get this confused with the BMW Sequential Manual Geargox (SMG). It's just not as fast. This system will likely change to a higher-ability system in about two years, as BMW tech trickles down in model upgrades.
Exterior design details, including a black grille inset, hood scoop, rear bumper insets and prominent rear spoiler wing (optional on the Cooper), distinguish the S from the Cooper. Unfortunately, the hood scoop is blocked off and no longer functions. Conversations with several MINI tuning companies in the US has us wondering if making this function, along with a new air intake system will be first on the testing bench once the MINI debuts on February 17.
The convertible Cooper and Cooper S, essentially unchanged for 2007, are equipped with air-conditioning, six-speaker CD stereo, and heated glass rear window. The Cooper convertible comes with 15-inch wheels, five-speed manual gearbox with continuously-variable gearbox optional. The supercharged Cooper S convertible has 16-inch wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, six-speed manual transmission with six-speed automatic optional.
Exterior options on the hardtop Cooper and Cooper S include sports suspension, exterior chrome trim, front fog lights, hood stripes, and park distance control. A sunroof is optional, with a new, larger two-panel design for 2007. In the vent position, both the front and rear panels lift slightly at the rear; if the button is held down, the rear vent closes and the front vent slides back and opens up. When the sunroof is closed, front and rear shade screens reduce the glare.
Interior convenience options include Comfort Access which allows the driver to unlock the car and start the engine with the keyless transmitter in a pocket or purse, on-board computer, interior ambient lighting, multifunction controls in the steering wheel, and center armrest. An optional six-cd changer can be installed in place of the glove compartment on the passenger side of the dash, and a navigation system is available, which replaces the speedometer, using a digitally-generated analog speed indicator to replace the speedometer dial. An automatic climate control system is optional, replacing the separate fan, heat, and ventilation controls.
A very extensive list of alternative trim features is available to customize the interior to personal tastes, including accent panels in various colors of textured plastic, metal, or natural wood for the dash and door panels, seat upholstery in cloth, cloth and leather, or all-leather with contrasting piping, trim panels in a variety of colors of vinyl on dash, door panels and side panels, and wood veneer on steering wheel and hand brake. Talking with MINI styling studio leader Gert Hildebrand and others at Barcelona, it seems there's an influence of British sports cars in their shared ideaology of what the MINI interior should be.
Safety features on both hardtop models include passive front and rear crumple zones and side-intrusion protection, six airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBFD), and Cornering Brake Control (CBC). The EBD and CBC systems, only just trickling down to this class of cars in 2007 models, essentially monitors the driver's reactions via the steering wheel and brakes, as well as considering the factory default input for various events, applying brake pressure at the axles to help prevent oversteer/understeer and potential accidents. The new Brake Assistant on both models detects the driver's emergency operation of the brake pedal, and builds up maximum brake line pressure as quickly as possible. This effectively shortens the potential braking distance, as the system has actually started to build pressure seconds ahead of the driver's capacity to depress the pedal to the floor and build pressure.
Dynamic Stability Control DSC) is optional on both models, and Automatic Stability Control + Traction (ASC+T) with on-off control is optional on the Cooper and standard on the Cooper S. Hill Assist start-off assistance is a feature of DSC, activating the brakes when starting on an uphill ascent to prevent the car from rolling back. Great for in-city driving with the 6-speed gearbox.
With the standard run-flat tyres (for the 16 and 17-inch Cooper wheels) comes the tires pressure monitoring system (TPMS) now mandatory for US-delivered vehicles. MINI has chosen to call it TDC, or Tire Defect Control, for the usual silly industry-wide reasoning they wish to make it sound better than the other manufacturers. The runflats are getting better in ride quality, but they still provide 90-mile drive time at 50 mph.
Describing the new model, the designers call it "evolutionary on the outside, revolutionary on the inside." However, since major design cues have been retained, revolutionary may be too strong a word. One thing you'll notice is the overabundant usage of the circular styling theme. It's in the doors (that have lost the upright post for the front passenger to hold on to), and everywhere. If it's not circular, it's an oval. Look at the rearview mirror and foot pedals for a prime example.
The interior still has a sporty feeling, though now a bit less extreme, with the enlarged round speedometer in the center of the dash, and the tach mounted on and moving with the tilt-adjustable steering column to remind owners of the classic Mini heritage.
Audio controls have been moved from the center stack into the bottom half of the speedometer dial and the heating and airconditioning controls on the optional automatic climate controls have been compressed into a smaller Mini-wing shaped cluster. These changes reduce the width of the center stack which increases knee and leg room in the foot wells, a complaint about the previous model.
For a car that has the smallest exterior of any four-passenger car on the road, the Mini is surprisingly spacious inside. Even a six-foot, five-inch driver will be comfortable in the front seat, and the three manual levers, controlling height, rake, and front-rear position, allow both driver and passenger to find a comfortable sitting position. (Just ask Barry's co-driver at Barcelona, all six-seven and 260 lbs of him that fitted after adressing Barry's shorter 5-11 stature).
Having had the experience of driving 5000 miles in 15 days in the 2006 model, I can attest to the surprising comfort of the seats and driving position of the car. The few changes that have been made in the seats in the 2007, improving the shape and position of the bolsters, have only improved these characteristics.
Upholstery and trim has been upgraded, with the range of customizing possibilities expanded for 2007. At the one extreme, by electing sport seats with leather and contrasting cloth trim and metal accents and ambient lighting, the buyer can create a very trendy, fast-and-furious interior look. At the other extreme, by electing all-English leather seats with contrasting piping, trim panels matching the piping color, and real wood accents, a more conservative buyer can evoke an upscale, almost Rolls-Royce appearance on the interior.
Seats are available in five(!) different material styles: Lounge leather with piping, regular leather, leather with cloth panels, leatherette, and cloth in an attractive checkerboard pattern. In our view, for luxury opt for the lounge leathe style, and for sportiness, opt for the leather and cloth. The leatherette would be way at the bottom of the list.
In addition to choosing upholstery colors -- matching or contrasting depending on seat style -- the owner can also opt for different surfaces for the hard portions of the dash board and door panels, ranging from piano black, through shiny silver, to a very real-looking wood veneer, and different colors for the portion MINI calls the "color line" which is the soft padding on the door arm rests and on the bar going across the center of the dash board. With all of these options, you can have an interior look that is almost uniquely your own.
Heating and air-conditioning controls in the base model are straight-forward, but owners can also elect the automatic climate control system, cleverly configured in the shape of the winged Mini logo, which maintains a constant temperature dialed in by the occupants.
The audio system controls, now built into the speedometer dial, are almost too clever for their own good, sacrificing ease of control for design symmetry. For example, though the tuning knob is in the audio cluster, the volume knob is placed below the speedometer in the center stack, closer to the HVAC controls than to the audio controls.
A six-dash CD changer, or an alternative plug-in connector that allows control of an MP3 player, are alternate options (they both plug in to the same circuit in the audio system) for owners who wish to have more musical variety, and an optional Sirius satellite radio receiver is available as well. An upgraded 10-speaker Harmon-Kardon audio system is also available. However, the integrated design of the audio controls in the speedometer dial will make it nearly impossible to fit any other aftermarket sound system.
A navigation system is optional, and if elected, replaces the central speedometer with a round screen of the same size as the speedometer, which has a central rectangular navigation and display screen, surrounded by a digitally-generated needle displaying vehicle speed around the perimeter of the dial.
Though the rear seat wouldn't ever be argued to be comfortable for adults, and the coupe access is anything but convenient, changes in the contours of the rear seats have added about an inch of rear legroom, so that even adults can endure short rides in the rear seats.
With the large rear hatch, and separate folding rear seat backs, the Mini is quite flexible in configuration, though its overall size limits luggage space to a airline roll-aboard and brief case with the rear seats up. With the rear seats down, 24 cubic feet of cargo can be loaded into the rear, more than enough for luggage space for two passengers for a two-week trip, as we proved this summer.
The new Mini is still unmistakably a Mini. Though forced to extensively redesign the car for safety, mechanical, and manufacturing considerations, BMW designers were reluctant to risk messing with a successful formula. Anyone who is not already a Mini owner will have difficulty distinguishing the new Mini from the old one, unless the two are side by side. Nevertheless, though the same chassis has been used, there is not a single exterior panel that is common between the two cars.