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2008 Mini Cooper S Road Test
Still one of the hippest cars on the planet!
By Kevin 'Crash' Corrigan
Being born in London, England, at the start of the swinging sixties had one or two distinct advantages for me.
First off, when I held onto my aunt by her legs, my face was not smothered by yards of flowing fabric, because her skirt was situated substantially higher than my head (I wonder if that's why I've always had a thing for miniskirts!).
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, (at least at that time), was that one of the first vehicles that I ever remember clapping eyes on was a Mini Cooper S.
I can still remember it now, old English white with a black roof, and wide steel rims with little chrome hubcaps. (Many years later, I actually owned the Cooper version in exactly the same colour scheme).
The car belonged to a neighbour of ours. My father, at the time, drove a Mk II Jaguar, and my mother owned a Morris Minor. Both were wonderful cars in their own right, but somehow they never held the same intrigue for a youngster.
To me, the Mini was kid-friendly. I could actually see into the car without the assistance of an adult, and I can still remember thinking that the front of the car resembled a face, with two bulging eyes and a big wide mouth.
Possibly these childhood memories or some strange sense of patriotism is the reason why I still have a Mini Cooper in my stable of classic cars today. It is my little summer fun runaround, and keeps me feeling young.
Maybe I'm not alone in my thinking, as together with a lot of younger drivers experiencing the Mini Magic for the first time, there appears to be several older drivers purchasing the new Mini Coopers, experiencing all the excitement that goes along with them.
In fact, to be honest, I've been thinking of trading in my old Mini for one of the new breed for some time now. After all, the days of my enjoying drying out damp Lucas distributors are long passed. (The old Minis had a front-mounted distributor which was rather exposed to the elements; what a wonderful idea on an English car!).
So with this in mind, I picked up my Cooper S tester for the week, with the cunning plan of putting the little car through its paces and perhaps partaking of a true week-long test drive!
Well my first surprise was that the little car is not quite so little anymore. It appears to have matured and grown up along with me. It somehow got taller, wider and faster. Unfortunately, I also got taller and considerably wider, albeit noticeably slower.
Size has always been a bit of an issue for the Mini. In fact, in the early ones, you had to extend the seat mounts with little metal brackets to get any real legroom up front, and then you needed to lower the steering column on similar brackets to be able to steer it.
The new Cooper S, however, comes with considerable more legroom, thanks to its larger size, and the steering now features tilt and telescopic adjustments (on all models).
It also comes with a whole host of features. The new model boasts heated seats, power windows/locks, automatic headlamps and wipers, and it even has multi-coloured selectable interior mood lighting (now that really would have been 'far out' in the 60's).
Then of course, there's the twin glass sunroof setup, the slick six-speed gearbox, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and the superb bi-xenon headlamp system.
As for speed, the largest engine ever fitted to the original Mini was a 1275-cc. 76-bhp four-cylinder, which boasted of being able to 'nearly' hit the 100 mph mark. That was big news back then.
However, today's Mini Cooper S makes that seem downright snail-like. The 08 model tested, with its 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo DOHC 16-Valve motor now produces 172 hp @ 6,000 rpm. It accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 7.1 seconds, and the top speed is governed to 223 km/h (that's 138 mph).
It is also a huge winner in the comfort stakes over the original, without losing any of its famous handling characteristics. Yes, it still goes around corners as if it's on rails!
When you think about it, the 60's version of the Mini Cooper was probably the original hot hatch type vehicle. Now before you all write in telling me that the Mini wasn't a hatch, and harangue me about VW GTI's and Peugeot's, let me explain myself.
The famous comedy actor Peter Sellers owned a Mini Cooper in the 60's. It was a special hatchback model built specifically for him by Mini conversion specialists, Radford. As for being a hot hatch, Peter was married to the famous Swedish actress Britt Ekland, so with her seated in it, it was a real 'hot, hot hatch'!
That's the strange thing about Minis, they've never really fallen into the typical class structure of cars. In fact, numerous famous and wealthy people have owned and driven Minis over the years, including several members of the British Royal Family.
They have a certain panache that is hard to find in most other small cars. Nobody looks at a Mini Cooper and asks: “What, you couldn't afford the 3 Series BMW?” Yet that seems to be the way with most other small vehicles on the road today.
No, the Mini Cooper has always been a true driver's car, and fortunately BMW (which owns the marque these days) understands this. That is why the Mini Cooper S will always be a car purchased for sheer owner enjoyment, rather than the size of the purchaser's wallet.
However, price always rears its ugly head somewhere nowadays, and several people, including some of my learned journalistic colleagues, have suggested that the new Mini Cooper is a tad on the expensive side.
Well, I beg to differ on that one. I think that when you look at what is actually included in the price on the new Mini Cooper range, it is more than fair.
To explain this further, in the same week that I was testing the 2008 Cooper S, my wife's friend, a lady in her early sixties, was looking to purchase a new vehicle. Having offered to chauffeur her around to a few dealerships and help with her selection, I arrived in my cute little Mini Cooper S.
After going starry-eyed and telling me that a Mini was the very first vehicle that she ever owned, we were off to -- yes, you've guessed it -- straight to the local Mini dealer.
We looked at all the models and she fell into Mini-love all over again. We then travelled around most of the other small-car manufacturers' showrooms to make comparisons.
It didn't take long for me to realize that certain models, whilst comparing favourably in price, just didn't have all the features of the Mini. On many, you had to pay extra for things like the fog lights or a multi-function leather steering wheel, and very few came with things like tilt and telescopic steering.
You also have to look at the fact that even though the Mini comes extremely well equipped as standard, you also get the opportunity to upgrade things like the stereo system to a premium unit typically found only in high-end BMW type vehicles.
Worth mentioning, as well, is that all Mini models come with a six-speed gearbox as standard, as opposed to the other manufacturers who only offer a five-speed on their similarly priced vehicles.
Speaking of gearboxes, the Mini also comes as standard with a very clever hill-start feature, which basically holds the brakes for you until you pull away. That could be very useful for someone new to standard transmissions, or anyone slightly out of practice.
To cut a long story short, the lady ended up purchasing a new Mazda 3, which came very well equipped, if not quite up to the standard of the Mini Classic. It was brand new, but 2007 model, and so it did save her few dollars compared to the Mini.
However, the price was not the main reason for the purchase of the Mazda. In fact, in the end, we both agreed that the Mini was in many ways a much better deal. It was purely a matter of practicality. The lady in question lives in the countryside north of the city and servicing of the Mini would have been difficult for her due to the sparseness of BMW dealerships in her area.
So there you have it, one Mini lover is now in a Mazda 3. And me? Well, I live closer to the city, so watch this space.
Kevin 'Crash' Corrigan is a regular contributor to CarTest. You can read more of his reviews at www.carkeys.ca.
Green Light: Come on now, it's a Mini. It offers some of the best handling for the money of any vehicle on the planet.
Yellow Light: Rear legroom is not the greatest, but then again, read the green light.
Red Light: Dealerships are few and far between, but then again, read the green light!.