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2006 Mini Cooper S
By Dave Good

Click for detail photo. I was intrigued when I learned a few years ago that BMW had taken over the venerable Morris Mini Minor, and that it would be re-tooled it into something more resembling modern transportation. I already had warm fuzzies for the original Mini. Who wouldn’t love a car that stands no higher than a tall person’s waistband? The results of the hybridization had to be good. If anything I reasoned, BMW had plenty of experience with high performance, yet boxy autos. For years before they got hip, BMW design had stuffed rocket engines under the bonnets of square bodied cars that only your eccentric grandmother could appreciate. If the Beemer version of the Mini turned out to be any good I thought, one might well end up in my driveway.

First, how to tell the S apart from the standard Mini: the S comes with an air scoop molded into its bonnet. Otherwise, the cars are almost identical. The Mini Cooper S appeared on the market some 39 years after the introduction of the original S, the flagship of the Mini line of diminutive British autos. Frank Stephenson, designer of the newer version, told a reporter “the Mini Cooper is not a retro design car, but an evolution of the original.” It is still small. It is still shaped like a box. But, that was always part of the cachet. Genetically intact, the new Mini S is nearly three feet shorter than the Honda Civic Coupe, but it has excellent headroom, surprisingly roomy seating both fore and aft, and it has a decent amount of storage space.

The power plant is a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder supercharged transverse with 168 horsepower that finds 60mph in just over seven seconds. Stock, the S tops out at 135 mph. John Cooper Works (the same John Cooper that turned the Mini into a Monte Carlo rally winner) offers a relatively inexpensive tuning kit designed to make the S the fastest production Mini yet. Transmission is a six speed manual, and the suspension package includes Automatic Stability Control and Traction Control. The Mini Cooper S is said by some test drivers to feel heavier than its 2,767 pounds. The front end rides on MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar; the rear suspension is multilink with a stabilizer bar. 16-inch standard wheels are upgradable to a 17-inch spoke pattern.

The net result is a car that rides like a Nissan hard body but handles like a Ferrari F40. Steering is said to be tight but quick, and the suspension transmits much road information up the column and into the hands of the driver – too much so, some say. Standard interior appointments include a six-speaker stereo and CD changer, and the S also comes in a ragtop version. And a smart ragtop it is. Everything works off of the flick of a switch (or key fob), including the latches. All is handled electronically. The top is quick enough to open at a traffic light, and at freeway speeds the top will peel back to the width of a standard sunroof opening. The one major negative of the cloth top, say some reports, is that when up, it creates two permanent blind spots.

Which brings us to the subject of traffic safety – everyone’s concern, I’m sure, when cruising at freeway speeds in a vehicle that is mere inches off the pavement. Think about it – your grandmother would go on and on about how unsafe such a small car is in a world full of Cadillacs and big trucks and lunatics. Tell her that the Mini Cooper S comes with up to six airbags, depending on the options package chosen, and that in 2004, the S got four stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s crash and rollover tests division. The sticker price on the basic Mini S should inspire grandma with your sense of frugality as well: all that fun on wheels, and for well under $30 grand! Not bad. Not bad at all. Christmas, I keep reminding myself, is right around the corner.

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Pictures of the Mini Cooper S
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Posted April 18, 2006
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