- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

It has captured the imagination of people of all ages — many too young to have a driver’s license. The Mini Cooper has injected driving enthusiasm for so many that it has become a phenomenon in the auto industry.

Even for a small two-door coupe, the Mini seemed to have expansive interior room, at least for the driver and front passenger. With the redesign for 2007 the Mini has even more useable room, particularly for larger body profiles. It is longer but not ungainly.

The new dimensions open much more room within the passenger compartment without feeling overly large. This car is incredibly easy to drive.

Nearly unnoticeable are the redesigned front fenders and hood. To comply with new pedestrian collision standards, the hood is redesigned to absorb impact. The Cooper S receives a functional air intake scoop to assist in moving cool air over the engine.

Other styling cues include the hexagon single-piece grille anchored by new combination lights. Retaining the large circular design, the headlight housings now incorporate the turn signal lights. The Cooper S also receives fog lamps in the lower valance, which now has a single large air intake grille.

Since the beginning, I have loved the way this car drives and the spirit it creates behind the wheel. Much like a go-cart excites a youngster, the Mini excited me and thousands of others with its excellent handling and performance. But I was always feeling a bit cramped from the waist down.

Why? The center console needed to be very wide to accommodate the sound system and climate-control switching. This design created an uncomfortable rest for my right leg as I tend to thrust my right leg against this wide center stack during hard cornering. I would climb from the driver’s seat with a large crease in my leg, which increased the discomfort level on long drives.

That problem has been solved with the redesigned and narrower center console. Some of the switching is relocated to the lower face of the large speedometer in the center dash. It opens up much more room, so I did not use it as a resting point.

Following the trend of nonconventional ignition keys, Mini supplies a banjo-shaped transmitter that tells the vehicle that you are the driver. Starting and stopping the engine is via a button located on the dash. I am not a big fan of these so-called “smart” keys, but at least this one looks cool.

Taking a cue from parent BMW, night illumination is some of the best I’ve experienced. Indirect lighting from the roof lining softly spills light onto the door handles and storage areas without causing distractions. The ambient lighting system can vary between warm orange to racy blue in five steps, setting the mood from a warm glow to edgy.

The drive is enhanced with improvements to the suspension system that gives the car increased ride comfort while not hindering the wonderful handling this car has always exhibited. This is why the Mini became such a fun car to drive and own. It is a cool commuter car because of its fun-to-drive quotient as well as its economic attributes.

Adding to the wide array of features that allows owners the ability to personalize their cars are more paint colors, accessory parts and the traditional roof graphics such as the Union Jack or Old Glory.

The two models, Cooper and Cooper S, are so similar in appearance you might be hard-pressed to distinguish between the two. Most obvious are the dual tail pipes on the Cooper S. Of course the incredibly quicker launch and rapid acceleration might be a dead giveaway too.

The Cooper engine produces a more-than-adequate 118 horsepower and 114 foot-pounds of torque. And many drivers will be extremely happy with this. However, if you crave the most out of your car, the supercharged Cooper S will bring a huge smile to your face with its 172 horsepower.

Two transmissions are offered for USA-bound Minis. A five-speed manual is my choice, particularly when bombing through back country twisting roads. However, if I had to commute on the weekdays through typical traffic jams, I would probably opt for the five-speed automatic equipped with manual shifting mode.

The Mini is a fun car that can also be considered a practical choice for the economically minded. So, if you want economics as well as spirited drives to come wrapped in just one automobile, the Mini in either form would be due a look.


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