Mini Cooper – 2007 Review: Life with a party animal can be fun. There’s constant excitement, things to do, places to go, and always with a kickin’ soundtrack. For some people, it’s the epitome of living the dream. Yet sometimes even die-hard animals get on your nerves, no matter how fun they are. That’s the case with the 2007 MINI Cooper. It brandishes fun like a club, from its clown-car styling inside and out to its frisky driving manners. It wears thin in the daily commute though, and makes us wonder if maybe living with the volume turned up to 11 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley, Ron Perry
What We Drove
Our 2007 Mini Cooper featured the naturally aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. The base $18,700 price included air conditioning, alloy wheels, front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. Options on our car included $1,500 leather seats, a $1,400 convenience package with a universal garage door opener, auto dimming rearview mirror and Bluetooth mobile phone, and a $1,400 premium package with multifunction steering wheel, dual-pane sunroof and automatic climate control. Throw in the $1,400 sport and $300 cold weather packages with the $200 chrome and $200 piano black interior trim and $550 audio system and you’re looking at $25,650 of Mini.
The engine in the standard Mini produces only 118 horsepower from its 1.6-liters of displacement. Even with the six-speed transmission’s short ratios and quick action, the Mini is far from fast. Accelerating at full throttle produces more exciting noise than forward thrust, and we found ourselves winding the engine out to redline just to keep up with traffic. That’s likely why we only got 27.3 mpg, well below the Mini’s 32 mpg city rating. Acceleration is on par with other economy-minded cars, but pales next to other cars with this Mini’s as-equipped price tag.
The Mini is responsive to a fault. The steering is quick and immediate, even more so with the Sport mode engaged, with zero play on center; we found ourselves correcting frequently on freeways to keep the Mini straight. The payoff is great cornering, with the sport suspension making the most of the mildly aggressive rubber for fun handling. The high limits are well controlled, with mild understeer at the limit and only a hint of tail waggle before the stability control kicks in. The downside is a harsh ride quality that exacerbates the Mini’s short-wheelbase hop.
The Mini is like driving a fishbowl, partly because you get a lot of attention, but also because it’s so easy to see out of. Pillars are thin and virtually disappear, the rear seat head restraints are tucked down next to the seatbacks, and the side windows and upright windshield pose no obstacles. The large outside mirrors are also handy, and knowing that the Mini has virtually no overhangs means that parking lot maneuvers are simple.
Fun to Drive
The Mini is an absolute blast to drive most of the time. If you want a willing partner to drive up any twisty road, through the hip part of town to be seen, or even just zip down to the corner market for some milk, the Mini’s virtues are unparalleled. However, when you just want to drive in relative silence 30 miles to work in traffic, suddenly the Mini’s party-all-the-time nature starts to get a little grating. You might wish for a little more compliance from the suspension, a little more power from the engine, and a little more stability from the steering.
Tall drivers needn’t worry about space in the Mini. Even our tallest and bulkiest editors found plenty of room in the car’s diminutive interior. The multi-adjustable seat fit everyone, and the soft leather was a welcome organic touch in the otherwise plasticky interior. Controls fall readily to hand, there is plenty of leg and head room, and despite the array of levers and knobs it was easy to find a comfortable driving position.
The rear seat in the Mini is a joke. If the driver is taller than 5 feet 6 inches, forget about putting four people in the Mini. Even with the front seats moved all the way forward in their tracks, there is little leg room in the rear seat. Additionally, rear seat area trim is almost comically cheap; hard shiny plastic is everywhere, and if it weren’t for the leather covered seats it’d be hard to believe that BMW owns Mini at all. Our advice is to fold down the seat and use it only in dire passenger-hauling emergencies.
This is where the party starts to wear thin. On one hand it’s fun to hear the squeal of the Mini’s tires, the wail of the engine, and the road rushing by as you hurry the Mini through its paces. But when you’re just trying to get home after a long day at work, the incessant wind roar, tire, road and engine noise are at best annoying, at worst fatiguing to the point of exhaustion. Know how annoying it is when your party animal friend wants to keep on going while you’re ready to call it a night? It’s something like that.
Cargo capacity is not the Mini’s strong point. Open the hatch and there’s enough room behind the rear seats for a day’s worth of groceries, or maybe a gym bag or two. Anything more than that and you’ll need to fold down the seatbacks. It’s easy enough, with handles on the tops of the seatbacks, but the resulting load floor isn’t flat; the seatbacks are a good eight inches higher than the rearmost cargo area. The liftover is low at least, and you can get a decent amount of cargo in with the seats folded, but the Mini clearly wants to play, not work.
Everywhere you look, the Mini exhibits very good build quality. There were only a few minor fit problems inside, and nothing outside. Like many manufacturers, Mini intentionally uses large panel gaps in some places to make fitting components easier. Unlike most of them, it works well here. Since the Mini’s interior is awash in retro themes anyhow, the loose fitting panels (such as the piano black trim pieces) work well.
The materials used in the Mini are all over the map. On one hand the door panels and dash are covered in soft touch plastic, with soft arm rests built in. The piano black and chrome trim is also good quality and nice to look at and touch. However, some of the bits feel cheap, such as the outer dash vent housings and the squeaky, flimsy center console. The rear seat trim is a joke, with hard, shiny cheap plastic everywhere. Most egregious is probably the headliner. The oft-maligned mousefur would be an improvement over the fiber-covered cardboard in the Mini.
Exterior styling changes from the 2006 Mini are subtle enough that they need to be pointed out in most cases; it’s hard to believe that no panels are carried over. The headlights and taillights are the most obvious changes, but overall Mini did a great job of updating the styling without losing any of the character of the previous car. The same is true inside, however form takes precedence over function in too many ways for our tastes. The pie-sized central speedometer, for example, may be a great styling element, but in practice it constantly reflects the outside world and suffers from noticeable parallax error.
For a car aimed at the young and the hip, the Mini has an amazing lack of storage space. Two small cupholders are mounted ahead of the shifter, where they block the window switch and are constantly bumped by 2-1, 2-3 and 4-5 shifts. There is a small pocket of space behind the cup holders, a small well under the parking brake handle, and a tiny compartment built into the center armrest. There are two glove boxes, and both are decently sized, but they hardly make up for the small door pockets; best to just use the rear seats for storage, since you won’t be putting people back there anyhow.
The Mini shows its BMW ownership most strongly in its infotainment controls. While not pulled directly from an old 3 Series as in the last Mini, they definitely evoke BMW’s method, which needs work. There are menus to scroll through, unmarked buttons with changing functions depending on the mode, and a volume knob several inches away from the rest of the controls. We also noted that the center of the digital display virtually disappears when wearing polarized sunglasses, an unforgivable sin in this day and age.
The climate controls are simple and mostly easy to use, but still have some non-traditional thinking behind them. The design mimics the Mini logo, which is cute, but the result is a Playskool interface. We’d rather have the automatic setting keep the Mini cool during the moderately warm weather we experienced during our time with the car. Part of the blame lies with the mesh sunroof shade, but the system is clearly under-engineered. Ultimately we gave up on the automatic setting and just manually set it to blast as much cold air as it could, which was still barely adequate.
Some controls in the Mini are hard to find, such as the toggle style window, fog light and door lock switches mounted under the climate control center stack. More are located overhead for the interior lights and sunroof. We could get used to that, but not the spring-loaded turn signal and windshield wiper stalks. Rather than staying in place after being activated, they snap back up or down to their at-rest positions. It’s irritating and pointless; we can’t think of a single reason for this other than being different for different’s sake.
There is no other car on the market exactly like the Mini, but some compact sportsters give it a run for its money. The Mazdaspeed 3, Volvo C30 T5 and Volkswagen GTI all offer similar power and performance at the same price. All of them do it with a more standard control layout and more cargo and passenger room, too. Of course, none of those cars have the overflowing personality of the Mini either, but as we’ve said, that’s a double-edged sword.
2ND Opinion –
The Mini isn’t a car for someone who wants to blend in. With more character per ton than any other compact, it celebrates being different. BMW’s second-generation Mini Cooper retains all the elements that made it a success: go-kart handling, retro outside and funky inside.