Auto Test Drives
Mini Cooper S: Auto-X Marks the Spot
By Andrew Gardner; photos courtesy BMW/Mini Press Group
Dec 25, 2006, 11:28 PST


What should front wheel-drive driving be like? The Mini Cooper S. The Cooper is a small car but a big pleasure to drive. It's cute but sporty looks spell out the sharp handling and good power to weight ratio that make it a top choice for autocrossing.

The Mini has faired very well in autocross events accross the country - as Mini's rep Andrew Cutler put it, the Mini has "cleaned up" in competition. Amongst the vehicles we have driven, it is certainly one of the best if you are driving on a modest budget.

A quick steering ratio and stiff suspension which pushes the limit of comfortable combine to form very good handling and positive turn-in. It is a car with a British name now owned by a reputable German sports car manufacturer. It's handling characteristics are an appropriate blend of British and German culture. The Mini likes to dive in and snag the apex. It is short wheelbase, and as such ir very rotatable. It responds well to throttle lift off. It also responds to throttle application - with wheelspin. So you have all this responsiveness to what you tell the car to do, and that makes the Mini controllable. It is not super sharp in any feature, so it lends itself well to amatuer driving, but it can be setup and adjusted for corners very easily. You can get the back end to step out for a quick walk so as to improve turn in with lift-off and more steering. It will pull strongly out of corners with appropriate throttle modulation. It will zip down the straight as it winds through the rpm range.



With the optional DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) on, you will find more help than hindrance. If you are trying to balance the car on the limit of control but are smooth, you will get small pokes of help from brakes or throttle cutout but you will get a good window of freedom to find your driving line and limit. With DSC switched off (by flicking up or down that neat little toggle switch on the lower console) you get lots of freedom to skid through massive understeer from coming into a corner too hot or smoking the front tires by flooring the throttle in the middle of a corner.

Incorporated with DSC are standard features traction control, Electronic Brake Force Distrubution (EBD), and Cornering Brake Control (CBC). CBC specifically monitors steering input and increases brake pressure ot the outside front wheel to prevent oversteer during mid-corner braking. All of these electronic aids help make those less experienced better drivers and further enjoy the fantastic driving experience that this little Mini has to offer.

The Mini is even fun while you wait for your turn to autocross - spending time admiring the interesting and unique arrangement of gauges on the dashboard and the accompanying lack of a traditional instrument cluster behind the steering wheel (just the tach remains), the polished toggle switches separated by tiny vertical bars, lined up accross the bottom of the glossy-finish painted waterfall is just a fun, attractive yet usable arrangement of controls.

It's all fun and games with the Mini, and that's the point. It's a zippy little car you can squeeze into and have a blast driving, and it's even something you can enjoy just looking at from the inside or out. It's a car tha you can truly enjoy owning, and it's a car that helps non "car people" understand what automotive passion is all about.





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