New Models - Mini Hatch
First Oz drive: Cooper S still fun
So we know it works in Portugal, but does the Cooper S stack up on Aussie roads?
3 May 2002
IF you are wondering if there's been a computer glitch relax, this is not the same story about the Cooper S that headlined this site just a few weeks ago.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:OUR experience of the Cooper S in Portugal had certainly whetted (or wetted is probably more appropriate, considering the weather) our appetite for the car and there was little doubt this is an exciting, solidly engineered little car.
But how would it translate to Australia? So often, cars which feel good overseas land here and are beaten down by the combination of rough tar and dirt roads and extreme weather.
Of concern in the case of the Cooper S at our first sampling was the harshness of the suspension. How would it stand up to Aussie conditions?
The answer is remarkably well. The combination of everything from freeway running to 20km/h sign-posted hairpins refused to phase the behaviour of the Cooper S.
Its ride behaviour actually felt better than in Portugal - maybe it was the absence of manhole covers which pepper Lisbon roads - and only the roughest, toughest potholes and corrugations felt uncomfortable - accentuated by a fair amount of noise from the suspension in those circumstances.
But the car sticks like glue, a real testament to the sophistication of the multi-link rear-end - eschewing the torsion beam rear axle favoured by most hot hatches.
And while it is a front-wheel drive, the front-end also behaves very well. The turn-in from the electric rack and pinion system is very direct, the feel level is high with just a slight torque effect adding to rather than detracting from its tactility. It just lets you know what is happening rather than trying to wrench the steering wheel from your hands.
It is the sort of car you do need to pay attention too, though, because such directness means it responds to small inputs quickly and can be deflected off bumps.
All that mechanical grip is backed up by a family of electronic aids, including anti-lock braking, electronic brakeforce distribution, cornering brake control and automatic stability and traction control. The more sophisticated dynamic stability control (DSC) is an option.
But even more than the chassis, we continue to be impressed by this engine, which is a testament to small-bore supercharging. It is a 1600cc grunter with a great spread of power and a top-end that just keeps on giving right up to redline. The supercharger whine adds an aural edge to its aggressive abilities too.
Add the slick-shifting gearbox and impressive all-disc brake set-up, and you have a car capable of making a lot of more expensive performance machines look a bit silly on the right mountain road.
But let's not get completely carried away here. There are some others even cheaper like the Renault Clio Renaultsport that would be as quick, and some around the same price like the Subaru WRX Impreza which would be quicker in a straight-line and point-to-point.
Back in commuter-land, the engine is a flexible and easy partner, and the car's size and manoeuvrability make it a real asset in town. Only the lack of an auto option for the S may prompt some people to choose the less powerful Cooper, with the choice of manual or CVT gearboxes.
Other observations about the Cooper S are familiar from our Portuguese experience - a gimmicky, plasticky look to the interior which includes a dashboard that seems to have been attacked with a brillo pad and a gigantic tacho in its centre which you rarely pay any attention to.
Rear seat space is limited and luggage space cramped to the extent that the Cooper S has run-flat tyres rather than try and fit a spare wheel in somewhere.
But overall this is a quality vehicle. BMW's investment in Mini has produced a Cooper S that pays due credit to the original without sacrificing modern-day luxuries and technology.
Even better. It's heaps of fun.
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