Review of the MCS vs the BMW 1-Series

While those of us in the US won't be able to even entertain this possibility – it does seem many elsewhere will be cross-shopping these two cars. BTW this contribution comes from David Szweda:

Here is are some excerpts of an article from CAR Magazine (August 2004), a prominent UK car magazine, with a review of a Mini Cooper S vs. the new BMW One Series. It shows a different aspect between the cars and how closely matched they really are. I have seen similar sentiments from other magazines in Europe as well and may be a good indicator as to why BMW is not bringing the car into the States.

“You don't think the Cooper S belongs in the same car park as the 120i? Think again: comparable asking price, similar ranking on the image scale, near-identical performance, driving pleasure a clear priority over packaging.

In character, however, these two cars are fish and fowl. This is not only about fwd vs rwd. It is also about premium vs lifestyle, two-door vs four-door, normally aspirated vs supercharged, iconic vs innovative.

The Mini is a go-kart with 2+2 seats, a short and emblematic road hugger which combines great showmanship with great handling. The 1-series is a little roomier, a little more sensible and a little bigger. But it, too, puts a clear emphassis on tactility, agility and spontaneity.

Shaped by Frank Stephenson, who now works for Ferrari and Maserati, the chubby Mini's shape strikes a convincing balance between retro and modern…

Take-off is not that energetic for such a short and light car, but moments later, when the progressive Roots blower has built up the boost pressure, the nose will lift and we're off like greased lightning. Steering fight? You bet. Traction problems? Not only in the wet. Understeer? You get what you ask for. Once under way, though, the Cooper S is huge fun. Inexhaustible grip, irreproachable stability and incredible maneuverability make it virtually invincible on slow, winding roads.

But the 120i does not trail far behind. It may not be capable of quite the same dizzying cornering speeds, and it is not quite as chuckable through the hairpins, but in terms of challenge and satisfaction there is very little in it between these two in-house rivals.

The 1-series gets its biggest advantage from the lightness of its controls. It's brakes are progressive instead of wooden, its steering has a lot more depth and clarity, the pedals are right in front of the driver instead of offset, shifting gear is a two-finger job, and the throttle response is more linear.

At 163hp and 155lb ft, the 1.6-liter Mini engine produces a bit more grunt and oomph than the normally aspirated 120i. As a result, the Cooper S gains 1.3sec on the acceleration run from 0-62mph. Because of the less favourable drag coefficient, the top speed is an identical 135mph. Trouble is, it gets very thirsty when y ou nail the throttle: over the same distance and at the same velocity, the Cooper S used 15 percent more. The turbocharged four currently being developed should improve this. The replacement Cooper S will also get different brakes and gearbox.

The Cooper is cool, hip and trendy. But its appeal is not only skin-deep: in town and on your favourite C-road, the S offers all the pace you will ever need. The 1-series does not look quite as stunning to me, it does not peel tarmac quite as well, and it does not seem like a fantastically good value next to the in-demand, depreciation-busting Cooper S. But it is more practical, more functionaly, more sensual.

This is a very tough call. If the 1-series on test had been the diesel, we might have favoured it over the Mini. But up against he 120i on the same roads, the Cooper S was the better car.”

You can read the entire article in this month's Car Magazine. The mag is from the UK and can generally found at finer bookstores in the US.