Cooper S Automatic Reader Review

While we patiently wait for our turn at the wheel (about a week away) Aleks was kind enough to send in this first review of the MINI Cooper S automatic (MCSa). (Some readers may remember Aleks from his ever popular “Ask an MA” features we’ve run in the past.)

Many have asked for it, and now it is finally available! The venerable Cooper S now can be ordered with an optional automatic transmission. I was lucky enough to take one for a spin the other day and Gabe was nice enough to let me share my experience.

First impressions are lasting, so I eagerly grabbed the keys and started the British Racing Green & white top MINI up. Looking around I immediately saw the new steering wheel mounted shift paddles. Easily accessible when your hands are at 3 and 9 o clock positions on the wheel, they fall right at your finger tips. Both paddles operate the same way, pull back to up shift, and push the thumb buttons forward to shift down.

mini

Another nice touch I noticed was that the new multifunction steering wheels have integrated buttons for a phone system. More on this later.

The shift knob is specific to the Cooper S as well, with a black knob and a silver button on the front of it. A bright red S emblem adds a nice touch. Many have noted before me that it kinda looks like a helmet, done intentional by MINI I’m sure. My first impression is that it feels a bit thin in your hand, probably because I am use to the rounder shift knob on my S. The shift pattern layout is just like on the CVT transmission for the cooper (P

Pulling out into traffic, the smoothness is immediately apparent. The transmission feels very good, no jerkiness at all. In stop and go traffic the automatic S is feels just like it should, but a quick prod of the throttle reveals that there are some differences between the automatic and its manual brethren. The response is crisp, no clutch slip to deal with. For those that have driven the CVT equipped MINI it will be a revelation. The transmission is adaptive as well, and because of the drive by wire system, very responsive to throttle input.

While cruising along in drive, with a tap up of the shift lever, or a push of either the left or right paddle buttons you can execute a quick downshift to facilitate a pass around slow moving traffic. The transmission will rapidly select the correct gear based on your current speed and driving character, and let you pull away more briskly than simply stepping on the throttle. Just put your foot down and go.

Now for some real fun! I slip the shift lever over into the sport side of the gate, and push the left paddle forward to bring up a true manual mode. The indicator says M1. Waiting to merge onto a very fast moving highway, I wait for a small opening to show and then floor it! The MINI surges forward very quickly and it feels great. Before I know it the tach is approaching 6000RPM and a quick pull on the right paddle puts me in second gear. The automatic Cooper S pulls with just as much gusto as the manual version and many would be hard pressed to notice the difference. I did notice that at almost all RPMs the sound of the supercharger is more notable, which is very welcome in my book. When in manual mode the transmission holds gears until you decide to shift, or come to a stop. Not only does the Cooper S automatic handle like a Go-Kart, with the steering wheel mounted shift paddles it feels like a shifter kart!!! Lots of fun, and I am sure anybody who is looking at a MINI and wants an automatic will not be disappointed. All the fun of the manual Cooper S, without all the shifting. (one of the best parts if you ask me). Cruising at highway speed is comfortable and quiet.

My one grievance would be that it seems like the automatic S doesn’t have the same back burble sound that the rest of the ’05 cars have. I even tried putting it in neutral and revving it to double check. After a few minutes of driving my left foot got bored and made me head back, I guess I am a little biased.

From a technical and driving feel standpoint the transmission is a success. I am definitely happy with the performance and convenience of the new auto transmission and I don’t feel like it dampens any of the fun factor that MINI’s are famous for. For those who have always wanted a Cooper S but couldn’t drive a stick, or if you live in a heavily congested area and didn’t want to deal with a clutch, this is the car for you.

As mentioned above we should have our own first drive in the MCSa in a week or so.

  • Allan

    If it wasn’t for the paddles I woudn’t want to test drive one.

  • Ian

    I guess I made the right choice 😉

  • MrV

    Yeah, I’m with you Ian. The reviews that have come in over the last few days have done alot to set my mind at ease.

    Hey Aleks, I am sure that test driver you drove had the requisite 1250 miles on it before you went up to 6000RPM, right ? 😉

  • John

    Are three modes available in this Aisin 6-speed Automatic: Drive, SportDrive, and Steptronic manual?

    When Aleks, and all the other reviewers I seen so far, put the Selector over to the right, they immediately start using the paddles to select a gear (Steptronci manual).

    Does the transmission have a sporty Drive mode (that I’ll call SportDrive) in that position before you manually select a gear with the selector or paddles?

  • Wraith

    something that confuses me. both left and right paddle; pull back for up shifts and push forward for downshifts. why not like an M3 SMG with the left paddle for downshifts and the right paddle for upshifts. it seems kinda weird to me to have one paddle do up/down shifts

  • sounds intuitive and convenient to me.

  • Wraith – from my experience it’s a little easier in cornering situations when both paddles operate in the same way. I haven’t drive the MCSa but I’ve drive M3s and other SMG equipped cars. Not to say the MCSa has anything to do with SMG.

  • MrV

    OK, after reading your post again I am confused. What is the sequence of events to actually get into the Manual mode.

    Does one push of the paddle put you into manual mode and then you push again to switch gears, or does that one first push put you into a lower gear?

    Also, can you switch to manual mode “on the fly” as it were, while driving? Or must you be at a stop before entering manual mode?

    I would be interested in hearing the difference between regular auto vs. sport auto vs. manual.

    I get mine in a few weeks, so will eventually find all this out for myself of course. I guess I just want to know all the info before my first drive. My MA said that he may have one available for test drive next week, so I may make the 40 minute trip just to see for myself a little early.

  • TJKonarski

    Aleks: “…After a few minutes of driving my left foot got bored and made me head back…I don’t feel like it dampens any of the fun factor…”

    You’re an MA, right? A salespeson, right? I sure hope your reviews and personal opinions aren’t biased.

  • Luke

    Aleks hit the nail on the head with “left foot got bored”

    I test drove one, it was fun for a few minutes but I didn’t want to drive it for long.

    Coming from a Manual, it just feels like a fast CVT. For auto drivers that haven’t experienced a manual it’ll be a great car.

  • Michael

    When you downshift, are the changes instant? The Steptronic on our BMW lags badly… 🙁

  • Michael – I haven’t driven the car but from my understanding is that the lag is there with this transmission as well.

  • SrBlanco

    “Another nice touch I noticed was that the new multifunction steering wheels have integrated buttons for a phone system. More on this later.”

    Did I miss the rest on this tidbit?

  • I think he meant later in another article.

  • eVal

    If there is a lag I’m sure Dinan or someone will offer a solution – I know the Dinan software not only eliminated any lag in my BMW but improved the responsiveness overall (and made the car go into first at stops instead of second).

  • TJKonarski

    Regarding Gabe’s mention of a lag. When my MCSC was in service they gave me a MC automatic to drive. I don’t know if there is a difference between an MC auto and an MCS auto, but there was definitly a lag when moving slower, like say to maneuver into a parking space or coming to a stop at a light. It felt like the car was dragging, like it was in too low of a gear, I had this constant desire to upshift a gear or two. It was really quite annoying.

  • Ian

    Some quotes from the “MINI Cooper S with automatic transmission” dealer brochure: … in Drive mode either leave gear changes to the auto or use the Agitronic paddles to initiate gear shifts … Agitronic: drivers override auto gear selection, using paddles. If the car does not detect any acceleration or gear changes within a short time, the transmission switches back to normal Drive mode. Sport: very sporty drive for maximum acceleration & rapid response [presumably shifts at higher revs, etc] Manual: semi-automatic gear changes, using paddles or gearshift

    … adaptive transmission responds quickly to any sudden uphill or downhill slope … also recognizes when DSC is activated and doesn’t change gear …

  • Ian

    TJ, there is no relationship at all between the CVT of the MC and this new MCS auto.

  • John

    As with any new machine, there are lots of details to discover, then clearly understand, and then sort out how to exploit. This one will be fun, and interesting.

  • aleks

    Just to clarify a few questions,

    When in drive, if you want to execute more speedy pass you can simply push either paddle button forward to have the car downshift to the proper gear and accelerate away quickly and smoothly. The shifts were definitely not sluggish at al. While they may not be as lightning quick as a SMG equipped M3, they are brisk and I never felt like I was waiting for the transmission to go before I was. Unlikie the M3, you can keep your foot planted into the pedal between shifts, because the SMG is a manual trans that is controlled by servos you still need to back out of the throttle between gears just like a real manual.

    After a while if you havent changed gears or moved the shifter into the sport gate, the transmission automatically reverts to auto mode.

    If you want to enter the sportmode (SD), tap the shift lever to the right, just like in a CVT equipped MINI. This pushes the shift points up, and holds gears a bbit longer. While in sport mode, just tap the shift lever up or down, or pull/push either of the paddles and the transmission enters a full manual mode. In this mode it will not shift gears until you tell it to, unless you are coming to a stop where it automatically drops into second or fist.

    the AISIN transmission feels great IMO, i havent had too much time behind the wheel, but the quick runs I have taken were very impressive, and I suggest that anybody who has any interest should go take one for a spin and come up with there own opinion.

  • aleks

    On a side note, I a m not a Motoring Advisor anymore. I am now a MINI Service Advisor.

  • MrV

    Congratulations on the new job Aleks. Good to see that MINI sees talent and rewards it.

  • aleks

    thanks Mr V.

    Wraith, in regards to the setup of the paddles; At first I was wondering the same thing, why not make the left paddle for downshifts and the right for upshifts? I think the main reason is for ease of use, with functions for both upshift and downshift on either paddle, it will be easier to execute a shift when your arms hands aren’t on the 3 and 9 positions, you can just search for a paddle and push or pull as needed. around town where more than 100 degrees of steering input are needed, I think this will make things much easier. If this isnt easy enough, then you could just tap the shift lever like most other manu-matics. I think it takes a little getting use to, but it works.

  • Mark Pierce

    With regards the buttons for the phone on the multfunction wheel, in the UK you can order a new MINI with bluetooth car kit. You get the new armrest and the phone fits inside in a cradle like you get on the BMWs.

  • For more info on the Bluetooth kit (which may or may not be available in the US) check out this previous MotoringFile story we ran a few months back: motoringfile.com/2004/11/06/newbluetoothintegrationandarmrest

  • aleks

    As soon as I can get my hands on a car with the new phone controls and a bluetooth kit, I will post a review. We havent had many takers on the bluetooth kits lately, maybe now it will become more popular.

  • Actually aleks, as far as operation of the MCSa and BMW SMG they are very similar. They both have a fully automatic mode, both can be shifted semi automatically and fully manual. The SMG does NOT require that the driver back off the throttle in order to shift. In that, the operation is similar to the MCSa. Where they differ is that the SMG causes the throttle to be reduced automatically for a few milliseconds at shift time in order to unload the transmission. Upon downshifting the SMG will also blip the throttle to precisely the correct RPM in order to achieve a smooth downshift. So other than mechanically and performance wise there is no major operational difference between the MCSa and the SMG.

  • You may not be required to lift when shifting an SMG but it’s a very good idea if you value anything close to smooth shifts.

    But I think it needs to be made very clear that people that are ordering the MCSa shouldn’t expect a transmission similar in performance to BMW’s SMG. Essentially (and this is very high-level) the SMG is a manual transmission with a component bolted on that controls clutch. It may be worth noting that the new M5/M6 7-speed SMG differs from this design just a bit.

    Operationally (is that a word?) the MCSa and the SMG in non-M cars are the same. In the BMW’s M cars the lever layout on the steering wheel is different as has been mentioned previously.

  • KevinR

    I’ve driven a few cars with transmissions such as this. After the novelty wears off, I find I just leave it in auto mode and let the car do its thing. Personally, I prefer the manual transmission.

    That being said, I do think it is a good addition to the product line. If I lived somewhere that had nightmare traffic, this option would probably seem much more appealing to me.

    Looking forward to the details on the steering wheel…

  • j

    this may seem a little out of the ordinary and all coments should and will be respected…. but does anyone think a works kit will be available? mini now only offers it with a manual.

  • MrV

    j

    News is that it will be available later in the Spring. I am sure that spirited discussions will follow.

  • aleks

    they are working on a jcw kit for automatic equipped cars, and I assured that it is comingg soon. As far as the operation of the SMg, i have driven one for much longer than i drove the MCSa and most will agree that lifting the throttle is necesary to exexute smooth shifts, especially in the faster shift programs where the clutch engages quickly. In auto mode it does help smooth things out.

    Again I want to stress that these two systems work entirely differently, and are not corelated other than the fact that they do not have a clutch pedal.

  • Edge

    Never minding the MCSa topic here… I too am VERY interested in the new “on the steering wheel” Bluetooth controls. I am about to take delivery of my own ’05 MCS, with LSD & all of the functional JCW bits (i.e. no “pretty” bits). I have a Bluetooth phone (Motorola V710 with Verizon Wireless), but I am not sure if it is compatible with the official MINI BT kit.

    Up until now, I wasn’t going to worry about it, because I hated the kludgy-looking BT kit with the mounted keypad. But with integrated steering wheel controls… that’s another story!

    Aside from any compatibility details, does anyone know if it’s the exact same BT kit to utilize those new controls? Also, does the price drop at all? (since you shouldn’t need the external keypad any more)

    Edge

  • Simon Dowe

    Thanks for the review Aleks. I am collecting my Mini Cooper S Auto on the 11th of Feb.

  • Lopster

    Obviously the market for this auto box is the states, where the mini is popular but out of reach of a large percentage of soley auto drivers. Oh, and my wife who can drive a manual but refuses, so has just ordered hers!

  • i drove the very car discussed in this review yesterday – and all i can say is wow! anyone awaiting an mcsa is going to be in for a treat – especially making the switch from the cvt cooper.

    • drew
  • Gordon

    Actually, on the M3 SMG, all rev matchings are done for you, both up and downshift. That is the most elegant part of the system, you do not need (or want) to help it by backing off the throttle, and it does the double clutching for you during downshift. The drive by wire system works with SMG to control the matching. In S1, both up and downshifts are smooth. As you move up to S4, S5, S6, the shifts become faster and harder (S5/S6 shifts can be achieved in as little as 0.08 sec). When you are calling up these modes, you are asking for performance, and the last thing you want to do is to back off the throttle and lose RPM unnecessarily. So you should keep the throttle down and let the car take care of the shift for you. It took over 1,000 miles for me to truly appreciate its beauty.

    M3 SMG is very nonintrusive. It never upshifts for you, it will bounce against the 8,000 RPM limiter if you do not shift. It only downshifts when it absolutely must, you can lug the engine at 6th gear at 1300 RPM if you want. If you drive a manual, and know when to upshift/downshift, you will rarely see SMG shift for you. In the MINI CVT and other BMW TipTronic cars, the transmission is far more intrusive, doing a lot more shifting for me without me asking for it. I personally do not like it.

    Back to the MINI auto, I am surprised to read it does not upshift for you as you near the redline. Every BMW TipTronic does that. Can someone verify this?

    By the way, when I am turning, I found shifting much easier by reaching down and doing a quick flick with the shifter, rather than using the steering wheel mounted control.

  • davadava

    Is there a Works kit available for the Cooper S automatic? If not, are there any plans for one?

  • Yes. Later this spring.

  • I heard that the performance is decreased from 6.5 seconds 0-60 , to 7.7 seconds 0-60 – IMO, this performance loss is definately not worth it. Stick to the manual (unintentional pun).

    BTW on the Audi A3, the addition of the DSG automatic made it faster than their manual in the 0-60 sprint. BMW should take a look at an automatic solution for the MCS that doesn’t degrade performance. (you can see they avoid mentioning the 0-60 figures for the AUTO on the mini website)

  • Mark Churchland

    I’ve been driving my MCSa for about 2000 miles now and find the system very natural, and plenty of fun on backroads, allowing you to quickly respond to surprises. The performance hit is definitly not 1.2 seconds in the 0-60. It might be about half a second (I have driven both back to back) and even then most of that loss is in the 0-10 range. I be the 10-60 times would be nearly identical.

  • Mark Churchland

    I’ve been driving my MCSa for about 2000 miles now and find the system very natural, and plenty of fun on backroads, allowing you to quickly respond to surprises. The performance hit is definitly not 1.2 seconds in the 0-60. It might be about half a second (I have driven both back to back) and even then most of that loss is in the 0-10 range. I be the 10-60 times would be nearly identical.

    On the subject of it shifting for you. It seems to shift for you to prevent redline, but only during the break-in period (I discovered this on a dealer test car). However, on my car (which is past break-in) it seems happy to let me hit redline. Whether I can keep going past that I am unwilling to test. Anybody know the answer?

    Also, feel free to mock, but I think the JCW for the MCSa is a great idea. The only think I am confused about is what is different from the manual? Do they need to upgrade the transmission or software simultaneously with the engine?

  • Dilemma

    I live in a country where there’s loads of traffic and loads of steep hills, so while my preference would be for a manual MCS, the auto just seems a more practical choice. Especially for day-to-day use.

    What I’m currently looking at is a JCW MCSa.

    In the articles I’ve read, the auto is approx. 0.5 sec slower than the manual. However, with a JCW package, performance is supposedly increased by approx. 0.5 sec. Theoretically bringing it up to the manual performace time.

    0.5 sec doesn’t seem like a huge difference, so is the extra $$$ for JCW kit actually worth it?

    Any views on this dilemma would be greatly apprecited!

  • In the articles I’ve read, the auto is approx. 0.5 sec slower than the manual. However, with a JCW package, performance is supposedly increased by approx. 0.5 sec. Theoretically bringing it up to the manual performace time.

    This is not the case. Here’s an excerpt from a recent AutoExpress test:

    So while the 0-62mph sprint takes 7.3 seconds (against the manual’s 6.6), the lethargic box masks the beefy engine’s considerable verve. Despite having Adaptive Transmission Control, which adjusts to your driver style over time, response never feels sharp.

    [ Reviews: The JCW Cooper S ] MotoringFile

  • Dilemma

    Thanks Gabe, the link to the article and blogs regarding the JCW MCSa was enlightening, to say the least!

    Basically, it appears to be a waste to install the JCW kit on a MCS auto.

    However, the debate over manual vs auto doesn’t look like it’s going to abate any time soon.

    Personally, I know what I’ll have to decide on before my purchase:

    If it’s an auto, it’ll be for convenience, sans JCW kit.

    If it’s a manual, it’ll have the JCW kit, and I’m sure the fun will far outweigh the inconvenience!

    Many thanks for the help, and the awesome (and helpful) site.

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