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.
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.