Here’s another review we’ve all been waiting to read. MotoringFile reader (and MINI Motoring Advisor) Sean Bartnik gives us a review of his brandnew 2005 LSD equipped Cooper S:
On the evening of Friday, February 4, I finally took delivery of my new 2005 MINI Cooper S. The car had arrived at the dealership a couple days earlier, but I decided to have some goodies installed before delivery: the iPod interface adapter, the illuminated door sills, and, most importantly, the John Cooper Works Sport Suspension. It was sad to leave my 2003 Cooper S in the trade line and walk away, but the ’05 seems to have a knack for making those feelings disapper.
MotoringFile readers all surely know that for the 2005 model year, MINI made some changes to the Cooper S. The horsepower rating was increased from 163 to 168, but the big news was in changes made to the gearing of the 6-speed Getrag transmission. All the gear ratios were lowered to increase the car’s performance in terms of acceleration. I didn’t expect there to be a huge difference in how the ’05 drove, but I was completely wrong. And never have I been happier to be wrong. The ’05 Cooper S feels like an entirely different car. From the moment I got back from test driving one I knew I needed to say goodbye to the ’03 and get myself an ’05. I also knew from my experience in autocross that the car could really use a limited-slip differential. After driving the ’05 and finding how easy it was to break the front tires loose in first, second, and third gears (and that was in a straight line, nevermind when exiting a turn!), so it was good news to find out that MINI was making a limited-slip differential available as an option starting with January 2005 production. Once the details were finalized as far as pricing, I placed my order.
My Cooper S was scheduled for week one production and here is the specification I finally settled on:
2005 MINI Cooper S
Space Gray/Panther Black Cloth
Interior Surface Anthracite
Cold Weather Package
Sport Package with Web-Spoke Wheels
Multifunction Steering Wheel with Cruise Control
Chrome Line Interior
Chrome Line Exterior
Roof in Body Color
Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof
Rear Fog Lamp
Cockpit Chrono Package
Harmon/Kardon Sound System
Now that I’ve got a few miles on the odometer, I can offer some of my initial driving impressions about the 2005 Cooper S, the limited-slip differential, and the JCW suspension.
The revised gearing makes a phenomenal difference in the character of the car. Acceleration is instant and sudden and the car exhibits none of the off-the-line “bogginess” that the ’04 and earlier cars seemed to have. Especially in the lower gears, you can easily surprise yourself with how rapidly you have reached your intended speed (or how rapidly you overshot your intended speed).
It’s been said that power is nothing without control, and that is where the limited-slip differential comes in. The older models had a tendency to simply spin the inside front tire into oblivion when exiting a tight corner under throttle. While impressive and kind of fun, it had the effect of really limiting your corner exit speed. It was, as Shakespeare might have put it, a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The limited-slip differential does a fantastic job of letting you put that power down to the ground where it can actually do you some good. The LSD is made by GKN and is what they call a cone-clutch type. It allows a 30% difference in front wheel relative speed before it engages and transmits torque from the wheel that is slipping to the wheel that is gripping. From what I’ve read, it seems that this LSD is designed so that it does not suffer from clutch wear like a typical clutch-type LSD. Additionally, it works on deceleration as well as acceleration.
That’s all well and good, but here’s the simple part: it’s EXCELLENT. On tight corner exits where my ’03 would just spin its inside front wheel, you can actually feel the LSD send the power over to the other side and pull you through. This greatly improves the fun factor of my commute to and from work as there are a few turns where I can now exit with some serious speed thanks to the ability to actually get the power down through the rubber to the road. What I’ve also found to be nice is that I haven’t really noticed any torque steer when the LSD kicks in. It seems to be pretty transparent in operation except that you notice you are exiting on hard throttle a lot faster than you used to be able to. What’s also nice is that the LSD raises the threshold at which ASC or DSC intervenes, simply by virtue of what it does. So if you are prone to drive with ASC or DSC enabled, you can have a little more fun before the electronic nanny kicks in. For those of you who deactivate ASC or DSC every time you get in the car, this won’t matter.
The LSD is an excellent option for anyone who tends to drive a little more “assertively” than your average driver. For anyone who autocrosses, the LSD is a must-have, as it is for anyone who opts for the John Cooper Works tuning kit. Also, those who live in areas that get snow or ice in the winter might also do well to purchase the LSD option. LSD can be a lot of help on slippery surfaces, allowing you to get moving or keep moving where the standard open differential can leave you stuck with one wheel spinning on ice or snow and the other wheel not doing anything to help out. For $500 it’s definitely a no-brainer, considering that an aftermarket LSD will run you at least twice as much.
Another option that bears some consideration is the John Cooper Works Sport Suspension. This suspension kit was announced recently and is a dealer-installed item. The kit is available for both the Cooper and the Cooper S. On the Cooper, the kit includes new struts, springs, and sway bars and retails for $1120 for the parts plus whatever your dealer charges for the labor and for an alignment. For the Cooper S, the kit includes only struts and springs because it makes use of the existing Sport Suspension Plus sway bars. So for the Cooper S, the kit is only $945 in parts plus labor. (If you have a Cooper with Sport Suspension Plus, you use the Cooper S kit as opposed to the Cooper kit.) Part of the benefit of this suspension is that there are 3 different front springs and 3 different rear springs. The set of springs that goes on your car is determined by what options you have on the car. In other words, the suspension is perfectly tailored to the weight of your individual car.
The JCW suspension has not been designed as an all-out track set-up suspension (if that’s what you’re looking for, this suspension is not for you). Rather, it has been designed to enhance the handling of the car while still providing enough ride comfort for everyday street use. It lowers the car by only 10mm so it’s not putting the suspension down on the bump stops. The coil springs are painted red for easy identification and the struts have the John Cooper Works logo on them.
I ordered this suspension without having experienced it myself. I went on the word of my fellow Motoring Advisors who had attended a MINI event where they got a chance to drive a car with the JCW suspension. After hearing from them and reading the product bulletin I decided that this suspension provides exactly what I want out of a suspension: improved road-holding, a minor drop in ride height, and enough comfort for everyday use, which is important to me since the MINI is my daily driver and my only car.
I was a little apprehensive about ordering it without having driven it before. I was worried that it would be too harsh. I’m happy to report that my worries were unfounded. This suspension is FANTASTIC. It is a bit stiffer than stock but not so much so that I would call it harsh. It’s exactly what I was hoping for. It actually feels like it rides a little smoother than the stock suspension, which is interesting because my point of reference is our ’05 demo car which has the 16″ wheels and Premium Package. That car feels a little bit harsher than my car with 17″ wheels and the JCW suspension. Perhaps that is because the JCW suspension in my car is better suited to the weight of the vehicle. Another Motoring Advisor out with me in my car commented on that too, so I don’t think it’s just my perception.
The JCW suspension is, however, quite a bit stiffer than stock when it comes to abrupt impacts like frost heaves or potholes, especially when you are moving along at a good speed and hit one. Then you’ll definitely know that you don’t have the stock suspension. If I still lived in Massachusetts I probably would not get the JCW suspension based on the poor condition of the roads up there but down here in Virginia Beach where frost heaves are pretty much nonexistent, the roads are in good enough shape that I won’t be rattling my fillings out.
I haven’t put a whole lot of miles on it yet, but it does seem to be more responsive than the stock suspension and working in tandem with the LSD it really provides some nice cornering potential. I’d highly recommend it to someone who’s looking for an enhanced suspension that’s perfectly tailored for the car as well as being covered by the MINI warranty should something go wrong. The JCW sport suspension cannot be installed on MINIs built before July of 2004 nor can it be installed on the convertible.
The sport suspension does have different alignment specifications than stock, so there is a sticker that goes on the driver’s door jamb to alert your service department that the JCW suspension is installed. While installing the suspension, the service tech noted that the ’05 MINIs have adjustable rear camber now, so all you folks who like to dial in a little more fun with your rear camber settings can have at it, assuming you have an ’05.
The main reason I decided to move up to an ’05 was because of the improved performance, but it just so happens that I got a lot of other nice new goodies as well. I really like the new Convenience Package (ZCV) which is only $400 and includes the rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, and the universal garage door opener.
The automatic headlights I could take or leave, but they work exactly the same as BMW’s do. You have a switch position below the OFF position for AUTO. If you leave the switch in that mode, the headlights will turn on and off by themselves depending on ambient light conditions. There is a note in the owner’s manual that the sensitivity of the auto headlights is programmable. You can still retain full manual control of the headlights (to include turning them off) by moving the switch out of the AUTO position.
I also got the Harmon/Kardon stereo this time around. I wanted it on the last one, but it was not yet available at the time (same reason my last one didn’t have the rain-sensing wipers or auto-dimming rearview mirror). The H/K sounds great and with the iPod Interface Adapter it’s perfect for my listening habits. With the H/K I often hear detail in my songs that I’ve never heard before. I love that!
The new web-spoke wheels are another option I’m thrilled with. I ordered them based only on the tiny little picture I saw on the MINI USA configurator. I could not be happier with them now that I’ve seen them in real life. They are beautiful wheels, and the polished lip of the rim is just gorgeous, especially when it’s sparkling in the sun. These wheels are optional content in the Sport Package and if they are specified they raise the price of the package from $1350 to $1850. The wheels can also be ordered as a stand-alone option for a cost of $1100. They come from the factory only with the performance tires.
Overall I could not be happier with this car. It really came together well and turned out to be absolutely beautiful. The only thing that could improve it would be some nice window tint, and, luckily, that will be happening very soon.
Thanks to Gabe for allowing me to use so much space on MotoringFile for this review.
Congrats Sean. That is absolutely one of the most stunning MINIs I’ve ever seen.