Since we know one review is never enough we’ve got another MCSa test drive for you. This time from the man who just put his new 2005 MCS (w/LSD) through it’s paces, Sean Bartnik. Sean got his hands on a new MCSa this past weekend and came away with similar conclusions to the ones Aleks reached during his review.
This past Saturday I finally got a chance to drive a Cooper S automatic, as we received our first one that wasn’t already pre-sold. I am not a big fan of automatics, so I went into this not expecting much but it turns out I was pleasantly surprised.
When preparing to drive off, my left foot instinctively went to press the clutch pedal but of course hit only the brake instead. Whoops! Once I told Mr. Left Foot that he would not be needed, we were off.
I started out in normal Drive mode. Unlike the CVT, the MCSa does not have any of the very low speed jerkiness. That’s because the MCSa is a conventional automatic and the “creep” behavior is a side effect of how a torque converter works. The CVT in the Cooper has no torque converter and so the “creep” behavior had to be engineered in after the fact.
It’s weird creeping along in an MCS, but once I turned out onto the boulevard, HOLY MOLY! The MCSa is every bit as responsive to the Go pedal as is the manual. Shifts are executed smoothly and quickly and if you are pressing urgently on the throttle, it will hold gears for a long time, even in normal Drive mode. The MCSa will not of course match the 0-60 time of the manual due to the power-robbing effects of an automatic transmission, but it doesn’t feel any slower either. It’s a very linear acceleration process, very turbine-like. And since you don’t have to ease off the gas when it shifts, you have non-stop supercharger whine action.
The MCSa accelerates very briskly and will still spin the wheels without even really trying. Frankly, the LSD would not be out of place in this automatic at all if it was offered.
The MCSa also has a SportDrive mode in which it will hold gears longer and avoid downshifting right away if you lift off the throttle (so it doesn’t mess up your corner exit by being in 4th gear when you want it in 2nd).
And finally, there is the StepTronic mode. This was perhaps the most fun of the day. I had a lot of fun playing with the paddle shifters. They work very well. There is a slight lag on upshifts between when you hit the paddle and when the shift actually occurs. It’s hard to guess how long the lag is but I’d say no more than a quarter of a second. It seems like downshifts are executed more immediately than upshifts, though I don’t know why that would be. It’s really a blast to blip the paddles through the gears on acceleration, then tap for downshifts before the corner, then blast out again tapping your way on up.
To be quite honest, it’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be and I arrived back at the dealer grinning. I am not a fan of automatics but I would say that this automatic does not cost you anything in terms of the fun factor of the Cooper S. I liked it a lot more than I was prepared to and now that I’ve driven it I wouldn’t shy away from recommending it wholeheartedly to someone who really wants a Cooper S but who just isn’t interested in a manual transmission. I know how the purists out there feel about an automatic Cooper S but I have to concede that MINI actually made it fun.
Central to making it fun was the decision to use a 6-speed automatic, I think. Had they gone with a 4- or 5-speed automatic, the gear ratio spacing would have been highly unsatisfactory and the car would have been a dog. Thankfully MINI remained true to its mission and paid a little more for a transmission that is much better suited to the car and that keeps the fun factor high.
I have no doubts that this automatic will be a big seller, especially here in the U.S. Even though I love a manual transmission, I can’t bear anybody any ill will if they choose this automatic because it’s still a blast to drive.