MotoringFile Review: 2005 MCS Automatic
Few things have garnered as much debate as the new for 2005 optional automatic transmission for the Cooper S. Quite a few MINI enthusiasts have expressed outrage at the idea of an automatic transmission in the MCS and believe the reputation of the car will be suffer from it. Yet, there are those with physical limitations, long commutes, or who simply don’t know how to drive a manual that have welcomed the new option and praised MINI for finally bringing it to market. Needless to say the debate as raged on for months with no end in sight for those most opinionated.
Despite all the debates and opinions, the MCSa will be out on the streets of the US in large numbers within months. In fact, more than one Motoring Advisor I talked with was seeing about 75% of all recent MCS orders equipped with the automatic. What’s more, he was seeing a shift in the customers that were coming in to specifically ask about the MCSa. The type of customer that simply wanted the fastest and most expensive MINI equipped with a transmission they could finally drive. Certainly it’s all enough to get the diehard manual fans out there up in arms.
However, with this review I wanted to try to put all this debate aside and focus on one simple question. How does it drive?
I finally got my chance last Saturday when I found myself sitting in a 2005 MINI Cooper S Convertible Automatic in the parking lot of Knauz MINI. It seems MINIUSA is a little slow in getting press cars out so I took it upon myself to get a hold of a machine as soon as I could. While I’m still hoping to do a longer term test on the car, I wanted to get a first drive published as soon as possible. And the timing couldn’t have been better. The car came off the truck, went in to get detailed, and a few hours later the keys were in my hands. And all on a mild (for Chicago) Saturday in February no less. BTW – A big thanks to David Olenick for helping to set everything up.
The car had a great spec; dark blue leather with orange stitching, chrome trim in and out, and the exterior was finished in Pure Silver. All well and good but the star of this show was that Aisin 6-speed automatic that sat under my right hand.
Actually the diameter of the shift knob itself is a little smaller than one might expect. It doesn’t feel nearly as comfortable to hold has the manual shifter. It almost feels like it was designed for use by small hands or, at least, certainly not mine. Further, the clicking mechanism that allows for moving the shifter from gear to gear wasn’t particularly easy to use at first. It also has a nasty habit of pinching fingers if you’re not used to it.
As I went to start the car my left foot instinctively reached for the clutch pedal… it would appear old habits die hard. So I threw the gear lever into Drive mode (referred to as D or full automatic mode from here on out) and pulled away slowly. As I was pulling away I tried hard to forget all of the debate that this car has generated. However, I have to admit that it was all a little disconcerting. Here I was, in a MINI Cooper S and I’m idling away from a stop. As I pressed on the accelerator I realized how normal the car felt to me for the first time.
It didn’t take long to realize the distinct differences between the three operating modes. D seemed to be meant for laid-back motoring. SD for more of a sporting comfort type of drive, and manual mode for some interactive fun.
I started out in the standard D mode. In general, I found this mode to be about what one would expect a modern automatic to feel like. The shifts were smooth, silent and certainly guaranteed to never spill a drop of a latte or wake a sleeping passenger.
SportDrive (or SD) mode gives you more determined acceleration with the transmission changing the gears typically at higher shift points than the standard auto mode. Kickdowns were maybe just a bit snappier, and like the standard mode, occurred just when you’d expect them. While they weren’t nearly as fast as what you’d get reaching for third yourself, there wasn’t a lot of hunting for the right gear like some automatic transmissions. However, with both full automatic modes, I couldn’t help but feel some of the charm had been stripped from the car.
But the real fun, and where this transmission finally comes to life, is in manual mode.
Shifting is about as fast as any manually controlled automatic I’ve ever driven. Shifts (in either direction) generally seemed to happen about .50 – .75 of a second after a click of the paddles. Certainly, an expertly driven manual or sequential transmission can be shifted much quicker. Of course with the auto in manual mode you won’t ever have to worry about being slow or fast. They just click off, without drama, the same way every time. Knowing that, you’re able to keep both hands on the wheel and focus on the road ahead clicking off subsequent shifts with your fingers and thumbs. Certainly an attractive feature to some drivers out there.
By the 20 minute mark I was totally comfortable with the mechanics of the paddles on the steering wheel. So much so that I never used the gear selector on the shifter. MINI designers did an expert job shaping the steering wheel controls and movements as my fingers and thumbs fell on them like I’d used the transmission for years. I managed to push and pull the paddles without fail and quickly forget all about the differing paddle placement in BMW’s SMG M3 (where each paddle only upshifts or downshifts). While that placement may be superior during performance-oriented driving, the MINI’s two-paddle, four-function design is surely a bit more foolproof in day to day motoring.
I was so taken by the manual mode on this transmission that I never had the desire to switch back to automatic mode. While it may not create the same sense of satisfaction as a well engineered manual, it does give you the ability to be involved. And sure, shifts may not be quick enough to mimic a sequential box like the SMG. But they are quick enough for the transmission to avoid the disconnected feeling some manually controlled autos are saddled with.
That being said the car did feel slower than it’s manual counterpart. MINI’s own stats back that up. First and foremost, the 0-60 time increases by .6 seconds with the automatic. Top speed also decreases from 137 mph to 134 mph. Further, the MCSa weighs in at almost 50lbs more than the standard MCS. While they’re numbers that you might not feel on public roads, you may notice the difference at the track.
Another big difference between the two is the lack of an optional, factory limited slip differential with the MCSa. It has also been noted that the automatic lacks the signature 2005 MCS exhaust popping that so many people seem to love. While that’s true 95% of time, I found that when you go from 3rd to 2nd at moderate revs you can still hear a hint of it. Of course for those feel the need to make up for these deficiencies, JCW will indeed be releasing a Works Kit specifically designed for the MCSa later this spring.
In a sense, broad-based conclusions are hard to make in a case like this. For me I was happy to find that the transmission, in manual mode, doesn’t suck the life out of the MCS as I was worried it might. While I missed the tactile feedback and precise control that one gets with the standard Getrag, the auto (in manual mode) is quite lively and does an decent job keeping you involved in the process of driving. While it doesn’t possess the purity (or the fun for that matter) of the manual, I still managed to walk away from the test with a smile on my face. Come to think of it, it was somewhat similar to the grin I had when I test drove the MINI for the first time.
Written By: Gabe
Sort by MINI model
- A Day Out at the Autobahn Country Club
- MOTOR Magazine Names JCW GP its 2013 Best “Bang for Your Bucks”
- MINI Sales up 3.3% Worldwide for April
- Videos: MINIs on the ‘Ring
- The Latest F56 Spy Photos Reveal New Details
- MINI Unveils Roberto Cavalli Designed Paceman for Life Ball 2013
- MINI: ReBorn in the Netherlands
- MINI Continues to Dominate FIA Cross Country
- 300+ HP From MINI’s New 3 Cylinder Possible According to BMW M
- Old vs New: Two Generations of JCW GPs Compared in Photos
- Spied! Undisguised BMW M235i
- BMWNA Releases the 6 Series M Sport Edition
- RideApart Reviews the BMW F 800 GT
- BMW & Pininfarina Tease the Gran Lusso Coupé
- 2014 BMW M5 Facelift Leaks out Early
- BMW M5 Sets World Drift Record
- Video and Gallery: The New F 800 GS Adventure
- The BMW M3: All Four Generations (E30, E36, E46, E92) At The Track
- Video: Ariel Atom vs Rallycross Citroen vs BMW HP4
- BMW Motorrad Sales up 11.5% Worldwide. Best Sales Month Ever.
- A New, Responsive Vespa.com
- Recapping the Chicago Genuine “Family Reunion” Ride
- Video: Honda Bringing the 125cc Grom to the USA in August
- Honda Bringing the Forza 300 Maxi-scooter to the USA
- Custom Ruckus: The LV Project
- Video: Using Special Effects to Encourage Safety
- Photos: Craze Custom Cub
- Haynes Now Offering Lambretta Manual
- Happy Birthday, Audrey Hepburn
- Video: Looking Back at the Vespa 946 Debut
MINI Model Cheat Sheet
Advertise with MotoringFile
MotoringFile Buyers GuidesR50 ('02-'06 MC) Buyers Guide
R53 ('02-'06 MCS) Buyers Guide
'12 JCW Coupe
'11 Fiat 500 Sport
'11 Tesla Roaster 2.5 '11 Countryman Comparo
'11 Cooper S Hatch
'11 Countryman MCS (FWD)
'11 Countryman MC (auto)
'10 Mayfair MCS (auto)
'11 Countryman MCS (ALL4)
'10 MINI E
'10 Tesla Roadster Sport
'09 Cooper S Convertible
'09 JCW Hatch
'09 JCW Clubman
JCW Stage I vs JCW Stage II
'08 Clubman S (Auto)
1st Drive: '08 MINI Clubman
'08 Smart Fourtwo
Comparison: '08 BMW 135i
'06 R53 MCS vs '07 R56 MCS
'07 R56 JCW (Stage 1)
'07 MINI Cooper S Long Term
'07 BMW Z4 M Coupe
'07 MINI Cooper & Cooper S
Audio: '07 MC/MCS at the Track
'06 JCW GP Long term
Reader Review: JCW GP
'06 JCW Cooper S Long Term
Comparison: '06 Lotus Elise
Comparison: '06 Mazda MX5
Comparison: '06 UK Focus ST
Comparison: '06 Civic Si
Comparison: '04 TVR T350
Comparison: '06 Nissan 350z
Comparison: '06 VW GTI w/DSG
Podcast: Cooper S Auto
Podcast: BMW 325i
Podcast: JCW MC Soundkit
'04 JCW MINI Cooper Tuning Kit
'05 MCS: One Month Review
'05 MCS Auto
'05 JCW S 1st Drive
'05 MINI Cooper
'05 MCS Conv. Long Term
'05 MINI Cooper S
'05 MCS Cabrio 1st Drive
'04 JCW MCS First Drive
'04 MC w/JCW Tuning Kit
BMW M3 SMG Vs. MCS
'04 MINI Cooper CVT
'02 MCS 3 year Review
Autocrossing the MINI Range