MF Podcast Review: 2006 Cooper S Automatic

As a follow-up to the recent MotoringFile VW GTI review (and previous MCSa review) I thought I’d offer up my thoughts on the automatic Cooper S while behind the wheel. In some ways demonstrating why the GTI’s DSG is so superior as well as showing why the automatic may not be the best choice for the MINI owning control freaks out there. You can grab the quick six minute review below:

[ MotoringFile Review: MINI Cooper S Automatic ] (MP3 / 5.8MB / 6:42)

  • I’d like to see that review done again using sports drive instead of sports manual – after all, it is an automatic and I think it performs best that way!

  • I found the automatic sport mode to be good but still a little hesitant at times when getting on the throttle. There were a couple of instances where the gearbox hesitated more than I expected based on previous experiences. In other words it was still inconsistant.

    However it’s generally a very good auto and certainly one of the best old-school slush-boxes I’ve ever driven.

  • Damon

    I’ve had my MCSa for a almost a year and somewhere in this site is the detailed review I wrote after just a month or so of ownership. I think my original write up is still pretty accurate and this review is also very accurate. The transmission itself is pretty good but the electonic mind that runs it is screwy it seems. Everything in this current review is spot on. The transmission is inconsistant in all modes. It will shift or not shift differently under what seems like the same conditions. I find that when driving to and from my house in the Oakland hills it can upshift one time and bog down and the next time not. It can then not want to down shift even though the car is totally bogging down and pushing on the accelerator can sometimes get the upshift and sometimes not. If you press too much and it decides to shift suddenly your off like a bat out of hell.

    In the manual mode it can still take some time to think about shifting when you press a paddle. The hardest part about the paddles is not knowing when the car will let you shift. Unlike a manual where you can downshift to 2nd from 5th in anticipation of a corner (obviously you keep the clutch in until you’ve slowed down) the auto can’t shift until the computer knows it’s at a safe speed. The problem is not knowing where that speed is.

    I think the other problem is the computer supposedly adjusts to your driving style. I think it would be better if the two setting’s shift patterns were “set in stone”. I had a 1994 Alfa Romeo with an auto and it too had two settings, auto and sport. They were always consistant and I could anticipate when it would shift or not and how to get it to shift by manipulating the peddal. The MINI isn’t the same, it’s inconsistant. Because I do a lot of around town driving it seems to adapt to this so it seems to become less aggressive, specially in “D”. It keeps the car at a constant 2500 rpm. That is so annoying. Sport is better. I question this because I took my car in a few months ago for a service and they did a recall on the transmission program which required reprograming it. For the week or so after it seemed like a different car but as I drove around town it seems to get larthargic again, as if it thinks I’m a little old lady who just drives around at 25 mph all the time. This is just my theory.

  • Good theory Damon. I would agree with you that the achilles heal of the MCS automatic is the software. It’s frustrating because when it actually acts how you want it to, it’s really quite nice. But of course the problem is that you’re never sure when that will be.

  • Edge
    It’s frustrating because when it actually acts how you want it to, it’s really quite nice. But of course the problem is that you’re never sure when that will be.

    And THAT, my friends… is why I inherently dislike automatics… you just give up too much control. Without a sophisticated camera attached to the front of the car that can “read” the road ahead and therefore anticipate the necessary gear, a car will never replace the intuitive abilities of a human.

    Yes, a properly designed SMG in manual mode can be excellent… but again, that takes the “logic” out of the automatic and puts it where? BACK IN THE HUMAN’S CONTROL!

    I am not trying to start another auto/manual war here… I’m just trying to point out that there are very good reasons to stay with a manual, assuming there are no disability/heavy traffic commute/spousal reasons not to! 🙂

  • What were you recording with? Its sound quality is very compressed. But it’s a great idea to review live while driving (reminds me of Jeremy Clarkson’s comments), it’s like a podcast where the engine is the guest. 🙂 Perhaps next time go a step further and mount a camcorder looking at you for a video review. But great idea, Gabe! BTW, where is this ravine?

  • Damon

    In response to EGDE’S comment. I agree now that a manual is far superior to drive, specially our 2004 MCS with the 6-speed but I have to say that my Alfa Romeo had the sweetest V6 mated to a great 4 speed transmission and I got so competent with exactly where and when to place the accelorator pedal that I always felt I had great control over the transmission never leaving me wanting a stick. The MINI shifts great but it just seems to be an unknown as to when and what you might get. I also think 6 gears is way too many for an automatic. It is always jumping around. I think a great automatic can be a pleasure to drive. As agbe said above when it does act properly it is great.

  • Aurel

    Interesting review Gabe. I am curious if you ever tested the MC CVT in a similar way and what were your thouhgts of it. I currently have a CVT and test drove the MCSa, and while it hauls more ass, so to speak, I did not like the shifting of the conventional transmission of the MCSa.

    Not to mention that, it being a conventinal tranny, it kind of freaks me out a bit to darive it manual mode alot, as I currently do with my CVT.

    Really would be curious what you think of the CVT.

  • What were you recording with? Its sound quality is very compressed.

    An iTrip and an external mic hooked up to a Gen4 iPod. Todd of Whiteroofradio fame compressed it quite a bit to mask some of the low quality moments of the recording. It kinda surprised me the first time I heard it as well 😉

    But it’s a great idea to review live while driving (reminds me of Jeremy Clarkson’s comments), it’s like a podcast where the engine is the guest. 🙂

    Thanks. I’ve actually been dying to do this for quite sometime. If all goes well like to do a couple more in the months ahead.

    BTW, where is this ravine?

    Winnetka, Sheridan Rd. It’s as much as a Ravine ans NE Illinois is going to get (and the area’s best stretch of road).

    Really would be curious what you think of the CVT.

    Yeah that would actually be a nice comparison. Actually I did do a short review a few years back. You can check it out here.

  • Actually Gabe hit on some of the problems I have with the tranny in my car. The car will hesitate to shift sometimes. Especially at full throttle from 3rd to 4th. And I do hate how it shifts for you in manual mode. And I drive my car in manual mode ALOT!

    But, how much am I expected to have from a $20k car’s tranny?

  • Matthew

    My MCSa is possessed sometimes. I’d say that 40% of the time I slam the pedal to the floor it gets confused and doesn’t know what to do. It’ll rev all the way up to redline and the car doesn’t move any faster than it had been…then all of a sudden it switches gears and takes off.

    The ASC also fouls things up when punching it through a turn.

    I love the thing to death and wouldn’t have an MCS if they hadn’t offered the automatic. That said they need to go back to the drawing board on the software. And I wish we had the DSG.

  • van

    i like the audio reviews keep it up and i hope you do it with other products and cars.


  • I think an audio review of the GTI would be great. 😉

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    Is that Royal Gray on that car, Gabe? Looks like the browner of the silvers from the photo, but thought I’d ask. And what were you standing on for the above pic?

    What else is on the list of MotoringFile test drives? I really like seeing comparisons between the MINI and other cars of its relative size and intent. And kudos on doing the review audio, that’s a great idea and though it’s obviously less polished than a WRR podcast, it’s really cool to hear your reactions to the car as they come.

  • Yes that is Royal Grey. Next up? If all goes well I should get some time behind the wheel of a new Civic Si next week.

  • I saw it in person last weekend (very sunny) and there’s definitely a hint of brown in royal gray which make it rather dirty looking. I spoke with my MA and he stated that this color has not taken off as well as they thought it would.

    btw, great audio review Gabe. You hit on most of the concerns that many of us MCSa owners experience everyday. I’m convinced that all of this is software related.

    Does the DSG have any adaptive programming? Perhaps this might be the culprit.

  • nice review gabe. as a big fan of the mcsa i think you hit upon all of the tricky points for sure, but there is something to be said for the way the car feels when you get comfortable with its quirks and really get it moving as well. regardless of how good all the other paddle shifting transmissions out there may be, it really is a blast to drive.

  • Hey, Gabe, would it be possible for you to make MF-only podcasts have their own feed? I’m pretty sure that if I subscribe to MF with iTunes that I’ll get both Woofcasts and MF ‘casts, and that’d mean I get Woofcasts twice. I’m not sure why you include the WRR episodes as enclosures on MF’s feed, actually; why not just link to that site (which you also do)?

    Just looking to make it easier on myself. 🙂

  • great post gabe, and great comments all – esp. damon.

    re: the logic behind the auto… ten years ago, when adaptive transission algorithms started emerging, BMW was as early an adopter as any. i do remember the 95 M3’s optional auto – like the MCS’s – surprising everyone, being poo pooed by enthusiasts as a lame option for lame poseurs, etc. but all that bravado stuff aside, the M3’s auto was marketed as an auto developed for enthusiasts in that it was adaptive in drive mode but not in sport mode for increased predictability – over time you knew how deeply you could prod the throttle/add load/ask for torque before a shift occured.

    my sense from driving other automatic BMWs is that this continued through use of the ZF 5 speed auto – not so sure if the new 6 speed continues or if it is adaptive in S mode as well.

    the MB E class had a 4 speed hydraulic auto w/o lockup torque converter in 96 then a 5 speed electronically controlled auto in 97. the old box was more predictable and had less confusion over what gear to be in and reminds me of something else that makes or breaks a transmission for me: the amount of torque converter slop. the 96 MB had to lock-up functin so to keep temperature down there was very little slip/a low stall speed that gave a fairly direct relationship between engine and road speed. the later box had lockup in the higher gears so could run a looser converter – it was the first MB that had that slippy out of control feel and lack of compression braking. the same thing separates the MCS auto from VW’s DSG – you don’t get that directly connected feel. (It’s better than most BMW autos though – typically BMW uses higher torque converter stall speeds with the larger engines and/or sport pack V8s) but again it has to do with the programming. MB and W/Audi have been forcing the torque converter to lock in all forward gears when in sport mode – this gives more snatchiness in stop and go situations but you shouldn’t be in that mode in stop and go traffic anyway.

    short of going to DSG – Mini could: >have the transmission not upshift at redline, instead introducing a soft limiter >install a ‘shift command received’ or ‘speed too high for shift’ telltale so gabe’s skipping to 5th or damon’s not knowing when 2nd was allowed wouldn’t be an issue. >make the torqe converter lock up in 2-6 when in sport or manual mode (a la new jetta) >allow shift times to be selectable a la smg cars >alow you to toggle between manual and sport modes using the trigger on the shifter >allow you to command a downshift without leaving the D slot by using the paddles (and returning to full auto automatically after that corner (a la legacy GT) >allowing you to select the lowest safe ratio by pressing and holding in the minus direction as Daimlerchrysler’s autostick does.

    anyone have other suggestions to add to the list? maybe someone at mini’s reading this thread… it wouldn’t be the first time something i suggested made its way into production models so chime in!

  • blalor, WordPress doesn’t really give you a choice about whether to include an mp3 as an enclosure. If you link to any mp3, it automatically assumes that that’s what you want to do. Gabe could prevent this from happening by just linking to WRR’s posts instead of the podcast, too.

  • Got it, Matt. Thanks. I noticed that this ‘cast popped up in WRR’s feed, so, as long as that continues to happen, my comments are moot. 🙂

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