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MF One Week Review: 2007 Cooper S

Based on my previous review of the R56, I knew there was a lot to like about this car. It’s certainly true I came away very impressed (and somewhat surprised) by both the road and track performance of the car at the official BMW press launch earlier this year. But how does this result change in the real world? And when driven back to back to back with a modded R53 (one which happens to live in my garage) how would the R56 feel? Would I discover a soul in that turbo? Or would I find some fatal flaws that would convince me to put my R53 in storage for the eventual Barrett-Jackson windfall sure to come for all R53 owners?

These are questions not easily answered in just a week’s worth of motoring. So instead of a week, I thought I’d try for two month’s worth…in seven days. After some potential logistical nightmares and a hastily arranged overnight truck from Detroit, I had my 2007 Cooper S press car (courtesy of MINI USA) just in time for the most important week of motoring I’d do all year: MINIs on the Dragon.

What better way to find the soul of the R56 than on the most demanding road in North America. And what better way to test a new car than a 2000 mile road trip from Chicago to North Carolina. Nothing but city streets, rural highways, and twisting mountain roads for seven days

My Mellow Yellow and Black test car came with only two optons, the sport package and rear foglights. Yes you heard right, no cruise. However the by-product of this light option list was a very reasonable price of $23,350.

To start with, the looks of the 2007 Cooper S have grown on me tremendously over the past six months. In fact (gulp) I now prefer the more aggressive, upright styling of the R56 over the R53 sitting in my garage. Sure, there are some minor details that I’m not fond of (the side vents being chief among them). But generally this new car is more modern yet just as ‘MINI’ as before. The higher beltline, rear hips, and elongated front and rear lights help give the car a slightly more masculine character – not a bad thing when you’re a little tired of heaaring the word “cute” byt impressed by-standers.

My feelings have also softened in regards to the interior. However, not all is perfect once you open the R56′s door. Where before I felt the center stack was the low point of the interior design, that honor now goes to the stereo and its overly intricate controls and dual knob format. Actually, it’s not the two knobs that bother me (they’re essential for control of the computer’s UI) but it’s the size and placement of both, considering what they control.

Otherwise, I found the interior almost a revelation. While some materials aren’t a huge improvement, there are quite a few places where the R56 improved greatly over the previous generation. First and foremost, I’m talking about the steering adjustment, shifter feel, and seat comfort – the things that impact motoring most. They are so improved that the R50/R53 almost feels a little antiquated in comparison. The shifter in particular is simply a joy to use with its precision and hot-knife-through-butter feel. The seats also make for a huge improvement in comfort and support – especially in the bottom cushion design.

And a big thanks to the engineers who decided to slim down the center stack. My knee and shin thank you as well. Drivng in my R53 back to back with the R56, I was shocked at how I’ve tolerated the left pillar all these years. I’m sure being 6’2″ didn’t help.

As much as I appreciated the exterior and interior change, I found that it’s the entire performance package where the R56 truly shines. The new Cooper S is not only quicker than the one that it replaces, it’s also more fun to throw into corners, easier to drive quickly, and better at stopping with the larger calipers, pads and rotors. The end result is performance that is noticeably better than what the stock R53 offered. Not something to gloss over as the R53 was a very capable car out of the box.

Even more surprising was the experience of driving my R53 (with pulley, Supersprint exhaust, and JCW intake) back to back with a completely stock 2007 MCS. It left little doubt in my mind that the R56 was easily as fast and probably quicker. While it lacked some visceral drama (if you want visceral drama, drive an R53 with a pulley) it was incredibly eager to rev and the torque gave it an appreciable advantage off the line and out of corners.

Before this long-term test I felt strongly that, while the new engine was technically good, it lacked much of the character of the supercharged mill found in the R53. I’m now convinced I was wrong. The new 1.6L Turbo does indeed have a character all its own, it’s just more subtle in how it goes about delivering it. And that delivery is also entirely endearing. Punch it and you go. It sounds simple enough, but driven back to back with a R53 MCS, you’ll immediately appreciate the difference. The new MCS has so much torque down low in the rev-range and revs so freely all the way to redline that it’s much more fun to wring out. Or at least a little less stressful. On top of this, the engine is now quicker to rev, allowing for more efficient matching of revs (you can hear this on any of the R56 test drive videos we posted last week). The end result is an engine that felt more engaging on roads like the Tail of the Dragon. Point and shoot motoring at its best.

The gearbox is also a marked improvement over what was in the R53. While I never thought the previous Getrag was exceptional, I always appreciated its good feedback and precision. This new Getrag has all of that plus an incredibly slick shift action that makes driving quickly all the more easy. It’s also more fun and easier to use in daily driving – not something I’d consider insubstantial considering long-term ownership.

Another area that the new car excels in is steering. With the sport button on (remember that’s essential), the R56 does indeed have a more weighted steering feel than the R53. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you’re feeling more of the road (I actually believe the R53 has the edge in that). It just means the steering is better weighted for spirited driving. Also gone is the rather annoying power steering whine (especially bad on early R50s and R53s) that would accompany low speed steering input.

The R56 is just as tenacious as the R53 ever was in corners. In fact, this is one area where BMW engineers have made a decisive improvement. With the rear suspension changing over to aluminum (a la the JCW GP), the new MINI has a much more neutral feel when pushed through corners. Go in deep, let off the throttle, and the back end will rotate as if you had an aftermarket sway bar installed. It’s an entirely addicting character that makes the track experience all the more fun.

There is a ‘but’ however, the sport suspension and limited slip are both highly recommended options for the 2007 MCS. The stock suspension works great for 95% of drivers out there. However if you want to take your R56 to the track or autox circuit, you’ll want to pay the $500 for the tighter sport suspension. Likewise, the LSD is also a must have for those give their cars regular workouts. In fact it’s more necessary for the R56 than the R53 due to all the torque low in the rev range. A test drive of another R56 at the Dragon (back to back with my press car) fitted with both of these options made it an open and shut case in my mind.

As you may have noticed from most of the photos, I swapped out the OEM Crown Spoke wheels and all season (!!!) tires for my own OZ Ultraleggera 18″ wheels and Kumho Escta SPTs for much of the test. The change helped give the R56 knife-edge quality to the steering. Grip was excellent and comfort didn’t suffer. In fact the ride was noticably better than my 2005 MCS with 17″ runflats. The net tire take-away from test: don’t order all-seasons unless you absolutely have to or plan on using them for the winter. And if you can, ditch the runflats altogether. While generally speaking, MINI’s OEM wheels have gotten lighter (Crown-spokes are down a full 2lbs over the S-lites), you’re better off going aftermarket if you want ultimate performance courtesy of lighter wheels.

Comfort is one area that you don’t typically think of when considering a MINI. Personally, I find my R53 rather taxing at times around the streets of Chicago. If pothole paranoia is a disease, I’ve got it bad. And it’s not just the rough ride but enormous crashing and rattling that gets to me after awhile. However, with the R56, this drama is almost entirely eliminated. MINI has introduced sound-deadening material in the wheel wells (among other improvents) to help with eliminating the symphony of noises associated with the R53. And with the revised suspension, the car soaks up road irregularities while still giving you all the handling you expect in a MINI.

The car that I tested was clad with the excellent cloth seats which were a huge imrpovement over anything I’ve felt in the R50/R53 MINIs. On the long trip down to the Dragon I never once felt a bit uncomfortable (despite not having cruise) and they gripped through every kind of corner imaginable throughout the trip. The key (for me) was the bottom seat cushion. Not only is it longer for those over 6ft tall (thank you MINI) but the bolstering is much better. If it wasn’t for the less than successful checkered pattern, it would be extraordinarily hard to pass up the free cloth seats when speccing an R56.

So, what’s wrong with the R56? After driving the car in all environments, on the street, on the track, and on the Dragon extensively, I’m happy to say very little. Beyond the interface annoyances of the stereo and the a few cheaper-than-expected interior bits and pieces, there’s really very little not to be excited about. The one thing that comes up from a lot of R53 owners is that the car looks high. While the space between the tires and the arches has indeed increased, the car itself is only fractionally taller than before. That said, I can definitely see the need for a minor drop to make the car look a touch more aggressive. It would certainly be something I’d consider on any R56 I owned. However I can say definitively that the car doesn’t need it to regain any lost performance. It would be purely a cosmetic change.

Over the years I’ve had some expcetional experiences with MINI press cars. From the 2005 Cooper S Convertible to the last one, a 2006 Cooper S GP, they’ve been great cars that I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed. However, I’ve never been more saddened to turn one in than with this Mellow Yellow ’07 MCS. I’ve never grown so attached to a car in one week – including the JCW GP.

The R53 (and R50, for that matter) are absolute classics. They will go down as design icons that resurrected a once proud brand, created a huge (and active) ownership community, and enjoyed runaway sales for the entire model run. It just so happens that the R56 is a better car and we, as MINI enthusiasts and owners, should be proud in knowing that it’s a legitimate successor to what came before it. It’s more comfortable, gets better mileage, and performs better in all conditions. Simply put, it’s more of everything that made the original ‘New’ MINI a success. It is better in every quantitative way cars are measured. And at the end of the day, I simply enjoyed it more. Yes, you’re giving up some visceral feel and rawness with the R56. Yes, there are those who will miss that and harken back to the glory days of 2002-2006. And I can’t blame them if that’s what they value. However, the R56 is the car MINI had to make. It’s lighter, faster, quicker, more efficient, and goes around a track better. It is in a word; improved.

On a personal note, anyone want to buy a totally specced out, tastefully modded and impeccably maintained 2005 MCS? No, seriously. Let me know via the contact form above.

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Written By: Gabe

  • Edge

    Great review Gabe – good read. Although I disagree with some of your assessments in comparison with the R53, I haven’t had anywhere near as much seat time in the R56 as you have, so I must be humbled there. :)

    As for the speed comparisons that you and Todd made with the JCW & GP, I must insist that all “seat of the pants” and “magazine numbers” comparisons aren’t a good test.

    What we need is a stock 05/06 JCW, a stock GP and a stock R56, all similarly optioned (sunroof or no? what kind of wheels? etc.) to go head-to-head on the same day, in the same place (and at low altitudes), and using the same driver in order for proper comparison.

    I honestly believe that the opinions of the R56 being faster are due to the low-end torque boost. It “feels” faster. Of course it does! Everybody loves torque. But I’ve felt the JCW power keeps building throughout the powerband, whereas the R56 seems to lose it at the high end (comparatively).

    I look forward to valid tests comparing the cars more equally.

  • laverne

    But………it was YELLOW. Is Gabe ill???

  • msh441

    I’ve heard the “it only feels faster” argument before and it no longer does it for me. After driving a HIGHLY modded and race prepped ’02 (225 HP+/-), a 2004 JCW and my stock R56S (sport suspention, LSD and lowered via springs) back to back at Pacific Raceways for a day… I can say the R56 doesn’t just feel faster, it IS faster.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I honestly believe that the opinions of the R56 being faster are due to the low-end torque boost. It “feels” faster. Of course it does! Everybody loves torque. But I’ve felt the JCW power keeps building throughout the powerband, whereas the R56 seems to lose it at the high end (comparatively).

    Autox times have backed up these claims as well.

    So have you actually ordered your ‘07, or simply ready to pull the trigger once you have an offer on your current MCS? I’m not offering to purchase – not ready to give up my MCS yet. But like everyone else – darn curious!

    My MCS… I’ll tell you tomorrow :)

  • Evan

    This is the first extensive road test of the R56. I know the edge seems to have been taken off for an even better overall package in the R56. It seems to follow the 3er for that… each car is just that much better somehow.

    I love my R50. Even as the a/c is not blowing cold, the steering column is creaking, and a few interior bits are rattling… all at only 34k miles and 3.5yrs… yet he makes me smile every time I walk up to him and the nimbleness of the chassis makes every other car I drive feel top heavy and rolly-polly.

    Still not sold on the R56′s looks. The S is better than the Cooper- mostly b/c of the faux scoop breaking up that larger bonnet. I was fine with leaving the R56 alone until I saw the pics of the R55. The Clubman appears to be the ticket into the revised MINI lineup wearing the larger proportions better than the R56.

    Keeping options light, I’m hoping for an R55 out the door around $26500. Maybe with a fun unique R55 color. And definitely with the turbo and 6speed….then JCW…

    Thank you for a great website Gabe.

    By the way- I really love the R50 steering pump whine. I put the windows down at low speeds just to hear him talking sometimes…

  • Preston

    Hey Gabe, What kind of radar detector do you use? It seems like it would be a smart addition. What are your thoughts on it?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Hey Gabe, What kind of radar detector do you use? It seems like it would be a smart addition. What are your thoughts on it?

    I don’t own one but I’ve had my eye on a Valentine 1 for years. I borrowed one for a few weeks last year (including for MOTD 2006) and it exceeded my expectations. Not that I condone speeding :)

  • http://www.alldigitalnyc.com drew

    nor do i condone speeding either gabe – but my valentine 1 is right up there with my pulley and avons!

    so with all this R56 love in the air, has sliced bread finally met its match…?

  • Edge
    Autox times have backed up these claims as well.

    If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it (once I realize it). I’m not so full of pride to cling to wrong opinions in the face of proper evidence.

    But I’m not convinced just yet. Stock R53 vs Stock R56, absolutely. Not yet on 05/06 JCW or GP vs R56. Autocross is more about handling than acceleration… perhaps I should have qualified what I was talking about. Acceleration! Nothing more. :)

    I have no doubt the R56 is much improved in handling – the lighter weight alone makes a big difference there.

  • Brendan

    Gabe,

    Awesome review. I think you definitely summed up why I didn’t buy the R53, but bought the R56. Now I have 2600+ miles on the car and I don’t regret my purchase. I can definitely tear up the local twisties way more than I could with my old car. The R56 is very nimble, and almost ‘dances’ through the twisties. You just feel connected to the car. It’s hard to explain, but you definitely experienced it. The cool thing is that I still get 27.6 mpg with my foot on the throttle constantly. It begs to be revved to redline, and it just rewards you for driving it hard. I agree 100% that LSD and Sport suspension is a must if you like driving.

    Hopefully MINI usa will give you a discount. I think they definitely owe you. :-D

  • Frank

    Edge, you beat me to it again. I would VERY seriously consider trading in my ’06 full (suspension, brakes, motor) JCW MCS if I get into an R56 and get the same overall feeling and found it to be actually faster. Like Edge, I’ve yet to see one result of head to heads which is done in a conclusive objective way at the track, where the ’06 R53 GP and full JCW’s both get to run against the R56 S for times w/ the same driver on the same day. That being said, if Gabe likes the R56, that’s mighty strong praise indeed!

  • Bill W.

    A fantastic review Gabe and great video too from the Dragon! I held off on an end of the line R53 and am 99.9% there on pulling the R56 MCS trigger…in fact this review might’ve clinched it.

    I just can’t even fathon that you get all this performance and that amazing mileage!! More money for mods!

  • gz

    Bob in Iraq. Thank you for your service. May God bless and protect you. I hope you enjoy your Mini when you return.

  • Kevin

    I am so glad to see this review. I have been thinking about ordering my first MINI for a while and while I love the geeky options on the 07 now, I was a little worried from the complaints. Now I think I am ready to order…I just hope I don’t make a mistake by not waiting for the 2008.

  • Bob

    GZ—thanks for your support! I am SURE I will enjoy the car when I return. BTW Props to Mary at MINI of Hawaii for handling all my paperwork for the deal over email and phone while I am over here.

    Thanks for the input Drill and BillG. I think I agree with the fact that its just another 500 bucks.

  • Chilly

    Thanks for the review Gabe – fantastic as usual.

    Everyone seems in agreement that LSD and Sports Suspension are a must with the MCS, what about 16″ vs. 17″ runflats though? I currently have a 2004 MC with the Sports Package and 16″ runflats, I would want my 2007 (maybe 2008!) MCS to handle as well as this but not quite as harsh. Can anyone provide some comparisons?

    Thanks!

  • Steve

    Great review, I’m 6’4″ so I’m with you on the centre console.

    I’ve had an R56 for a couple of months and an R53 for three years before that (I live in the UK so these are UK spec, I don’t know what the differences are).

    I know you real drivers out there might scoff, but the DSC option has vastly improved. It used to leave you with no power in a corner and took ages to recover. On the R56 you hardly ever notice it’s there, just floor it and off it goes, as fast as physics allows, no dip, just a temporary plateau in the power. A definite recommendation for our slippery twisty country roads (natural Mini territory).

    My R56 is also noticeably faster than the R53 and yet uses a lot less petrol (gas). Power is also delivered in more of a heady rush higher up, though torque is with you all the way and it does pull away faster as well. I miss the supercharger whine a bit, but I now have turbo pop to make up for it. Not a bad swap.

    All in all I’m really pleased I updated.

  • Alan

    what does visceral drama mean?!?!?

  • Brad Fox

    Is it possible to get a temp gauge for my 2007? It seems strange that an enthusiast’s car lacks this basic instrument.

  • Avi

    Great review Gabe. A month ago I took the wife out for a weekend getaway and on the way stopped at a mini dealership. Originally the plan was to get her a GTI. She test drove the car and loved it (as expected from a British girl who’s father owned mini’s for over 15 years and currently drives a 1999 mini S). The dealer asked me if I wanted to take it for a spin and when I was done…I could not take the stupid smile off my face. 2 days later I came to the dealership with cash in hand. I will pick up the car 4 days (took less then a month to build and ship to NY). The R56 is a no brainer!

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  • http://n/a Dick B

    Great review. I took delivery of my MCS in late May and have already done 5000 miles. My only complaint is the plastic flares on the wheel wells. Some oily stuff has dripped out of the hood and onto the plastic and when I clean it the plastic looks worse. I guess I should get it back to the dealer. Other than that, what a machine. I remember my first car was a ’61 Volvo PV544 with 1600cc engine. I’m truly amazed at the power of this engine. My other car is a BMW 335i which since I’ve owned the Mini doesn’t get much street time.

  • http://n/a Dick B

    Great review. I took delivery of my MCS in late May and have already done 5000 miles. My only complaint is the plastic flares on the wheel wells. Some oily stuff has dripped out of the hood and onto the plastic and when I clean it the plastic looks worse. I guess I should get it back to the dealer. Other than that, what a machine. I remember my first car was a ’61 Volvo PV544 with 1600cc engine. I don’t remember much about it except the size. I’m truly amazed at the power of this Mini engine. 1600cc’s accelerating like I had a BMW six under the hood, wow. My other car is a BMW 335i which since I’ve owned the Mini doesn’t get much street time.

  • Holly

    What a great review. I work for Mini in PA and I often check this site for updated information and to hear what the masses are saying. Im glad you enjoyed your road trip Gabe! We look foward to welcoming you to the R56 fam one day! :)

  • Lori

    I bought my mini used (2003) the steering didn’t whine at all until about a week ago and it has continually gotten worse. I bought some power steering fluid but can’t find a place to put it into the car….so after reading here….is this normal? Should I take it back to the dealer to get it fixed?

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  • Dick

    I took delivery of my 07 MCS w/sport and LSD in May. It is an absolute blast to drive. However, the ride is quite rough and I suspect once I wear out the run flats and put on regular tires that will dissipate. I also have a 335i which I use on weekends. I’m happy when Monday rolls around and I can get back in the Mini.

  • Coo

    I’m getting my R56 Cooper S soon and I’m thinking of keeping my OZ Ultraleggera 16″ as rims for winter tyres. It is apparent that 18″ Ultraleggeras go fine, but anyone have any knowledge if the 16″ fit the R56?

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  • 40 43 61

    Proud owner of the 2007 Mellow Yellow Mini Cooper Sport! Its truly a dream and I love this car. Quick, and shifts like a dream. Its used, 42,000 on it but drives like a brand new car, interior is 100% and I am in love! Going to my mechanic this week to do the through inspection, and I am just praying I get the thumbs up, I would hate to have to give her back. Saffron, Sassy Saffy, thats her name….


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