Along the way from Chicago to Denver I managed to grab the keys to a 2011 Spice Orange Cooper S. Yes the highly anticipated 2011 refreshed MINI that has been reported on at MF thoroughly over the past year. Press drives haven’t even started with the car so the fact they we not only got behind the wheel but managed to put over 350 miles on the pre-production car was an incredible opportunity. Of course being pre-production meant that there were a few small issues. That means MINI Connected didn’t work (the US App isn’t out in iTunes yet) and several warning lights were on in the tach. But beyond that this was the most refined and sorted Cooper S I had ever driven and one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had in a MINI.
The 2011 model year sees the introduction of the updated engine range for the US. In the Cooper S that means a thoroughly reworked 1.6L turbo with variable valve timing and 181 hp (184 bhp) – a nine horsepower increase from last year.
Also upgraded is the engine management software. The most celebrated software change (at least at the MF HQ) is the pop/burble on throttle lift-off with sport in the on position. To be more specific, just go from 3rd to 2nd while matching revs and you will immediately know what we’re talking about.
The other change is to the power delivery while cornering. MINI engineers have been working on the torque steer issue for almost two years now. The solution they’ve come up with works in conjunction with all the other acronyms on the car to eliminate any hints of the dreaded tug while powering through corners. It’s hard to believe but I tried a half dozen times from a dead stop on many different roads. I literally would come to a stop, turn the wheel to the left and floor it. Each time the 2011 MCS would launch itself into the corner while the steering wheel was completely neutral in my hands. No tug towards the outside of the corner. Nothing.
The one software upgrade we hadn’t heard about from MINI was the overall refinement of the power delivery. To be honest I’m not sure how much is software and how much is the new self adjusting clutch. Regardless the initial tip-in and power delivery on a manual transmission Cooper S is noticeably improved.
And what of the power? Yes you absolutely feel the extra 9 horsepower. In fact it’s feels a little healthier than that. I would compare it to a MCS with the JCW engine kit as far as increased power. Where it’s felt most is in the mid-range. It just wants to rev – perhaps just a bit more than before.
So what does this mean for the JCW engine kit? It’s likely dead for all R5X cars from 2011 onward. The JCW car itself of course will continue on but with a little less of the performance edge it once had.
But there is an edge. I had a chance to drive the 2011 MCS back to back with a 2010 JCW and there’s little question that the JCW is a different beast altogether. It’s faster up and down the RPM range and has a nasty attitude that the MCS has a hard time living up to.
Over the course of almost 400 miles on deserted highway I averaged 33.1 miles a gallon with speeds ranging from 80-90 mph (not counting one stop). That’s a notable figure considering the speed. However don’t expect the addition of variable valve timing to increase the MPG as it does in the UK and Europe. Unfortunately the way the EPA figures MPG doesn’t reflect the same gains that the new engine has made in other markets. The engine is the same but the way the agencies measure the efficiency is different. However there is something to be said about a car getting almost 10 more horsepower with no efficiency loss.
Outside the car has added functional brake ducts that bring cool air straight to the front brakes. It’s a feature that is on almost all BMW and one that MINI owners have been asking for since 2001. It’s fantastic to see MINI listen to the community and finally give the Cooper S and JCW a premium performance feature not seen on many cars let along ones costing less than $25k. Just make sure the chrome line option isn’t checked.
MINI has updated the lighting front and back. The xenons have a refined design with black over the washer mechanism. They’re also available (as a no cost option) in black – again something this site has been requesting for years.
At the back MINI has updated the taillights with BMW like light rings (which may or may not be LED) that give the car a much more modern look. In conjunction with this reverse lights have been moved down to the bumper and are housed in the same space as the rear foglights. If rear foglights aren’t optioned you simply don’t get the switch in the toggle bank. The bulbs and wiring will be there regardless.
And while we’re talking about the exterior of the car we have to mention my personal disappointment with Spice Orange. It’s not that the color isn’t pleasant (I prefer it over Hot Orange without question) but many of us at MF had held out hope that this would be a orange more akin to what Porsche and Lotus have recently done.
Inside out test car’s Spice Orange was complemented with the insane combination of Green seats with black piping. I have to admit I love the seats. The color is very retro and would look great with any neutral color MINI. But not Spice Orange.
The 2011 interior is everything we’ve always wanted. A refined look with the gloss black controls and standard chrome the interior is finally moving past the brash and into the world of sophisticated. The new radio controls have changed but perhaps less than it would seem at first. Yes they are an improvement. However you’ll still presented with two equal sized knobs (now right next to each other) that operate completely different functions. It’s more intuitive but it’s not quite perfect yet.
Our test car wasn’t equipped with Nav or MINI Connected but look for a rundown on both of those options in the next few days.
What Does it All Mean?
The 2011 MCS refresh is perhaps more impressive once you start to pull the covers back. It doesn’t make the 2010 feel or look antiquated but the 2011 model is simply better in every way. Once you get beyond the engine (which I think is the star of the show here) you realize that it’s the details that make this car a solid improvement over what came before.
Or to put it another way, I wouldn’t have considered anything but a JCW last year when looking at MINIs. Now after driving the 2011, the standard MCS is hard to ignore.
Look for pricing on the 2011 model range in the coming days.