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MF Review: 2011 MINI Cooper S Refresh

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

Performance

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

Styling

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

2011 MINI Cooper S

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.

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Written By: Gabe

  • CFRM

    Nice Review, can’t wait to hear more about MINI Connected. Any Word on “Eclipse Grey”? Thanks!

  • Jas

    Very exciting. I hope MINI Connect is un-delayed soon, so I can get my order in after pricing and online builder is updated.

    So you would say the 2011 MCS convertible will much improved also with the new engine and other improvements over the 2010?

    In your pics, you can see a white 2011 MCS convertible also.

  • that.guy
    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.

    Do you consider this a good thing?

  • JonPD

    I saw the car at MTTS also and wondered who on earth chose the green interior with the spice exterior, nasty to say the least. I thought that spice orange was a slight miss, not a color I would choose.

    If I were looking at picking up a MINI right now I would likely aim at the standard S over the jcw and then go directly aftermarket with the savings and ending up with something that will spank the jcw.

    Great analysis as usual Gabe! I have great hope that the jcw factory car will finally get sorted out someday. Sad part is that this will likely not be the case with the R58/R59. Right now sitting here struggling if our 06 R53 will be replaced with a Cooper, Cooper S, or jcw R59. With the drop with its weight and stiffened chassis I am actually considering the likely choice a Cooper R59, the S is a close second, finally the jcw is my last choice since I know I have to blow so much more money over the car to make it worthy of being a sports model.

  • cze33r

    I still like the Orange and Green, I guess I’m in a minority :-)

  • JonPD

    Have you seen either in person yet cze33r? As for the Green interior I did like it, but NOT with the Spice color. The Spice color to me was just a “safe” color.

  • cze33r

    No, I’m in Australia. My MA has specced his 2011 demo cars. I know one will have Green Lounge leather and there is bound to be a Spice Orange in there as well, whether they are on the same car remains to be seen, I doubt it. I can’t wait to have a good look at a 2011 MINI.

  • Dnx

    Gabe, looking at the 4th picture in your article, is it correct that I see the 2011 JCW kit on car nr 066?

  • Jas

    I thought that car, no 66 was a 2010 model…

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Do you consider this a good thing?

    I think you’re missing my point. Or do you consider having torque steer a good thing?

    Gabe, looking at the 4th picture in your article, is it correct that I see the 2011 JCW kit on car nr 066?

    Car 066 was a 2010 Cooper S I had driven the day before.

    Very exciting. I hope MINI Connect is un-delayed soon, so I can get my order in after pricing and online builder is updated.

    We’ll have info on that very soon.

    Any Word on “Eclipse Grey”? Thanks!

    Yeah. Saw it. Looks great. Very close to Dark Silver.

  • Brian

    Thanks for the info. Glad to know the burble is back.

  • goat

    Happy to hear torque steer is so improved. And the refresh has made for a much more visually appealing R56 – inside and outside. Looking forward to local test drives.

  • BilboBaggins

    Great write-up, as usual. Interesting to hear about the changes in the drive line. Sounds like some real improvements. More horsepower and better mileage, how can it get better than that.

    How is the suspension of the 2011 when compared to an R53? Ride, cornering, body roll, transitions, etc?

  • JonPD

    I really think the mid-cycle refresh Cooper S is a massive upgrade all in all and holding out for it makes perfect sense. The interior changes alone is impressive and the engine and ECU changes are just plainly incredible. I think the Automotive media is going to really eat this up.

  • lavardera

    Gabe- I think the reader is looking for you to reconcile this torque steer solution with steering feel. You did not mention any change to the steering feel in the new model, yet one would have to guess that whatever is arresting the torque steer would have some impact on steering feel in the turns?

  • hemisedan

    The more people try and talk me out of the JCW, the more I am glad that I ordered it. To get to the JCW complete package you still have to fork out $2K plus insstallation, which is another $500 for installation, probably more. Of course you can’t get the gray gauges, you could go to your body guy and have him paint the roof, I suppose. Then there is the power. Most say, “Oh, I will just go after market, get exhaust, get tune and cai, and whatever, and I will have more power than the JCW” Well, maybe you will, but just have one problem and see what Mini/BMW says to you about warrantee? To me, that’s worth a few dollars just to have peace of mind there.

    Sure, I like the MCS, but I like the JCW better, so that’s what I’m getting and I will probably do some mild mods too. I’ll probably do some mild mods too, but in the end I will still have my warrantee. My only real wish that JCW would have done, other than the Variable Timing issue, is that they’d have allowed for either, better lighter wheels, or put base wheels on it and given a $2k discount.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Gabe- I think the reader is looking for you to reconcile this torque steer solution with steering feel. You did not mention any change to the steering feel in the new model, yet one would have to guess that whatever is arresting the torque steer would have some impact on steering feel in the turns?

    We’ve already reported that the software change was to only correct the torque steer issue and not to improve feel as originally reported. I can verify that with this drive.

  • superfox

    My 2011 MCS will be delivered on 1st September :-) Cant wait to get my hands on it.

  • JonPD

    hemisedan I personally think any none of the MINI choices are bad things the R50-R57 all have their pluses and minuses. At the end of the day if the car in front of you puts a smile on your face its the right one for you. Its hard to go wrong when choosing a MINI.

  • rimtnbiker

    Dear Gabe: Did you notice if the pop/burble on throttle lift-off with sport in the on position, you describe on the MCS, also occurs on the Countryman S ??

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Did you notice if the pop/burble on throttle lift-off with sport in the on position, you describe on the MCS, also occurs on the Countryman S ??

    It does not. MINI tuned it out of the Countryman S.

  • Evan

    Great write-up! At least the torque steer is better. Too bad the feel isn’t improved. Maybe the next gen will address that.

    The interior is great, and I really like the green leather. I do wish other door panel colors would be optional. Black doors keep the interior dark- that’s why I spec’d the grey doors on my R50 back when you could. Keeps the interior brighter.

    I’ll have a tough time in another year when I look for either a replacement for my E90 with an E91 before they go out of production or a Countryman, or just keep the E90 and get a 2012 Clubman S…. I don’t know if I can let the unique Clubman escape me.

  • Robert

    Good write up. I know my ’04 has serious torque steer, good to see it’s fixed.

    About those redesigned tail light/signal sets. Are the signals still amber?

    I loathe the majority of American designed cars with turn signals the same color as the brake lights … red on red is not a great indicator. I hope they are still amber.

    S’Cooper 04 Liquid Yellow – 88k

  • goat

    @ hemisedan: You will like your Factory JCW, don’t worry. Nothing beats a “factory special” as far as I’m concerned… aftermarket gives great gains for (slightly) less cash but often does not have the same smooth power delivery across the rev range. And having it all covered by warranty and serviceable by your local dealer with no grumbling or need for “mod hiding / apologies” is worth something too.

    Do consider adding the dealer-installed JCW suspension though… it transforms an R56 into a much more composed corner carver… the slight drop in ride height (~10mm) is a bonus.

  • hemisedan

    Goat,

    Thanks, I’m looking forward to November. As for the suspension, I’ve ordered a set of H & R Sport Springs. I’ll see how they work for now and if anything else is needed, I’m thinking about the rear sway bar area, then we’ll do that. Gabe, very good write up. I think that I saw you driving East yesterday, on i-80 in Iowa. Sure looked like the new MCS Spice Orange with a Black top. Needless to say, I couldn’t see the details, me going 75 mph west and if it was you, you goin 80+ mph East. Lots of nice things going for the Mini in 2011. Mine’s coming, BRG ll with Christmas Red roof and mirrors.

  • Bill in Iowa

    Gabe,

    Any ideas of when the new pricing is going public yet? Also, you probly aren’t privvy to this, but when can we expect the configuration on Miniusa.com?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Likely later this week. It’s done… just waiting for the right time to be released.

  • Chris N.

    The really cool thing about MTTS was talking with several MINI programers/designers/staff. I talked with some of the advertising team that did Mini vs. Porsche and developed the MINI Link app and and a good discussion with the guy that did the redo of Nav and Connected. He even had the new Connected App on his iPhone and I played with it for a bit while waiting to MINICross the MINI E. I was going to try and hook up with him later to see it in use in the white Countryman but it didn’t pan out. Oh, and talking with Jim McDowell was cool too :) Where else would an average joe owner get this level of access? I’ll be back in two years!

  • goat

    @ hemisedan – also a good approach to take. Enjoy! I really like the combo of BRG with JCW red roof (ignore the xmas comments, or embrace them… xmas is a great time of year anyway!). :)

  • rimtnbiker

    Gabe, if you go to the Mini UK site the base prices for the Countryman are: Countryman: 17,795 Countryman S: 20,810 British Pounds. If you convert the currency to US Dollars it comes to: Countryman: $27,255 Countryman S: $32,419 If this is accurate, it will be awfully easy to hit $40 grand with a few options on an S (without All4)

  • Bill in Iowa

    rimtnbiker,

    Me too, I went to that miniuk site as well, mostly to see what all the JCW stuffwas like. I figured, what I considered conservatively, a Countryman All4, and it was in the $42K range. Then I did a CountrymanS, and while I did add a couple of other options to it, it came out at over $41k too. Unless they are going to discount the Countryman for us in the WEST, which I doubt, this is going to be way out of my league. I had thought of one of these for my wife, when her Jeep Liberty lease expires but it’s about $12k over our budget. I realize that its not half the car, but she’s going to wind up with a Mazda Imprezna 5 door.

    One thing that I have found on the miniuk site, is that the options in the UK are more expensive than here in the USA. Multifunction steering is an extra there, and the HID/adaptor option package is $680 lb, to our $600. dollars. That’s before their VAT tax. Just one example, and interesting.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    If this is accurate, it will be awfully easy to hit $40 grand with a few options on an S (without All4)

    It’s in no way accurate. UK are never a direct translation into US prices. For instance look at the price of a JCW in the UK compared to the US.

  • rimtnbiker

    I hope you are correct. I have been reading everything about this car for so long and looking forward to January for the US release, but if the Countryman S with a few options is a $38K vehicle, I will be very disappointed and have to look for something else. When the new configurator comes online for the 2011 MC and MCS (soon I hope) will the Countryman be on the site as well?

  • Blainestang

    Gabe is right. Go look at the Euro pricing on ANY new vehicle (not just MINI) and you’ll see that converting directly to USD gives you a number MUCH higher than what it actually costs here.

    On another note, I agree with Gabe on Spice Orange. As soon as it was announced that there would be an orange available for 2011, I posted that I hoped it would be a GT3-esque, bold, bright, non-metallic Orange. Unfortunately, Spice Orange is just about the opposite of that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=529305914 Haemish Edgerton
    About those redesigned tail light/signal sets. Are the signals still amber? I loathe the majority of American designed cars with turn signals the same color as the brake lights … red on red is not a great indicator. I hope they are still amber.

    @Robert – I agree 100% with you. I hate red turn signals… so much so that on my 05, I replaced the “American” all-red taillights with the European ones – that have an amber turn signal, as it should be. I had to order them from the UK, but it was worth it! :)

  • Bill in Iowa

    Blainstang, Actually what I said was that pricing out the Countryman was way above my budget, but when I priced the MCS and JCW the pricing was a deal for us here in the USA. The way that I priced out a loaded, well for me it was loaded, it had everything except NAV and a sunroof, it came to $33k in dollars and that is with the JCW Aero package which the UK get standard. Now, I priced out the Countryman and it was well over $40K. That’s what I meant. MiniUS is going to have to be priced in the JCW range base for the S if it’s going to be even considered by normal people. Well, that’s my opinion, as it will still be way over my wife’s budget.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Now, I priced out the Countryman and it was well over $40K. That’s what I meant. MiniUS is going to have to be priced in the JCW range base for the S if it’s going to be even considered by normal people. Well, that’s my opinion, as it will still be way over my wife’s budget.

    I think you’re math is off. The JCW is $34k in the UK. And that’s with a very strong dollar right now. The US price is of course around $29K.

    Regardless I know quite a bit about what we speak and I can tell you that a base MCS will likely be a little bit more than a base MCS Clubman and a little less than a based MCS convertible. But this is not new, we reported that last winter. You’ll see confirmation the first week of October.

  • Bill in Iowa

    Gabe,

    I think that I said that the JCW was in the 33-34 category, dollar wise. Also, with that, you get the JCW Aero package, which they don’t show on their site. And, the Countryman is more expensive. Anyway, who cares, I have mine ordered and am happy with the price. As for prices on the Countryman I have NEVER seen any on this site, or any other site for the USA market. I’m just configuring on the UK and doing the $1.25 exchange rate, which is where the dollar vs. the pound is right now. Anyway, let’s motor, all Mini’s are great. By the way, I never mentioned anything about a Clubman.

  • hemisedan

    No one mentioned it, so I thought that I’d say, I really like the way the brake ducts and rear fog lights look WITHOUT the chrome package. This is the first that I’ve seen the rear fog lights without the chrome. I, still think that they could have been a bit smaller. They just seem to overwhelm that rear panel, but I’ll learn to live with it, I suppose.

  • that.guy
    I think you’re missing my point. Or do you consider having torque steer a good thing?

    Some torque steer on an FWD car is inevitable and working with it is part of the fun of driving one hard, imo. So, yeah, some torque steer is a very good thing. “Neutral”steering while applying power and cornering hard seems like it would feel unnatural and disconnected from what is really happening at the front wheels in an FWD car. That doesn’t sound good, but maybe it is. Just asking what you thought.

  • jose.costa

    Gabe: Will the front bumper with the air ducts be retrofitted to older models?

  • heather

    Gabe – thank you for the review !! I have been waiting for a long time to get my MINI and am very excited to hear about these new updates –

    I know you all were looking for a bright orange…but i am looking for a nice bronze/fall orange…is this color close to that?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Some torque steer on an FWD car is inevitable and working with it is part of the fun of driving one hard, imo. So, yeah, some torque steer is a very good thing. “Neutral”steering while applying power and cornering hard seems like it would feel unnatural and disconnected from what is really happening at the front wheels in an FWD car. That doesn’t sound good, but maybe it is. Just asking what you thought.

    I look at it this way. Anything that grabs the steering wheel and tries to pull it out of your hand while cornering is a bad thing. Anything that negatively effects the steering (which should be as neutral as possible in regards to power delivery) is also a bad thing. The new software virtually eliminates it all giving you back steering that isn’t effected by power input (much like the less torquey R53).

    Will the front bumper with the air ducts be retrofitted to older models?

    There is a brake duct retrofit kit for the JCW but there will be nothing for the stock bumper. However you can definitely ad the entire front bumper and brake ducts to an R5X made before 2011. Of course you may want to also consider just getting the JCW aerokit which also has the brake ducts.

    I know you all were looking for a bright orange…but i am looking for a nice bronze/fall orange…is this color close to that?

    This is more bronze orange and it sounds like you’ll likely find it perfect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/geneesanchez Gene Sanchez

    Thank you for the great review. My lease on my 07R56 is coming to end in November. I’m so torn on if I want to keep my car, go with a new S or go with a new JCW.

    I like the sound of this burble you speak of. I had a few Z06 vettes without cats in the past that did the same thing. I understand that the JCW will not have the changes the R56 engine will have. However will the JCW get the ECU change to add the burble to the exhaust?

    Thank you-Gene

  • hemisedan

    The JCW already has the burble unless the newest ECU update took it out. But, according to the MTTS people, their ragtop JCW has it. By the way, I have a JCW BRG ll on order. Mini S is nice,but to me at least, the JCW still is the way to go.

  • rimtnbiker

    Gabe: Based upon your estimate, that would put the base Countryman S at approx: $26,500. That makes me feel soooo much better. Thanks for all your hard work and information about everything MINI!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1632536925 Scott Purvis

    Great write up as usual Gabe. Are those the “swivel” HID’s? These don’t look like the headlights in the official pics of the ’11’s posted by Motoringfile a couple of weeks ago. Also, are those extra little lights surrounding the main lighting unit in addition to the actual light ring? LEDs by chance? Just curious. Thanks!

  • alpinamike

    The engine is missing the little cover, but their is a little story behind that outside of motoringfile. I may say my invicta orange face watch matches the spice orange well.

    Orange and green …think BMW individual people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=529305914 Haemish Edgerton
    As for prices on the Countryman I have NEVER seen any on this site, or any other site for the USA market. I’m just configuring on the UK and doing the $1.25 exchange rate, which is where the dollar vs. the pound is right now.

    @Bill in Iowa: I imagine that Gabe has given up on trying to correct you, but I haven’t. :)

    Don’t use the exchange rate. Don’t do it! STOP! Pay NO attention to the price of a MINI in the UK.

    MINI sets totally different prices in the USA than the UK (even after conversion). Always have. Looking at the UK price and doing the exchange rate conversion is guaranteed to give you a very skewed (wrong) result. We’re actually quite lucky because Brits pay WAY more than we do for our MINIs (even after exchange rate conversion).

    The best hope you can probably have for figuring out a “likely” USA price for a Countryman is to do something like this:

    1) Price out a base R56 Cooper S in the UK 2) Price out a base Countryman S in the UK 3) Calculate the percentage price jump between the two models in the UK 4) Price out a base R56 Cooper S in the USA 5) Apply the same percentage change to the USA price of the R56 Cooper S.

    Even then, it probably won’t be too accurate, but at least it will be in the “general ballpark”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=529305914 Haemish Edgerton

    Darnit – I should have used the proper “Numbered list” format in my post. Sorry about that. Wish I could edit it after the fact (the preview looked fine).


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