Five years ago on March 22nd 2002 the first MINI dealers in the US opened their doors. I vividly remember showing up at Knauz MINI that morning in an effort to get to know the Cooper and Cooper S demos fresh off the truck. Naturally my wife and I were totally floored by how both felt and we immediately put the wheels in motion for our initial MINI purchase. Here’s my first review of the test drives as posted on March 22nd 2002 on the web:

>First off I was surprised at how capable and flat out fun the base Cooper is. It’s almost fun enough to forget about the S entirely. Especially considering I could probably get one next week. With the S I’ll be waiting until June (as I unfortunately found out today). The Cooper’s main weakness in my mind is the 45-70 acceleration. You must be “involved” with the transmission to get to 70 quickly. But that’s part of the fun as well. The Cooper I drove had the 16s and was definitely more harsh that my BMW 325ci with 17s. But keep in mind it wasn’t rough. It also didn’t have the sport seats causing me to have to literally hang onto the wheel while cornering. It would seem the sport seats are a must have option for all those who drive in a “spirited” fashion and plan on buying a Cooper.

>The S was quite a nice package. However it didn’t “feel” as quick as I had expected off the line. Because of the smoothness of the power it felt a bit laid back where I would have expected otherwise. The immediacy steering in both cars put my 325ci to shame however. When I got back into it after both drives it felt too isolated and numb in comparison. Overall I was really surprised at the lack of difference between the MC and the MCS in everything but 30-60 mph acceleration.

>Another thing that hits you when you see the MINI for the first time on the road is it’s presence. It’s such a strange thing for such a small car to have so much presence.

>Again I have to stress there was a lot less difference between the Cooper and the S than I had imagined. I think some people will happily go for the Cooper (despite the HP disparity) after they drive it. My wife certainly wants me to (she wants something asap). Still not sure though as I’ve been wanting the MCS for awhile and the price difference isn’t really an issue. That being said the difference between the two is a lot less than the 50hp would suggest and the Cooper is much more compelling after the test drives considering the timetable of when we could get one.

It’s interesting to read this again after owning a 2005 MCS with the revised gearing for almost 18 months. Where the 2002 MCS felt laid back on 0-60 runs, the current MINI feels very rapid and always eager. In fact, if I had driven the 2005 that day I’m sure I would have come away with a different opinion and probably held out a few months for an MCS. But as it stands I had three fantastic years and 45,000 in my 2002 MC and certainly have no regrets.