I put off driving a new Mini Cooper for years.
The fact is that I’ve driven a 2nd Generation Cooper S but the only Cooper I’ve driven is my own 2006 Cooper named Titan.
I’ve liked Titan since the day I took custody of him on January 7, 2007. He was a Late Build 2006; the best of the 1st Gen Minis. Initially, I found the gearbox lackluster and the engine, well, trending toward the average.
But now, after 7 years, I have grown to love this car.
Now, Titan sits in the garage with 143,000 miles on the clock. The gearbox, clutch & engine all work the very same way they did when I drove him off the lot at Bob Smith Mini back i 2007. There are no door dings, only a few rock chips on the hood to mar his rare beauty.
Still, time stand still for no car; not even the Titan.
Last Sunday I went to the new home of Bob Smith Mini to drive a new 2015 Mini Cooper. I knew there would be no manual transmission cars on the lot so I decided to drive an auto, just to get a feel for the new 3 cylinder engine and the driving dynamics of the new, bigger Mini.
The new Cooper is a larger and more buttoned down car, of these facts there is no doubt. The engine is cool and collected and the transmission is pretty slick. Handling is a huge question mark. My 2006 Cooper handles (to this day) with deft aplomb and near-surgical precision. The 2015 Cooper more glides over the road more than it carves it up. Turn in is controlled but it’s also more than a touch toward the languid. In the few turns that I took the chassis felt stout enough but the suspension was meant to please another kind of driver; dare I say, a driver used to driving lesser cars.
For whom is the 2015 Cooper intended? I think it’s intended for someone who likes their idea of a Mini. They like the idea of the Mini’s kind of cool. They like that the new Mini is said to be larger and more comfortable. When they actually get around to driving the 2015 they’ll be driving a car that will drive pretty much like what they’re used to. When the goal is to sell more cars, this makes sense.
But, it’s not really in keeping with the spirit that Mini has established. Writing about a car’s soul is tricky. BMW owned the MIni brand for a very long time before they came out with the Cooper. I’m sure they spent a lot of time looking at the original Mini and wondering about its translation into a contemporary car. The succeeded beyond anyone’s expectation and they did so by building a pure car; a car with soul.
My 2006 Cooper begs me to swing it hard into corners. The 2015 is a little numb on center and quick movements of the steering wheel bring a sense of lift before the car changes direction. The new Cooper needs to be convinced to turn while the older Cooper seemed almost to anticipate turns and curves.
The longer wheelbase of the 2015 is a good thing, though. The 2006 is solid and predictable until you really get it going and start to push it. It never feels light, but sudden changes of direction at speed reveal the stability limitations of a such a short wheeelbase.
I cannot promise that I will not buy a 2015 Mini Cooper. My plan is to find a manual transmission version to test drive. Many a car has had its personality changed with the simple presence of that third pedal. A touch more soul just might do it.