2002 Mini Cooper S - Driving Impression

It's Blown And It's Bad. Good Bad

Photography by Les Bidrawn

Still, with six gears, a supercharger, intercooler, air conditioning and ABS crammed under the hood, there's no room left for a battery. The battery in the Cooper S sits under the floor of the trunk, where it improves weight distribution anyway. Of course, that's where the spare tire in the Mini Cooper is stashed, so the Cooper S is fitted with run-flat tires and a warning system that watches the wheel speed sensors for the slight difference in rolling speed that occurs when a tire loses pressure.

Without a spare, of course, you don't need a jack. This is a problem when the oil pan is sitting on the sand and the front tires have dug nice holes to spin in. A jack would make it a lot easier to get a piece of driftwood under the tire.

Manuel, unlike most of the Portuguese we met, is completely unaffected by Mini mania. He's far more fascinated by the situation than the car itself. "I have a car," he says, "but I don't drive it on the beach."

Thank you. I'm an idiot. Can I borrow your jack?

Fifteen minutes with the jack and we've moved the car two feet. Doing the math, it will take 13 hours to get off the beach. We've already been awake for 29 hours. Manuel calls the fire department.

We did get a few hours to flog the Mini before the photographic inspiration hit, and it was good. It's not the power that's most striking, but the steering. With a super-quick 13:1 steering gear and the Mini's short wheelbase, it's delightfully quick, and precise enough that I can confidently hang a tread block or two off the inside edge of the pavement. Surprisingly, the handling character is similar to the original Mini. The car follows the front tires obediently- this doesn't seem to be a car you slide around.

Then again, it doesn't exactly understeer either. There's far more grip than you'd expect, and there was limited room to explore the surprisingly high handling limits, what with all the pointing Portuguese children and swooning Portuguese women. We'll know better when we get it on our own roads in a few months.

Luckily, the interior doesn't mimic the original Mini nearly as much as the handling. In place of the old Mini's fetal driving position, the new car has room to stretch out. My 36-inch inseam still doesn't justify putting the seat all the way back, and there's plenty of helmet room, at least without a sunroof. The only tight spot is over the clutch pedal, where even with driving shoes, a size 10 1/2 can't stand up. Those with well-endowed walkers will have to lift their whole leg to release the clutch. The interior design, materials and overall quality feel make it obvious BMW is behind this car. There's a sense of solidity inside the car, a feeling that no matter how much sand you track into the carpets, the interior will hold up well.

In Portugal, the fire department uses four-wheel-drive Nissan Patrols, unstoppable rock crawlers that can go almost anywhere. Even a Patrol sinks into the sand trying to pull a beached Mini, though. Just when we think it's finally over, the fireman gives up and calls a tow truck.

Both the 115-hp Mini Cooper and the Cooper S will be on sale by the time you read this, with the supercharged S starting at $19,850-$3,000 more than the base car. Odds are you'll pay a bit more if you want one any time soon. A total of 20,000 Minis are slated for the United States this year, but the waiting lists are long. If you do get your hands on one, stay off the beach.

2002 MINI COOPER S
Estimated Price : $19,850
ENGINE
Type : Inline four, iron block,
aluminum head,
supercharged and intercooled
Valvetrain : SOHC, four valves per cylinder
Displacement : 1598cc
Bore x Stroke : 85.8mm x 77.0mm
Compression Ratio : 8.3:1
Claimed Crank Hp : 163 hp @ 6000 rpm
Claimed Crank Torque : 155 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
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