Monday, March 03, 2008

The John Cooper Works

Although I have previously posted my planned MINI build, the new John Cooper Works MINI is promising. It would be about three thousand more than what I want out of a MINI, but the concept of the car as a pure, purposeful, performance MINI is certainly tempting. Why would I want to lose things such as the sunroof, sport suspension, LSD, and Laser Blue for a performance package?

Let me review what will be available through the JCW car. First are the engine upgrades: new turbo, improved air intake and exhaust, and optimized computer tuning. This gets the car up from 172hp to close to 207hp. Next are the clutch, transmission, and short-throw shifter. There is also the four-piston front brakes for even faster stopping times. An electronic differential lock will simulate an limited slip differential. The JCW will also have limited edition 17" wheels. The other details are still unclear, but the Hi-Fi sound, Anthracite headliner, and piano black/fluid silver dash may be included as well. The cars top speed also increases from 140 to 148 miles per hour.

It has always been tempting to spec a stripped down Cooper S with just LSD and Sport Suspension, even bypassing a metallic paint color to create a no-nonsense street and track attacker. A no-option JCW would represent that idea to the extreme.

And that last word may be just why I pass on a JCW. It is almost too extreme. The R56 is already very fast for such a small car. When I test drove one a year ago, I quickly realized my limits are reached far before the car's. I'm not saying I have ruled out the JCW, but my concept of my MINI will have to change before that decision is reached.

Besides, who goes 148mph in a MINI? Seriously...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Are Your Wheels Dirty?

Often when I'm driving down the road, I see cars with absolutely filthy front wheels. Sometimes, the car will even be relatively clean, but the wheels are blackened with brake dust. I know that not everyone sees their car as an extension of who they are, but you can learn a lot about a person from the condition of their car.

If you peek in my Saturn, you will see a few fast food bags and cups, some books in the back seat, as well as a Cars booster seat. I live a life on the go and don't have much time to clean up the mess. I try, though. :)

The Saturn isn't really my car. When the Neon died, I inherited it since we got the minivan for my wife, and I've never really gotten attached to the Saturn. It is living on borrowed time until I can sell it and finally get my MINI. Don't expect to see trash in the MINI.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A New Build

This week, Motoringfile announced the USA pricing for the 2008 MINIs. Fortunately, there was not an increase in the base cost of the Cooper or Cooper S coupes, but there were a few changes in the packages that have prompted me to adjust my build. The Premium Package changes in '08 to no longer include the Multi-Function steering wheel.

I had originally opted to get the Premium Package, because I definitely want the Panoramic Sunroof ($850) and the leather Multi-function steering wheel ($550) which totaled to $1400. The Premium package included both as well as the automatic AC, which was a $550 option as well. This was a deal worth taking.

The Premium Package no longer includes the Multi-Function steering starting with the 2008 model. It has been replaced with Premium Sound, which still makes for a good package, but no longer what I want. I'm now going a la carte with the sunroof and steering wheel which did drop $200 to $350, which is another bonus.

The other change that will affect my build is the cloth leather interior now includes both a choice of color line and premium dash. This is a $1000 option which previously included just the color line, which really made it too pricey to add. I had always wanted to get the Pacific Blue color line and Brushed Aluminum dash to have the interior match the exterior of the car. Now for essentially $500 more, I can get the Pacific Blue Cloth leather interior as well.

Overall, the price of my MINI will increase by $300 to a total of $25,700 before tax, tag, and title. I'm going to also make sure the dealer doesn't add the $1000 worth of junk all dealers try to add to the car. I know they are just trying to make a profit, but I'm trying to keep my monthly payment close to $400.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost

While traveling along the highways and interstates, I often spy a small winding road trailing alongside. The road always looks smoother, cleaner, purer than the mass-produced courier of high speed travel on which I ride. As the side road and I part ways, I often long to explore the journey it holds, but the hurried pace of getting to the destination takes priority, and the promise of adventure is abandoned.

I expect that my time in a MINI will include many travels along the less traveled paths. I often take short trips to local stores late in the evening, and I imagine that those trips will be lengthened somewhat, as I search for roads to make the drive longer.

That is the essence of Motoring.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Yellow MINI?!?!

I may end up with a yellow MINI... specifically Mellow Yellow, one of the colors available on the redesigned 2007 MINI. I wouldn't have thought that I would want a yellow car, it is definitely not one of my favorite colors, but after seeing it in person, it is quite desirable.

My list of color choices on my future MINI is pretty short - Laser Blue, which has been presented multiple times in this blog; Chili Red, the classic MINI color; Pepper White, classic in its simplicity; and now Mellow Yellow. I've always wanted my MINI to stand out in a parking lot, just like my now dead Intense Blue Neon would. It was easy to spot in a lot, because I would only have to find the brilliant blue pearl amongst the sea of silver.

Mellow Yellow fits the requirement for parking lot boldness. I especially like how the color looks with the black roof and bonnet stripes. Those black body accents in addition to the grill and wheel arches make the MINI look like an angry bumblebee or a taxi in disguise. The '07 MINI Cooper S I tested was Mellow Yellow, and I could definitely motor around wrapped in a sunny disposition.

Laser Blue is still my number one color choice, but Mellow Yellow is slowly creeping past Chili Red for second. As always, Pepper White is lurking in fourth place waiting for me to go for a more subtle appearance.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Save the Burbles!!

There has been a lot of debate within the MINI community over the changes that were made from the 2002-2006 MINI with the release of the 2007 MINI. There have been claims of BMW softening the car for the general consumer, the car losing its soul or character, not having the same driving feel, changes made for profit, and that it is ugly. As US consumers begin to test drive the new MINI and compare it to the previous generation, some feel their concerns over the changes have been justified, while others discover that the new MINI has retained nearly all of the character the previous car - it is all a matter of perception.

I have always been in the optimist camp regarding the 2007 MINI. As information was revealed over the past year at MotoringFile about the R56, I was thrilled to hear about the improved power of the new engines, the slightly reduced weight of the new body, and the maintained handling characteristics of the previous generation car (R50/R53).

However, as information about how MINI has attempted to mainstream the car by smoothing the rough edges, I began to be concerned. There were often complaints that the Cooper S had too rough of a ride, so in response, MINI made the Sport Suspension a cost option on the Cooper S like it is on the Cooper. The throttle and steering response were viewed as too responsive by the non-enthusiast customer, so the responsiveness was toned down. Fortunately, MINI has included the Sport Button to return the car's agility. Finally, after the MINIUSA press day in Arizona, Gabe from MotoringFile reported that the exhaust burble was removed from US specification cars due to customer complaints about the backfiring noises (known as burbling to the MINI community) the 2005 and 2006 MINI Cooper S made. I was stunned.

When I first heard this video on YouTube of the 2007 Cooper S exhaust, I was thrilled with the thought of putting around town in my MINI - it growling and snarling at every mundane SUV, minivan, and Honda Civic it passed. Unfortunately, MINI made a "refinement" without providing an alternative for the enthusiast. From what I understand, the loss of the burble is an ECU adjustment, so it should be programmable, so I think that it should be available upon request.

I don't know what must be done to save the burbles, but if they can be exterminated due to complaints, then they can be revived through the same means!! SAVE THE BURBLES!!! Let your Motoring Advisor you want a noisy MINI!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My 2007 MINI Test Drive

The day finally arrived. After months of waiting, the 'R56' MINI was for sale in North America. I had seen plenty of pictures on the internet for months now and disguised cars captured in testing variations by the automotive press for over a year, but now I finally had the opportunity to see the new MINI in the sheet metal.

My family took a trip to Century MINI in Greenville, SC to see the '07 MINIs. After a 2 ½ hour drive, we arrived just after lunch time. The new MINIs were lined up facing the dealer. There were Coopers in Chili Red, Pepper White and Mellow Yellow, and the Cooper S was available in Sparkling Silver and Mellow Yellow. Unfortunately, the color I have been most anxious to see in person, Laser Blue, was not present. The dealer had received a car in their launch shipment, but it was purchased on Saturday.

Now I must confess, I've not had much experience with MINIs. I had visited Century MINI on a cold, wet, dreary day in November and test driven a 2005 Chili Red Cooper S at the local BMW dealer. Other than that, I've just been window shopping.

After checking out the 2007 MINIs on the lot as well as some of the 2006 models still available, I had an opportunity to speak with a woman who has a 2006 Chili Red Cooper S who had just finished test driving the Sparkling Silver Cooper S. She was thrilled with the new car and was claiming it was better than her current MINI.

Now it was my turn. I got some seat time in the Mellow Yellow Cooper S. The car seemed to have just the Sport Package. The interior was the checkered cloth with the base checkered dash and grey colorline. The only other option I spotted was the rear fog lights. Not the spec I plan on ordering, but I would definitely get a feel for the road handling ability of the car, which is the reason I'm interested in a MINI anyways.

After getting my son's carseat secured in the rear seat, we headed out for our test drive. The Motoring Advisor guided me to a road they use to demonstrate the cars abilities, which includes a series of challenging corners with significant elevation changes. It was a little too residential though, so it was hard to really open up the throttle. When I pressed hard on the gas, I could feel how ready the engine is to launch the car forward. I had also turned on the Sport Button so that I could feel the difference in the steering response. The few corners that I did take aggressively easily proved that the MINI was beyond anything I have ever driven or owned. I pushed the car through a corner near the end of the run, and I could tell the car wasn't anywhere near its limit even though I had reached mine. I didn't even realize how fast I went through the turn until the MA pointed it out.

Compared to my automotive history of domestic midsize and small cars, the MINI felt very solid all around. The steering wheel was very comfortable and responsive, especially in Sport Mode. The cloth sport seats were snug, but comfortable. The fabric almost feels synthetic and became slightly uncomfortable as the car heated up during the drive. I really didn't adjust the seat or steering wheel, but was still fairly comfortable. I did have an issue when I tried to use the LATCH system of my sons carseat to connect to the lower anchors. The seats fasteners are too wide for the recessed bay so I couldn't use them. I had to secure the seat with the seat belt and the top strap to an anchor in the boot. I really didn't play with any of the controls at all.

The MINI Cooper S is all that I've ever dreamed it to be. If only a Laser Blue Cooper S was on the lot so I could see what that color looked like outside of my computer monitor. It will be a very long year while I wait to purchase my MINI in 2008.