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.