Without a doubt, this year’s coolest new car is the Mini Cooper. This classic English design, rejuvenated by BMW, is the new cult ‘‘must have’’ with everyone from hardcore enthusiasts to parking lot posers. In fact, I bought this Mini for myself. But even a hit design can be enhanced, especially if the improvements involve more power! And that’s just what the Mini Cooper S delivers.
It’s certainly one of the coolest looking cars ever! The cute styling of the 2002 Mini Cooper S, like that of the standard Mini Cooper, is a near perfect blend of old and new. But despite styling cues that are specific to the S-model, like the hood scoop, rear spoiler, and available 17-inch wheels, the real fun of the Cooper S lies under the boxy skin.
More specifically under the bonnet, where air from that fully functional intake flows over an intercooler, which is linked to a supercharger. This combination boosts the output of the new Mini’s 1.6-liter single-cam-4-cylinder to 163 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque. That’s 48 horsepower and 45 pound-feet more than the standard Mini Cooper. To get that power smartly to the front wheels, the S sports a sharp-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available or wanted.
With the engine upgrades, the Cooper S adds a stiffened Macpherson strut front, and multi-link rear suspension. And it all translates into a very real performance boost! The Mini Cooper S sprints from 0 to 60 in 7.0 seconds flat, over a second faster than the base Cooper. The 1/4 mile takes only 15.5 seconds at 90 miles-per-hour. That’s almost a full second as well. Once again, very cool.
But the ‘‘S’’ difference is even more evident on the road, where the substantially stronger midrange gives this little Mini the punch to stay with and easily pass fast paced traffic. Something we can’t say about the standard car. And, whether on road or track, the retuned suspension delivers even tighter, more finely honed, handling. Front plow and body roll are even more minimal, while the electro-hydraulic power steering remains precise. Of course, with a host of available electronic traction and stability aids, not to mention a short 97.1-inch wheelbase, and a track width of just over 57-inches, how could it be anything but sharp and stable?
Yet within those ultra-compact, right-angled dimensions, Mini designers found space for a large, airy cabin, and added aluminum-tone trim unique to the S. The seats in the standard Mini are thin and not a high point of the car. The S’s seats are the more supportive sport design, but still nothing to rave about. Otherwise, it’s the same super-retro dash with its huge central speedo, and vintage aircraft switch guards. Rear headroom is as generous as leg room is tight. Children and luggage fit best, as the split folding seat expands the tiny 5.6-cubic-foot cargo area.
But utility is not this Mini’s cup of tea. The S is all about driving fun. This really is a sports car disguised as a shoe box. And it’s a box full of fun with a still affordable price. Base sticker for the Cooper S is $19,850, or three grand more than the non-S Mini. Only the Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo S and Mazda’s Miata come close to delivering the funky retro style and 21st century performance of the Mini Cooper S. And they cost several thousand dollars more.
Yep. The 2002 Mini Cooper S is the height of cult cool for a low down price. Cool to look at, cooler to drive, and until the competition pulls something pretty slick out of their hats, it’s the coolest little car in town!
Engine: Intercooled & Supercharged 1.6-Liter Single-cam-4-Cylinder
Torque: 155 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.5 Seconds @ 90 MPH
EPA Mileage: 24 MPG City 33 MPG Highway