All I can say is WOW! I have made it a personal point to never put myself in a position of being called a ‘car salesman’ and thus the following needs to be put into this perspective. I had my first drive today in a 2009 MINI Cooper S ‘Automatic’! Now I would like to think that I am perceived as a real car nut! In fact I have been racing a Mini Cooper of one type or another for the last 35+ years! Yes, that is a long time but then….
While I still occasionally drive one of my classic Minis on my commute to work, my usual daily driver is a ’07 MINI Cooper S. While the MINI has a few modifications such as the Sprint Booster, performance exhaust, Turbo muffler delete, etc. the MINI Cooper S is close to stock. As much as I have grown to really appreciate the torque and overall performance of the latest turbo MINI, it has suffered from the well know ‘death rattle’ for some time. Our local dealer has been great in his best efforts to arrest the problem but alas it has again had to be taken back for what we all hope is the ultimate fix. The bottom line is that as the problem as now been recognized as a potential warranty issue, a loaner car was established as acceptable. While in the past the second best car provided as a 3-series BMW, this was a special occasion and a 2009 MINI Cooper S ‘Automatic’ was the loaner of choice.
The bright Yellow MINI Cooper S automatic had all of 17 miles on the odometer as supplied before our 60 mile trip home. As a fellow gear head and occasional visitor to Mini Mania, the service advisor assumed that no instructions were needed and thus the start of the experience.
While the ‘key’ to start the motor looked similar to the manual MINI Cooper, with no clutch to engage before pressing the start button, the obvious choice of depressing the brake pedal brought it all to life. The next step was how to move the gear lever from park to drive. First tried pulling and pushing- nothing worked! So after a closer look I found an area in front of the gear lever that serves as a lock for lever movement. Finally got into gear with no clutch I hit the gas! Ugh! Not a good start. The engine acted like an old fashion engine that needed a little choke at first.
We’re off! Still in the parking lot and thus still no feel for the car. After another stop which felt strange without a clutch pedal, another cold start resulted in yet another engine choke. But, acceleration was very brisk and before I knew it I was moving fast enough to understand that the road feel was MINI through and through. So while still on the twisty bits of the road, I spotted the “M/S” on the gear lever housing- it hit the lever to the left and the indicator on the dash changed from “D” to “DS”. The engine now seemed to really come to life and all of sudden I could not tell it was an automatic.
While still on the twisty bits I spot the strange paddles on the inside edge of the steering wheel- one on the left and one on the right! My natural tendency was to press them any way I could. Using my fingers on the back of the paddles had not apparent effect. Then I realized that the simply process of hitting the front of the paddles with my thumb resulting a very smooth down-gear. It became clear that hitting one of the paddles resulting in a gear change down while hitting the back of the paddle up-shifted the transmission.
So “experimentation” was for sure the next plan. Six speeds provide a wide range of choices that are available in either the “D” or “DS” modes. The design of the automatic is such that you can simply allow it to do its own thing or use the paddles to direct it! And this is where the “WOW” comes in! While the automatic clutch is not ultra quick as is it not possible to initiate any wheel squeals upon changing gears, it is possible to scare yourself as to how quick it all happens. Up-shifting or down-shifting by a tap on the pedal is very, very quick and can be downright exciting.
Once one of the paddles is hit, the manual part of the automatic is engaged and shift activation is in manual control. This can be both fun and dangerous. For those of us that are more use to a manual clutch with the finite time required from depressing the clutch to moving the shifter to releasing the clutch, the speed of gear change in the automatic is a bit unnerving. And most of all it can be done without lifting off the throttle. While it is possible on the race track to change gears with little or no throttle lift in a manual MINI Cooper, it is never done when driving on the street. The Automatic MINI Cooper S creates a whole new sense of control and speed.
If someone had asked me a week ago to take an Automatic for a test drive I would have made any excuse to not be bothered! What a mistake, the best thing you can do as a MINI owner is to try this new experience! All I can say is the MINI Cooper Automatic is not for wimps! (Motor-on ladies as most of you are the fortunate ones to have the pleasure of driving one of these daily!)