Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2013 MINI Cooper S Coupe One Year Review: A year of smiles (Part 1 of 2)

Most of you know me as a tech/computer geek.  I've seen a lot and done a lot of hacking/modding/building in my last 15 years.  However most would not know deep down inside, I'm a car junkie too.  Since my early ages, I've lusted over supercars such as the good ole Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari F40 (OMG!!!!), Lamborghini Diablo, Corvette ZR1 and McLarens. I loved watching the Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider.  I'm now 34 years old and have come to the realization that I probably won't own a supercar.  That's okay, I've accepted it as an adult.  Ok, sorry for the long winded intro to the intro, but keep reading for my long term, one year review and recap on the 2013 MINI Cooper S Coupe.

Backstory (LONG!)

As the teaser notes, I'm a secret motorhead or fan of cars. I am not a mechanic or a wizard of car modding, building (I wish!!).  No, cars and transportation has been a major part of my life and upbringing.  My childhood was spent on a farm about 5 miles from the nearest town and 20 miles from our high school.  McDonalds was in a town 30 miles from where I lived and I usually went there and back a few times a day in the summers.  So as a young kid, I drove a lot.  At age 11 I was taught how to drive a manual 1970s Chevy pickup.

It was a four speed with a clutch that barely worked and one would end up slamming in the clutch and slamming in the next gear hoping it would catch.  Of course being on a farm meant that you drove manual transmission tractors at a pretty young age.

As a teenager getting his license, my cars ranged from a 1983 Pontiac Firebird 5.0 GT to a 1983 Chrysler Lebaron to a 1986 Pontiac Grand Am.  All were old and showed it and most of the time had problems.  The Grand Am towards the end did not have defrost so in the winter, I'd have to scrape my inside window while driving (not the safest) on the cold days.

As I moved onto college, I bought a 1991 Eagle Talon TSi and instantly fell in love with the pocket rocket/tuner sect.  

However tragedy struck the Talon way too early and she died from a timing belt coming off and bending the valves, I was back to the 1983 Firebird.  Finally after college I was able to buy my first real, newer car a 2003 Honda Accord SE.  Yea, it was a 4 door but introduced me to VTECH and variable valve tech in a car.  

About 2 years later I sold the Accord to a close pal and hunted down a brand new 2006 Civic Si loaded.  It was my first brand new car (had .6 miles on the odometer).  She was a great car and I owned her for 7 years without a single out of maintenance issue.  The Si set the bar for what I expected in build quality and wear and a hint of the type of performance I wanted in my daily driver car. 

The 2006 Civic Si was a great pocket rocket type car.  It was a naturally aspirated (ie no turbo or supercharger) that had a 8200RPM redline and max torque in the 6500RPM range. This made it a high revving rocket.  The only downfall to the Si's were the lack of torque in the sub 5000RPM ranges (ie most city driving). However she did have one thing the Acura RSX didn't; LSD (ie limited slip differential) and boy did she cornering like a champ.  I realized I loved driving fast in corners more than in a straight line. My lust for more torque started me on my search and my Si had been paid off for about a year and a half so my hunt for a new car began.

The Hunt.... 

Being a single bachelor with no near future of a family in sight, I realized I was definitely in the market for a two door car and a two seater wouldn't be out of the question.  I had downsized from a four door (Accord) to a two door, four seater (Civic Si) but really hadn't had a single person in the back seat more than three times (all the friends grew up and got cars too).

Initially I looked at the usual Ford Focus ST and liked the performance figures but honestly was not a fan of the domestic cars since I had grown up driving only domestic cars and well their build quality was questionable. I'm also the type that likes to have a car that you don't see around every corner or street.  Uniqueness is a trait I embrace and am proud of.

Finally after looking at a Hyundai Veloster (sub par handling, performance but cool looks) and Fiat 500 Abarth (yea, I'm not a fan of the hatchback designs or the interior of the Fiat); I stumble upon the MINIs.  But aren't MINIs hatchbacks too?  Wait.. What is this??

This is the 2013 MINI Cooper S Coupe.  It is the only coupe offering of MINIs and shares nearly all the components of the Hardtop (R56) and Roadster (R59) from the beltline and down.  One thing most MINI Hardtop owners don't know is that the Coupe's body is even more rigid/reinforced than the R56 since it has the extra stability used in the Roadster's design/body and adds a hardtop roof to make it even more solid.  This model was introduced in 2012 and honestly has not sold very well.  Yup, I had found my next car...

My MINI....  Customizing/Building

Prior to the test drive and drive into the MINI dealership, I had been busy on the MINI.com website building my own custom Cooper S Coupe.  I'm an obvious tech geek and wanted everything MINI offered; having in car Navigation and Entertainment options is very nice.  Also another thing to remember is that MINI is owned by BMW and most of the underlying driving tech is BMW based.

Total for my 2013 Coupe ended up being around $37,000.  This included Xenon, Adaptive headlights (move w/the wheel), MINI Connected/Navigation, Harmon Kardon Stereo with Bluetooth, Auto dimming rear/side mirrors, retractable side mirrors and other smaller accent items.  Yea, it was a lot but this car was mine and one of kind in the options combination.  I also opted for the JCW Strut Bar and JCW Fixed Spoiler.  The Coupe comes with a retractable rear spoiler that comes up at 50mph but I felt the Coupe's only design flaw was how they forgot to finish the rear of the car.  I fixed it for MINI on mine. (pics below)

The two main points on why I went with my 2013 MINI Cooper S Coupe vs a Cooper Hardtop or Focus ST or BRZ or WRX or Mustang GT are:

1. It's the ultimate slower car you can drive really fast.  No it's not a Camry or Prius slow but not by any means a super car.  Yea, it would be fun to own a Lamborghini or Corvette or even a Mustang GT but there's a pretty small limit to how hard you can really drive these type of cars.  RWD is not very fun in Minnesota winters, I grew up driving my Firebird in winters and it was always an adventure and sometimes a nightmare.  The Coupe performs amazingly well in winter and even better in the summer.  MINIs have are built with a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and in turn can mask understeer you normally feel in an FWD car.  In turns, you can literally fling out the back end of the Coupe like a RWD and then hit on the gas to pull out of it.

2. It's very unique and rare in most areas.  There have been around 6,000 MINI Cooper Coupe's sold worldwide.  The design will also get you looks and questions.  As a person, I pride myself on my own uniqueness in life and in turn my car reflects this part of my personality.

(a little trailer I made for my MINI)

Performance / Ride Quality...

One thing I love about the Coopers are their exhaust note.  As a car junkie who lusted over glass packs on V8s; the Cooper S's burple and pop is a delight.  The newer N18 engines add this effect even more over the previous N14 engines.  Here's a sample of it with the stock exhaust.

By default, the Coupe comes with run flat tires since there is no room for a spare in the boot.   The good thing is that you get pretty decent handling with them but the ride quality suffers over imperfect (ie most) roads.  Some complain that the suspension is too stiff but I disagree. I've owned a few sportier cars it's a side effect of having go-kart handling and well worth it!  Also don't forget about the fact that the Coupe's body/frame is based off of a convertible frame (ie even more stiffening of body/chassis since convertibles lack a hard top roof) so we get a built-in rear sway bar and can corner harder and faster than the Hardtops (R56).

Torque in the Coupe is similar to the Hardtops and in turn I don't plan on comparing it anymore to the hardtop.  Power comes nice and fast in the lower 1500 RPM range and keeps going up until the 6500 RPM redline.  The turbo shows it's usefulness here and pushes the Coupe 0 to 60mph in about 6.6secs.   Top speed is limited to 139mph.  Compared to my Si, the power in the Coupe is unrivaled in all bands.  It is a very agile car and I honestly believe that my Strut Bar and Fixed Spoiler combination really add to the handling aspects vs a stock Cooper S Coupe.  Again, these numbers and experience are with a pure stock MINI Cooper S Coupe, I'll touch on the upgrades later.

Long trips are not bad however I am a small guy (5'3, 110lbs) but I have had passengers who were 6'1 and 250lbs and they didn't mind the 150 mile trip.  The stock exhaust does have a littled drone to it but you only really notice it when you're in Sport mode (aftermarket exhaust, different story and covered in next post) and going in the 80mph range.

Interior / Technology Options....

I'm a geek so this part of customizing my MINI Cooper Coupe got to be pretty expensive fast. Since having a factory navigation system in my 2006 Civic Si, I swear by them vs mobile phones.  My Coupe has the Harmon Kardon Speaker/Audio System, MINI Connected with Navigation, Center arm rest and iPhone 4S dock.  This added an extra $4K to my build but well worth it.  My belief is that if you're going to order a brand new car, get everything you want even if it does cost a little more.  You'll most likely be driving it for the next 5 years so why not enjoy every day with it?

MINI is owned by BMW and they have one of the best navigation systems out there (Honda/Acura also have a great navi system too) so does MINI follow through?  Yes and no.  The joystick navigation took a few days to get used but after a while becomes easy and logical.  GPS works well and also includes real-time traffic conditions (I see closed roads, accidents, etc and navigation can route around it).  MINI Connected is MINI's smartphone/smart car system.  It's again based off of BMW's iDrive system.  Actually, I need to do a whole section on this so.

MINI Connected, Worth It?

First off, let's talk about the initial costs of MINI Connected in your MINI.  $2225 is the cost of MINI Connected with Navigation.  This is just the Technology package.  Harmon Kardon sound is also included in this Technology package, but the armrest is another $500 and the iPhone Dock $250.

What you get is the ability to play music from iPhone on the lcd screen and also videos/movies can be played if your MINI is parked (or you code it/hack it).  You also get apps built in such as Dynamic Music where you can choose a type of music and it will change w/what your MINI is doing on the road (ie turning, adds a different beat, etc) or the Driving Excitement app which is like a gamification of driving 'aggressively'; points for safe but fast moves like turning, accelerating, braking, etc.

You can also get Facebook updates and send pre-written status updates that can pull info from your CD/MP3 player and weather conditions your MINI is in.  Twitter is the same.  As far as productivity apps/features; you can pair your iPhone via BT and be able to view your phone's contacts, calendar and even email and text messages.  You can't reply to them but it can read them to you as you drive.

New updates have removed the Send to Car feature (you could send directions or a place to your MINI account in Google Maps and then import into Navigation seemlessly) but added new integration like Amazon Music, Pandora, GoPro (you can view and control your GoPro Hero 3+ in your MINI) and more should be coming.  Here's the GoPro app on my MINI.

So you do get a lot of things with MINI Connected and I would definitely recommend it.  I'm honestly an Android phone user but bought an iPhone just for this, I doubt I'll upgrade it since it would cost me an extra $250 for a new arm rest dock. Boo!  Points to remember; expensive with hidden costs (ie armrest and dock each extra) but very stable and easy to use interfaces.  Fun apps like Driving Excitement adds to the experience; I usually keep the driving gauges on that show torque and rpm and heat.

And to conclude this first part one of a two part review;  No, it doesn't come off.
Part 2 will cover the other things that come with owning a MINI: motoring clubs, upgrades, annoyances and the conclusion/rating.