Over the past year, I have visited this road with great cars such as the Porsche 911 C4S and BMW M3, but the car that brought the most driving pleasure on this most challenging road was the Mini Cooper S. Hard to believe, right?
By David Haueter
Tiorati Brook Road twists through the lakes and forests of Harriman State Park in New York (near West Point), combining elevation changes with blind corners, off-camber curves and sweeping esses. When its time to test a car's handling prowess, this is the place to go. Over the past year, I have visited this road with great cars such as the Porsche 911 C4S and BMW M3, but the car that brought the most driving pleasure on this most challenging road was the Mini Cooper S. Hard to believe, right? I was surprised myself - to find that a car that costs under $25,000, is front-wheel drive and has a mere 160hp under the hood could be more fun on Tiorati than two of the greatest sports cars of our time - but it's true.
The key to the Cooper S fun factor is in the handling, which comes from a McPherson strut sports suspension in front, a multi-link setup in the rear and stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars than the base Cooper. With its wide "bulldog" stance, short wheelbase and great steering feel, the Mini just loves to be pushed hard through corners. The chassis provides great feedback to the driver the whole way through and you always feel you could have gone faster. For a front-wheel drive car, the balance is outstanding and confidence inspiring. BMW could have used an "Ultimate Handling Machine" tagline for the ads on this car and nobody would have argued with them. Complimenting the handling prowess of the Cooper S are strong Brakes and a 6-speed Getrag transmission. With 10.9-inch vented discs in the front and 10.2-inch solid discs in the rear, the brakes slow the car down confidently with good pedal feel and control. The Getrag transmission provides accurate throws with decent shift action, but it also feels a bit rubbery - a trait that is common in BMW's as well.