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My thoughts on the BL5 Legacy and R56 Mini Cooper S

Im still carless, and its seemingly one of the hardest decisions to make. What do you replace an M3 with?

Ive been researching more and more to find cars that might be up to it, and today i went and test drove a couple more.

2007 Subaru Legacy GT (BL5)

Ive test driven one of these before but it was the pre-facelift model with the 5 speed manual. This one being a 2007 was face-lift, which means updated exterior, Si-Drive and a 6 speed manual box.

Its a good looking car, much better to look at than the pre-facelift model, especially in the pearl white of the one tested. Theres also one other small changes here and there.

This one looked great in the photos online, but unfortunately in person it was a bit rough. It looked like it hadn’t been washed since it had been listed a month or so ago and there were various cosmetic issues around the place (namely a small hole punched through the front bumper). The car also smelt like stale smoke, a common import issue.

The interior is comfortable, and laid out ok. The seats aren’t well bolstered, which is starting to point towards where the Legacy went from a sport saloon to a luxury sport saloon. Back in the BD5 days, the seats were actually pretty well bolstered and they were definitely sport saloons.

I couldn’t test the stereo as the display didn’t work, meaning i couldn’t tune it. I suspect it wouldn’t have had a band expander anyway.

This dealer was pretty rubbish, and the old guy i spoke to was rude and uninformed about what he was selling (unable to tell me when the cam belt was done even though there was a japanese cam belt sticker on the slam panel). Despite having enough cash to buy the car outright, i wouldn’t bother even if it was perfect. They dont deserve my cash.

Laggy lag lag

I coaxed the keys out of the grumpy salesman and took it for a spin. First impression was that it was nice and smooth, comfortable and very quiet. Gearbox was smooth and easy to shift, was a nice progressive clutch. The 6 speed box has a pretty good short shift with good, solid feel. Its clear they yanked that from the STI production line.

Since the engine was cold i took some time to play with the SI-Drive and climate control. The climate control is fairly easy to use, AC is nice and cold. Nothing too amazing.

SI-Drive on the other hand, is a waste of time. It has three modes, “Intelligent” – A sort of eco mode, “Sport” – what i’d consider normal, and “Sport Sharp” – an uh, sporty mode. What it basically does it change the response of the fly-by-wire electronic throttle. On the dash it also shows a live “throttle position” graph with a depiction of how progressive the throttle is.

Intelligent cripples the throttle, which means its good for cruising but makes the car very lethargic around town. Sport is normal, easy to drive with moderate power but not as economical as Intelligent. Sport Sharp is madness. I changed it from Sport to Sport Sharp whilst cruising and immediately noticed the difference. The car felt freer, the throttle was touchy and just more responsive. Being so touchy it isn’t great for cruising, but under acceleration it made a huge difference.

In saying that though, why is it needed? What happened to the good old days of if you wanted power, you put your foot down. If you didnt, just ease off. Sport buttons are a common thing these days, but i dont personally feel our lives are that enriched by having it.

Now that the engine is up to temp, i give the throttle a stab. Nothing. Im in Sport Sharp, but nothing but lag. I make my way to the motorway, pop it in second and give it a bootful. Lots of lag and then finally its on boost. Nothing frantic, but a smooth push towards the speed limit. Its not slow, but theres just no excitement. Its also surprisingly quiet with the standard exhaust. Not the Subarus im used to, and not fun.

I take the car back, get told because the car didn’t do it for me that im wasting the guys time and i walk off. Time to try the next car.

2007 Mini Cooper S (R56)

Ive wanted to drive one of these for ages. They have a great reputation for being quick, comfortable and fun to drive. This is the new R56 model with the 1.6L Turbo engine and 6 speed manual.

The first thing i notice is how odd the seating position is. I have short legs, which is a pain, but this car was the first I’ve been in that really made this obvious. Moving the seat forward so i could reach the pedals correctly meant that i was almost sitting on top of the dash and steering wheel. I couldn’t seem to adjust the wheel for reach, only height. I got comfortable enough, still an odd seating position though. The seats are surprisingly well bolstered for their weird shape, whilst still being comfortable.

The interior is quirky, kinda retro with its toggle switches and weird climate controls. I didn’t really enjoy using the climate controls, they weren’t that easy to use without having to look at the display, but i can see why they did it. The toggle switches are nice to use, with a solid action but being just a row of identical switches all doing different functions meant you would need to memorise or look at the picture on it in order to know what its doing.

Vrooom

I had high expectations for this car, all the reviews were quite favourable.

Fire the engine up makes a nice obvious burble. Jump in, and off i go. Nice light progressive clutch and a tight gear shift. The car is quite loud, both from the exhaust and from general road noise.

Its peppy, the engine is nice and responsive and comes on boost quickly. Makes a good noise but sadly it was lacking something that i was kind of expecting…. crackly bang bangs from the exhaust. I got a small pop once when changing, but otherwise nothing.

Gearbox was smooth and tight, A nice easy to use 6 speed box. Typical of the Mini of yore, the front wheels do the steering, braking and driving. Traction in the test conditions (dry) were good, with no loss of traction under wide open throttle.

Corning is great, sticks to the road. With the short wheelbase and quick steering rack it darts around corners like a go-kart, yet on the open road its mostly tame with only the slightest of tram lining (likely due to the large aftermarket wheels on the test car).

One of the biggest issues i had, and something that really pissed me off to no end whilst driving the Mini, was the indicator. In a “normal” car, when you indicate to turn a corner you flick the stalk up or down, and it stays there until you either manually return it to centre or you turn far enough and return the wheel to centre that it returns the stalk to centre.

In the Mini, nope. You flick the stalk up or down and it instantly returns to centre and the indicator begins to flash. To turn it off, you either turn far enough that it turns off by its self, or you…. push the stalk half way in the direction you initially pushed it. If you push it right up or down, the indicators will continue to flash, and if you flick it the other way, the damn thing will start flashing the other side! Needless to say, it took a few corners before i could work that gem out.

Over all, its an ok wee car but to me it felt a bit soul-less. It didn’t remind me at all of the classic Minis i drove years ago, and it didn’t really have that fun factor i expected. Might make a good daily, but didn’t interest me enough to take it on as my weekender.

Off to see what else there is to drive.

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