2005 MINI Cooper Review

2005 MINI Cooper - Triumphant return.


Background: Time flies when you’re having fun.

It hardly seems possible it’s been over two years since the new MINI Cooper made its triumphant return. On March 22, 2002, fifty MINI dealers, including three in the Chicago suburbs, began selling the updated MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S to a waiting audience.

MINIs return to the United States was quite circuitous. The British Motor Company first began building the fuel efficient car in 1959. By 1962, European production reached an eye-opening 200,000 units. Between 1960 and 1967, approximately 10,000 to the two-door hatchbacked MINIs were sold in the United States. But by the mid 1980s, automotive mergers were slowly taking place and MINI’s parent group became part of the Rover Group (which included Land Rover, Rover and MG brands). In 1994, the very British Rover Group ended up in the hands of German-influenced BMW. The Land Rover brand eventually ended up in the portfolio of Ford Motor Company, but BMW retained the rights to MINI. The diminutive sedan does retain one of its key attributes from the 1960s: great gas mileage.

Last month, MINI debuted a 2005 convertible version. This open-top version is slated to account for one third of all sales in the coming year according to Andrew Cutler, MINI Communications Manager.

While the number crunchers estimate 60 percent of MINI buyers are male and 40 percent are female, those figures don’t tell the entire story. The vehicle appeals to a wide spectrum of age groups, those 16 though 90 according to Cutler. Nimble handling and a size compatible with urban driving also creates a viable sub-segment. 

Even though MINI contains many BMW engineering underpinnings, final assembly still takes place in England.

Engine/trim level: In the United States, two front-wheel drive trim levels are available in 2004: Cooper and Cooper S. In 2004 a special Monte Carlo Commemorative Package (available in Cooper S) was offered marking the vehicle’s 40th anniversary.

All are powered by a 1.6 liter, inline, four-cylinder engine. Base Cooper cranks out 115 horsepower, but thanks to a supercharger, Cooper S generates 163 horses. Five-speed manual transmission comes standard while an automatic transmission is optional in Cooper. Cooper S is available with a six-speed manual only.

The 13.2 gallon fuel tank holds recommended premium unleaded fuel. Fuel economy for the manual transmission base model checks in at a healthy 28 miles per gallon city and 37 m.p.g. highway. With automatic transmission, figures drop to 25 m.p.g. city and 32 m.p.g. highway.

Pricing: The 2004 MINI and MINI Cooper S retain approximately the same price structure from 2003. A base MINI includes a manufacturers suggested retail price of $16,999 while a Cooper S starts at $19,999. Both prices include a $550 destination charge. The folks at MINI supplied the Daily Herald with a 2004 Cooper S with the $7,000 Commemorative Anniversary Package including exterior decals and dynamic stability control, fog lamps, Xenon headlamps, rear fog lights and other assorted items. The bottom line added up to $27,449.

Equipment: Included with the price of admission are front and rear intermittent wipers, rear window defroster, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with single-feed compact disc player, electric power steering, power windows, power outside mirrors and power locks.

Cruise control is optional in both trims as are a navigation system, leather upholstery, dual pane sunroof, Xenon headlights and heated seats.

Exterior: MINI’s rectangular silhouette is enhanced by a flat roof, boxy hatch area and short demeanor. It’s easy to spot in the shopping mall parking lot. This is strictly a two-door model with standard one-piece hatchback, that’s hinged on the top and lifts from the bottom. Keep in mind, though, these dimensions are larger than the 1960s incarnations when the vehicle checked in at 4-feet wide by 4-feet high and 10-feet long. MINI’s rather large tires, stretched out to the frame, create a low-slung look when combined with the diminutive frame.

Roofs are available in black, white or car-body color. Arched front bumpers give MINI a slightly more authoritative look. Large, oval-shaped headlights flank a small grille. Small tail light housing is triangular in nature. The roof mounted radio antenna is found towards the rear. The exposed, circular fuel tank screw cap is chrome plated as are retro-looking exterior door handles. Oval-shaped side-view mirrors also had a tinge of chrome on top. A convenient rear windshield wiper comes standard.

Interior: MINI borrows themes from 1960s roadsters (and its own past) including an extra large, circular analog speedometer smack dab in the center of the straight-across dashboard. Along the bottom of the circle is the fuel gauge and a rectangular window with digital odometer readouts. A large tachometer gauge protrudes up from the center of the steering column. The dashboard incorporates four same-sized circular air vents.

Below the large speedometer is a rectangular BMW stereo with compact disc player. Three easy-to-grab ventilation dials are below and along the bottom are a series of chrome switches controlling power windows and other items separated by coil-like dividers.

In front of the six-speed manual transmission were two inconveniently located cup holders. A better option is a single “swing” holder to the right of the center dash capable of accommodating larger drinks. Power side-view mirrors are adjusted from a location to the rear of the transmission shifter. Also between the front bucket seats is the hand-operated parking brake.

Both the turn signal stalk and right-side windshield wiper stalk have easy-to-grab football-shaped ends. A stand-alone digital clock is near the rear-view mirror. Conventional arm rests are replaced by rather unconventional arm bars. Small interior handles have a half-moon shape. The ignition cylinder is located on the manually-adjustable steering column.

Unlike many small competitors, the seating position in the front bucket seats is rather high, so one does not have a sinking feeling when maneuvering inside. Vinyl upholstery comes standard and front bucket seats are height adjustable. Drivers have good perception in all directions thanks to vertical rear pillars, differing from many coupes incorporating thicker, sloping rear designs.

Two people can maneuver in back which has decent headroom but tight leg room with front bucket seats at a reasonable setting. Both front seats easily slide forward (manually) on a track once a lever near the seat cushion is pushed. Rear seat backs fold down onto seat cushions with a 50/50 split. The cargo area behind the second-row seats can accommodate several grocery bags and other small items. The battery stows under the rear cargo floor. A temporary spare tire stowed outside under the cargo area, manually rotates down when needed.

Safety features: For a small, entry-type vehicle, MINI comes equipped with many safety advances. Standard front air bags include a safety switch deactivating the passenger side bag if needed. In addition, side curtain air bags are standard as are seat mounted side air bags. Anti-lock brakes come standar as do a power-door locking key-fob. Traction control is optional in Cooper but standard in Cooper S.

Warranty: MINI’s powertrain warranty is good for four years or 50,000 miles (which ever comes first). Basic parts outside the powertrain jurisdiction (excluding routine maintenance items) are also covered for the same duration. Roadside assistance coverage is also four years/50,000 miles. The corrosion warranty is six years with unlimited miles.


Wheelbase: 97.1 inches

Overall length: 142.8 inches

Overall height: 55.9 inches

Overall width: 66.5 inches

Curb weight: 2,524 pounds

Final thoughts: This is a fun vehicle to tool around in, although many competitors can top the Base model’s 115 horsepower. The trade off is a light-weight shell and 37 miles per gallon on the highway, a notable number since gas prices are once again north of $2 a gallon.

When MINIs first arrived in April of 2002, demand was high and supply limited. Now that the initial buzz has subsided, so too have waiting lists.

Three MINI dealerships serve Chicagoland. All three are suburban locations: Patrick MINI, 696 E. Golf Road, Schaumburg (847) 843-4022; Knauz MINI, 409 Skokie Highway, Lake Bluff (847) 604-5050 and Bill Jacobs MINI, 1564 W. Ogden Ave., Naperville (630) 357-1200. MINI dealers nationwide are found adjacent to BMW franchises since both share service quarters.

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.