2006 MINI Cooper Review

2006 MINI Cooper - Mini gains acceptance.


The cute, innovative British Mini arrived in 1959 as a $1,295 economy car to beat high fuel prices in England. But celebrities in swinging 1960s London picked up on the car's uniqueness and made it one of England's most trendy autos.

Mini owners included Beatle Paul McCartney and actor Peter Sellers (who owned 10). Fashion designer Mary Quant is said to have named her miniskirt after the car.

The two-door Mini was a picture of practicality despite a sporty blend of personality, style and performance. A kick to drive, it transported four adults and was suited to narrow London streets because it had a very small body.

Keeping the car small while providing decent interior room were a sideways-mounted engine up front, wheels pulled to extreme body corners and an integrated engine/gearbox. Nobody had 10-inch tires for the car's tiny wheels, so England's venerable Dunlop tire producer developed them.

The Mini initially carried British Austin and Morris badges, but soon was simply called "Mini.''

A whopping 5.3 million British Minis were sold from 1959-2000 because the front-drive car was cheap, fuel-stingy and could seat four adults, although the rear area was tight. A popular hot rod version -- developed by John Cooper, a British world champion race car producer -- was unveiled in 1961 and was called the Mini Cooper.

Actor/car buff Steve McQueen owned a Mini Cooper in America, but less than 10,000 Minis were sold here in the 1960s because of poor promotion and distribution. And few Americans wanted a tiny car then.

BMW bought the rights to the Mini in 1995 and designed a moderately larger, more refined version. It was a sensation when Introduced at the 2000 Paris Auto Show.

The solidly built new Mini kept the front-drive and basic styling of the British version, which had marginal quality. BMW's version arrived in America as a 2002 model after a massive publicity drive that was needed because few Americans knew about the iconic car.

BMW initially sold the Mini through a small number of dealers in key U.S. markets, but the car really took off. The Mini now is sold at most major market BMW dealers, and last year's sales totaled 40,820 cars -- up from 36,032 in 2004. Sales through April this year were off a bit from the same 2005 period, but still totaled 12,798 Minis.

A Mini with a power convertible top arrived as a 2005 model and has helped sales. It looks more fun-loving with the top lowered than the coupe. However, while the front of the Mini has plenty of room, the rear seat of the Mini coupe is tight for adults. And the rear of the convertible is suited only to kids or pets. A moderate amount of soft luggage fills the cargo area, so the flip-down rear seatbacks are handy for increasing cargo space.

The 2006 Mini Cooper is sold with a smooth 1.6-liter, 115-horsepower four-cylinder engine as a base $17,450 two-door hatchback and as a base $21,950 convertible. The Mini Cooper S has a supercharged, 168-horsepower version of that engine, along with a functional hood scoop and sport suspension. A Mini Cooper S hatchback thus costs $20,900, and the S convertible is $25,400.

The British Mini was sparsely equipped. But BMW Minis have such items as air conditioning, tilt wheel, manual-height-adjustable front bucket seats, split-folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD player and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.

The Mini is still among the smallest cars, so it's nice to know it has front side air bags and head-protecting side air bags. (The convertible's front side bags protect the head and torso.)

The base Mini comes with a five-speed manual or $1,300 continuously variable automatic transmission. The S version has either a six-speed manual or $1,350 six-speed conventional automatic.

The Mini remains fuel-stingy, although premium fuel is recommended. Estimated economy for the base Mini with the manual is 28 mpg in the city and 36 on highways, or 26 and 34 with the CVT automatic. Figures for the S are 25 and 32 with the manual and 23 and 32 with the automatic.

I recently tested the hottest Mini, which delivers about 25 mpg city, 32 highway. It's the S with the pricey $6,300 "John Cooper Works" (JCW) option, developed by the British company headed by John Cooper's son, Mike.

The JCW option comes only with the six-speed manual gearbox. It increases torque and raises horsepower to a rousing 207 with such items as an upgraded supercharger. The kit also contains better brakes, limited-slip differential, new dual exhaust system and distinctive "John Cooper Works" badging.

You can get the JCW kit with 18-inch wheels and tires, which improve handling but increase ride harshness; they're more suited to getting the fastest lap times on race tracks and I wouldn't recommend them for long drives.

Standard tires for the base model are 15-inchers, while the S version has 16-inch tires. Both provide a more comfortable ride, but the Mini only has a 97.1-inch wheelbase (distance between axles), so Minis have a choppy ride on rough roads -- especially if they don't have the base suspension and 15-inch tires, which help absorb road shocks.

The Mini Cooper S coupe with the JCW option does 0-60 mph in just 6.3 seconds and has stronger mid-range and top-gear acceleration than other Minis, although you can loaf in fifth gear at 30 mph in town. The S is fairly quick, hitting 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. A Mini with the base engine has average performance; it reaches 60 in 9.1 seconds and strains a bit during high-speed passing.

The CVT and conventional automatic transmissions slow acceleration a bit, but make the Mini easier to live with in congested traffic. My test Mini with the JCW option had a short-throw shifter but a stiff clutch with a long throw.

All Minis are fun. They have steering and handling that let them turn on a dime, along with easily modulated anti-lock brakes. The JCW version has virtually race-car-style steering, handling and braking. However, the Mini's long doors aren't suited for tight parking spots.

The quiet, retro interior design is a mixed bag. A large speedometer is in the center of the dashboard, with a tachometer that contains a small digital speedometer in front of the driver. Small toggle switches mounted low on the dashboard control the power windows and locks. Other controls are better placed, but the manual shifter partly blocks dual cupholders put low on the dash.

Never mind such things as the shifter blockage -- the Mini always has been a little quirky, and thus inconvenient in some ways. It's for the young and young-at-heart, who enjoy the car so much they don't mind a little inconvenience. 


PRICES : $17,450-$25,400

LIKES : Fast with supercharged engine. Fun to drive. Nicely built.

DISLIKES : Tiny. Tight rear seat. Choppy ride on bad roads.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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