2006 MINI Cooper Review

2006 MINI Cooper - Relive your youth.


<a href='/usedcars/MINI/Cooper/2006/'>2006 MINI Cooper</a> S

An outright blast to drive, Peppy engine and grippy handling, Great fuel economy

CONSPoundingly harsh ride, out-of-place audio controls, cramped rear seat

The faint of heart need not apply
BMW purchased the rights to the British Mini brand in the 1990s and, in 2001, began selling a modern version of the venerable Cooper on U.S shores in 2002. Originally only a 2-door hatchback was offered, but in 2005 a 2-door convertible joined the lineup. Both are four seaters and are available in base and sporty S trim that adds a functional hood scoop, sport suspension, and a supercharger.

Regardless of trim all Coopers have a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. The base has 115 horsepower and the S has 168 horsepower. Manual transmission is standard on all. Optional on base is a CVT automatic; optional on S is a 6-speed automatic.

Vehicle Tested

2006 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works GP
Base Price:
As-Tested Price: $28,850
Built in Great Britain.
OptionsCombo #2 Sport
Limited-Slip Differential
Combo #6 John Cooper Tuning Kit

Engine: DOHC 1.6-liter I4
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive

All Coopers come with antilock 4-wheel disc brakes. Hatchbacks have front side airbags and curtain airbags that protect front- and rear-seat occupants. Convertibles come with front side airbags that protect the head and chest. Stability control is optional across the board. Convertibles have a power-operated top with heated glass rear window, rear-obstacle detection, and fixed rear headrests that act as rollover protection in the event of an accident. Also unique to the convertible is a mode that opens the top part way to emulate a conventional sunroof.

In 2006, Mini offered the limited-edition John Cooper Works GP kit on Cooper S models. Only 415 were shipped to the United States and all have been sold. At the heart of the Works GP kit is a massaged version of the S model's Supercharged four-cylinder that produces 210 horsepower. The GP kit also includes limited-slip differential, stiffer suspension settings, stronger brakes, and a low-restriction exhaust. 

Also new for '06, is the hatchback-only Checkmate Package, which adds larger wheels, stability control, and black-and-white graphics. Stand-alone options include xenon headlamps and a navigation system.

2006 MINI Cooper S
Get up and Go
Mini claims the Cooper S Works GP will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. After a few quick stoplight-to-stoplight blasts, that number is easy to believe. Muscle-car fans might not appreciate the fact that you have to work the engine up to 4500 rpm to reach peak torque, but from that point up to well over 6000 rpm the engine just sings and provides an ample rush of power.

The engine's zingy, top-heavy power band is just what you'd expect in a car as small and light as the Cooper S, but what's unexpected are the wonderful sounds it makes. Around town and in gentile highway cruising, the engine sounds like any other small four-cylinder. But goose the go pedal and the engine comes alive with a flurry of sounds that include the growl of the supercharger and the hiss of the performance-tuned exhaust. The engine's high-revving nature and wonderful aural assault make it a pleasure to push to its limits.

Both clutch and shifter are well suited to enthusiastic driving. The shifter has short, direct throws, and the clutch is surprisingly light, with a well-defined take-up point.

EPA estimates for this vehicle are 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. That's down considerably from the standard Cooper's 28/36 rating. However, in real-world driving, the Cooper S Works GP is very thrifty, averaging 30.2 mpg over 300 miles of city and highway driving. Mini recommends expensive premium-grade fuel for the Cooper, which somewhat offsets its impressive fuel economy.

On the Road
What do you get when you combine a super-short 97-inch wheel base, 17-inch V-rated 55-series tires, and a sport-tuned suspension? A very choppy ride.

2006 MINI Cooper S
Inside the Cooper S Works GP, passengers feel even the smallest bumps. Potholes and expansion joints pound through like a drum-and-bugle corp. On smooth roads, the ride is fairly busy. On rough or wavy roads, the ride grows downright annoying--the faint of heart need not apply.

On the flip side, the Cooper S Works is delightful to drive quickly. The car turns on a dime, has fantastic steering feel, and holds the road with the tenacity of a pure-bred sports car. Also impressive are the Works GP's uprated brakes, which provide extraordinary, fade-free stopping power. In all, the combination of very small size, light weight, and near-perfect balance give the Works GP the athleticism and resilience of a cat.

Behind the WheelInside, the Cooper feels decidedly retro. There's a large dish-like gauge for engine speed directly behind the steering wheel and an even-larger speedometer at the top of the center stack in the middle of the dashboard. (If you can't read these gauges, you shouldn't be driving.)

Below the speedometer are controls for the radio and climate system. Radio controls are sparse, small, and not clearly marked. In addition, the design of the audio system faceplate seems out of place in a car with a 60's-era history. On the other hand, the climate system features three simple rotary dials that are easy and intuitive to operate.

NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2006 Mini Cooper

Front Impact, Driver  4 stars
Front Impact, Passenger 4 stars
Side Impact, Driver 4 stars
Side Impact, Rear Passenger NA
Rollover Resistance 4 stars

Further below the climate controls are aviation-inspired toggle switches for the windows, heated seats, driving lights, and stability-control system. They are a bit low, but easy enough to reach and lend a unique flair to the interior.

Not so classy is the tacked-on cupholder to the right of the center stack. Mini should be ashamed of itself for offering such an obvious Band-Aid to U.S. drivers. Not only does it destroy the flavor of the interior, but it makes it almost impossible for the front-seat passenger to operate the radio or climate controls.

Though the Mini's small on the outside, it's big on the inside--at least for front-seat passengers. A high ceiling and generous seat travel add up to cavernous head and leg room for front-seat occupants. The Works GP model comes with form-fitting sport seats that aren't for everyone. They are overly firm, though not to the point of uncomfortable, and extremely supportive.

Unlike most sports coupes, Cooper's driving position is upright and natural--though taller drivers may wish for a telescoping steering wheel. Oversized windows give the interior an airy feeling and create excellent outward visibility.

2006 MINI Cooper S
The rear seat is a bench, but the seat cushion is so deeply contoured it feels like two buckets. Padding is sparse, and leg room non-existent if the front seats are moved all the way back. With the front-seats adjusted about halfway forward, there's adequate leg room for smaller adults and kids, and thanks to the high ceiling, there's plenty of head room.

Behind the rear seat, there are about 20 cubic-feet of storage space. That's enough room for a weekend's worth of stuff for two, but not large enough to store a golf bag width-wise. The rear seatback is split 50/50 and folds to increase cargo room. Front doors have generous map pockets, but interior storage is otherwise meager.

Bottom LineLet's get this straight from the start: the 2006 Mini Cooper S with the John Cooper Works GP Kit isn't the car for everyone. In fact, it isn't the car most people. But for a select few, it's the car they've been waiting for their entire life--even if they didn't know it.

The buckboard firm ride provides handling that is go-cart quick. The engine's peaky powerband demands constant attention. In short, the Works GP lives up to its billing as sportiest Cooper model and one heck of a sports car. Its Jekyll and Hyde engine, split-personality ride/handling, and the polarizing interior help cull the herd of potential buyers.

The Cooper S Works GP is to the motoring world what the Mod movement was to the 60's rock-and-roll universe. It's a hurricane on wheels that rewards the enthusiastic driver as it instantly responds to every command. But it's an acquired taste like a single-malt scotch that's best served undiluted and in moderation.

Specifications, 2006 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works GP

2-door hatchback


Supercharged DOHC I4

Wheelbase, in. 


Size, liters/cu. in. 


Length, in. 


Horsepower @ rpm 

210 @ 6950

Width, in. 


Torque (lb-ft) @ rpm 

180 @ 4500

Height, in.



6-speed manual

Weight, lbs. 


EPA Estimates, mpg

25 city/32 highway

Cargo Capacity, cu. ft. 


Fuel Capacity, gals. 


Manufacturer's Warranty

Seating Capacity



4 years/50,000 miles

Front Head Room, in. 




Front Leg Room, in. 



12 years/unlimited miles

Rear Head Room, in. 


Free Roadside Assistance 

4 years/50,000 miles

Rear Leg Room, in. 


Free Scheduled Maintenance

3 years/36,000 miles

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.