Fun to drive, Zippy engine and crisp handling, Fantastic fuel economy
CONS Harsh ride, Gimmicky interior that’s not so functional, cramped rear seat
Thinking outside the box
BMW reintroduced the MINI brand to the United States for the 2002 model year. The sole model, called Cooper, is available in two-door hatchback or two-door convertible body styles and sold at select BMW dealerships. There are two trim designations of each body style: Base and S, which stands for sport. Cooper competitors include the Ford Mustang, Mazda MX-5, Nissan 350Z, Scion tC, and Volkswagen New Beetle.
While convertible models carry over from 2006 to '07, Cooper hatchbacks were completely redesigned this year. Casual fans might not be able to tell the difference between the '06 and '07 Hatchbacks. Exterior changes include a new grille surround and headlamp/taillamp treatments. Inside, the changes even more subtle as the MINI retains its retro-airplane look with toggle switches and large center mounted speedometer. Hatchbacks grow slightly longer and wider and gain more powerful engines.
2007 Mini Cooper S
Base Price: $21,200
As-Tested Price: $2,525
Built in Great Britain.
Heated Power-Folding Mirrors
Chrome Line Interior
Rear Fog Lamp
Engine: DOHC 1.6-liter I4
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
The Base hatchback comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that gains three horsepower to 118. S hatchbacks have a turbocharged version of the 1.6 that now has 172 horsepower. That's up four from last year's supercharged 1.6 that is still used in the convertible. Both models are front-wheel drive and available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, traction control, front airbags, and front-side airbags. Hatchback models ad curtain side airbags while convertibles get rear-park assist. Optional on all is a vehicle stability-control system.
Base hatchbacks come with air conditioning, leather-wrapped tilt-telescope steering wheel, split-folding rear seat, power mirrors, windows, and locks, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD player, theft-deterrent system, and alloy wheels. S hatchbacks add sport seats, sport-tuned suspension, functional hood scoop, fog lights, rear spoiler, and larger wheels and tires. Regardless of trim, convertibles get a power operated fabric top, heated-glass rear window, and roll bar.
Key options include leather upholstery, harmon/kardon sound system, keyless starting, Bluetooth cell-phone connection, sunroof (hatchbacks only), limited-slip differential, and navigation system.
MINI Cooper is built in England.
Get up and Go BMW claims a 0-60 mph time for the manual S hatchback of 6.7 seconds and that's not hard to believe. The engine doesn't seem to have any turbo lag at all and is more than willing to rev all the way up to redline. That makes for great passing response and is also quite fun!
Cooper S has always felt frisky, but the switch from supercharging to turbocharging has made all the difference in S power delivery. Last year's supercharged engine felt labored in hard acceleration and needed a heavy throttle foot to stay up to speed in traffic. The turbocharged engine zings into its powerband and has plenty of torque down low for slogging in commuter traffic.
Adding to the excitement is a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission. The throws are short and have just enough heft to seem sturdy. Sadly, there's no lockout for reverse, so at times you'll find yourself going the wrong way away from stoplights. Clutch action is also quite good. You can easily feel the transmission engaging, and the clutch is not so light as to make it difficult to modulate.
The EPA rates the Cooper S with manual at 29 mpg highway and 36 mpg highway. Those are impressive numbers given the car's quick acceleration potential. It's easy to average 30+ mpg in routine driving and 34 mph on the highway isn't impossible. MINI recommends more-expensive premium-grade fuel on both engines, and given the turbo's high-strung temperament I wouldn't suggest using regular-grade unless absolutely necessary.
On the Road
If you prefer vanilla ice cream to rocky road, then perhaps the Cooper S is not for you. The ride is anything but smooth and tranquil. The firm suspension transfers every road imperfection to the driver's butt with very little filtering. In addition, the ride grows choppy on concrete roads because of the short wheelbase.
Generally, the advantage of a rough ride is sharp handling, or, in the case of the Cooper S, razor sharp. The car turns on a dime, corners flat, and is extremely maneuverable. It's a joy to drive in cut-and-thrust commuting. Steering is sharp and has good weight, and the brakes are strong and easy to modulate.You'd think that Cooper's small size and light weight would be a disadvantage on the highway. Not so, the car feels stable at speed and doesn't get blown around in crosswinds.
As you might expect, the Cooper S isn't the quietest car around. Road noise is the main culprit, though wind noise grows tiresome at highway speeds. The engine is neither coarse nor intrusive.Behind the Wheel Give MINI credit, they gave Cooper a distinctive interior that not only evokes the original, but is handsome and modern at the same time. Materials are acceptable, but many of the buttons have a cheap-plastic feel. It's hard to get used to the center-mounted speedometer, so it is nice that there's a small auxiliary speedo on the tachometer behind the steering wheel.
There's a price to be paid by the Cooper's retro interior and that price is functionality. The aircraft-inspired toggle switches just aren't that easy to use and they are either placed too low or all the way forward at the top of the headliner. In addition, the radio and climate controls are low and flat against the center stack. That's makes them hard to operate while driving.
The front bucket seats are very firm, but they are also very supportive--once you're in place you are going to stay there. Thanks to generous seat travel and a tall roofline, there's ample leg and head room. Taller folks might not like the rearward seating position, which gives you the feeling of driving from the back seat and makes it difficult to see out-and-up objects like stoplights. Otherwise, visibility is fine, aided by thin roof pillars and large outside mirrors.
Rear seats are best used for storage, but can be pressed into light-duty use for small children--if you don't move the front seats all the way back. It's difficult to get back there, and the seat cushion is too low for best comfort.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2007 Mini Cooper
|Front Impact, Driver ||NA|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||NA|
|Side Impact, Driver ||NA|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||NA|
|Rollover Resistance ||NA|
Cargo space is about what you'd expect in a typical sporty hatchback. The split folding-rear seatbacks drop onto the seat cushions, so they aren't exactly flat or level with the cargo floor. This creates an uneven loading surface. Cup holders are small and well forward on the center console and there are precious few storage cubbies.
MINI Cooper and more succinctly, the Cooper S aren't for everyone. But, hidden beneath the retro façade is an economical, fun-to-drive, and sturdy vehicle. When in the Cooper, you don't have the feeling your driving an economy car despite the $20,000 price tag. Watch out when you check off the options though, because prices quickly escalate and make the Cooper S less of a value.
Kudos to MINI for redesigning the Cooper giving it a more comfortable ride and more flexible engine while not distracting from the charm that made the first generation so lovable--and popular. No, this car is not for everyone. The rides too firm and the back seat is a joke. However, if you are looking for a fun-to-drive commuting vehicle that gets FANTASTIC fuel economy the Cooper is a sure bet.
|Specifications, 2006 Mini Cooper S|
Turbocharged DOHC I4
|Wheelbase, in. |
|Size, liters/cu. in. |
1.6 / 98
|Length, in. |
|Horsepower @ rpm |
172 @ 5500
|Width, in. |
|Torque (lb-ft) @ rpm |
177 @ 1600
|Weight, lbs. |
|EPA Estimates, mpg|
29 city / 36 highway
|Cargo Capacity, cu. ft. |
|Fuel Capacity, gals. |
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