MINI continues as an accurate descriptor of one of the world’s most recognized automotive shapes dating back six decades. The flat-top, rectangular subcompact celebrates its twentieth year back Stateside in 2022.
Luxury German automaker BMW took ownership of very British MINI in the late 1990s and in 2002 reintroduced the brand to the U.S. after a long hiatus. The British Motor Co. debuted the original MINI in Merry-Olde England back in the late 1950s.
The smallish MINI is its own niche brand as just 22,970 units were sold in the U.S. during a pandemic-inspired 2021 calendar year, but up nicely from 18,684 the previous year. By comparison, Toyota sold 223,215 of its compact Corollas throughout the U.S. during the same time frame.
Since its return to U.S. shores, several variants and flavors have crept in and out of the lineup. In addition to the two-door hardtop, other selections include a four-door hardtop, a two-seat open-top roadster, four-door extended Countryman, two-door Paceman, John Cooper Works and most recently an all-electric EV version.
‘Charming’ or possibly ‘Cheerio’ serve as descriptors of a can’t miss lime green (actually new-for-22 ‘zesty yellow’ according to press materials) two-door hatchback that arrived for testing with contrasting black power convertible top, black strap door handles and exposed black twist gas cap. Not the most aerodynamic, fuel-efficient, or price-sensitive subcompact available but one friends, neighbors and curious onlookers crowded around. Black-top power convertibles are available in Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works two-door variants.
In addition to throw-back styling; old-school, six-speed manual transmission remains available for those who enjoy the thrill of connecting with powertrains on a tactile level. Included is a hill-holder clutch, featuring a few seconds of rollback resistance when on an incline to better engage first gear.
It’s not a $200,000 sports car, but with its short wheelbase, tight turning radius and light overall weight, it promises a sporty, go-cart-like experience.
The last major next-generation overhaul happened in 2014, a relatively long time ago when compared with the industry average of four-to-six years, but this choice, like the recently retired Volkswagen Beetle, enjoys never-out-of-style smashing good looks. The 2022 model year does include some nice refreshes though. Returning trim levels include Classic, Iconic and top-tier Signature. All promote front-wheel drive.
Our Cooper S Convertible started at a pricy $31,900. With a $7,500 Iconic trim package, a few a-la-carte options and $850 destination charge, the bottom line reached $41,750. A 2022 MINI Cooper
S hardtop starts at $26,900 and the lowest-priced MINI in 2022, a Cooper classic trim two-door hardtop rests at $22,900. Prices rate higher than most subcompact rivals.
Cooper S shoppers get treated to the spunkier twin turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder cranking out 189 horsepower while S-less Coopers receive a smaller 1.5-liter three-cylinder twin turbo delivering 134 horses. Both engines recommend pricier 91-octane fuel for optimal performance within the confines of a rather small 11.6-gallon tank.
Those opting for the automatic transmission get treated to a fast-shifting, dual-clutch seven-speed. Three drive mode selections include sport, eco and mid-range selectable from a push tab right of the electronic start/stop push tab both located between a series of dashboard-centric retro-style half-moon rings.
Fuel economy lists at 23 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway for the four-cylinder turbo with six-speed manual. Numbers improve with the dual clutch automatic to 27/36 respectively; nice, but not class-leading in a subcompact segment where mileage matters to many.
The simple-to-operate soft-top powers up and down in an unofficial 16 seconds based on a Smartphone stopwatch after activating a push tab mounted on the top window frame (also nestled between a row of four half-moon rings). No latches to unlock or mechanical levers to pull, just one touch does it.
The Z-fold design doubles as a glassless moonroof in the sense that when first activated, a center portion above the driver powers back first for an open-air experience with the outside frame still connected. Push the power tab a second time and the roof, with built-in glass window/defroster, completely flips and tucks backwards until resting snugly behind second row seats.
Top-down visibly remains excellent. With the top up, however, rearward visibility gets compromised. Also, the low front windshield frame sometimes makes a challenge of locating high standing traffic signals at prolonged stops. The relatively short 4.5 inches of ground clearance also contributes.
The cloth power top includes hints of the United Kingdom’s ‘Union Jack’ national flag as do red highlighted LED portrait-style taillights. MINI Cooper S convertibles include a trunk, but with the top down, it swallows only 5.7 cubic feet of volume, not enough for a traditional golf back but a conventional gym bag and a few grocery bags fit nicely. Pop the top up and volume grows a bit, but not significantly.
The long hood includes an ornamental air dam and two large bug-eyed oval style headlights built with modern LED technology inside. When popped open, the hood build includes two circular carve outs as the lights themselves attach to the engine compartment. Minimum overhands exist behind rear tires or ahead of front ones. A new-for-22 front promotes a single, unbroken hexagon grille design with body-colored insert extending low to the ground.
A unique flat, diminutive, digital instrument panel attaches directly atop the steering column instead of direct embedment into the dashboard and is now standard across all trims in ‘22. Included in this single panel layout is a midpoint, circular digital speedometer readout flanked on the left by a huge half moon tachometer and on the right by a just-as-big bar-type fuel gauge.
Unlike so many modern fuel indicators frequently hidden in three-point type somewhere inside a multi panel, this one is a welcome can’t-miss proposition. Those unfortunates mistakenly running out of gasoline have no one to blame but themselves. Additional information included within the limits of smaller point size include outside temperature, odometer and digital time.
Interior half-moon door grab inserts reside within a circular format. Lock and unlock power buttons get built into the insert itself. Not a lot of storage beyond the glove box. A narrow center armrest includes a very small storage area as it also folds up and out of the way. Instead of projecting on the front windshield, the available heads-up display, including a digital speedometer readout and speed limits, illuminates on a plate rising up from the dashboard. It’s easier for eyes to focus upon than the traditional windshield display.
All models for 2022 now include an 8.8-inch touch screen nestled inside a huge circular-style center frame. Also included, a circular, multi-function dial between front buckets motivating a secondary in-screen curser. Satellite radio comes standard with a complimentary 12- month subscription in ’22; Apple CarPlay is available when opting for the in-dash navigation while Android Auto is not yet on the books.
The HVAC system monitors from three lower center dash dials with push plates determining direction. A row of buttons below summons rear/front defrosters and a/c.
Promotion materials indicate this as a four-seater, but with front buckets set providing optimal leg room, the rear two seats relegate to a one-person side-saddle affair; workable in a convertible but with a hard-top is a tough sell. MINI Cooper remains a desirable bucket list vehicle for empty nesters and pre nesters.
2022 MINI Cooper
Price as tested: $41,750
Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo
Wheelbase: 98 inches
Overall Length: 151 inches
Overall Height: 56 inches
Overall Width: 68 inches
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway.
Curb weight: 3,018 pounds
Assembly: Born, Netherlands