2012 MINI Cooper Expert Review:Autoblog
Fun, Form And Function... In That Order
Human beings can be a fickle bunch, especially Americans. Case in point: The five-door hatchback is unarguably one of the best arrangements for an automobile, providing ample room for adult-size occupants and their random detritus without being so large as to significantly impact fuel efficiency or make it difficult to fit into tight places.
And yet we consistently flock to ever-larger vehicles with the biggest, most powerful engines available. We opt for SUVs and crossovers in lieu of wagons and hatches; we ogle over sloping rear greenhouses, high beltlines and severely raked windshields. In short, our decisions are often dictated more by style and perception than the realities of daily life.
But we're not here to condemn style-conscious consumers. We're equally as enamored with the latest fashion-forward trends as the next red-blooded enthusiast. But we still have to wonder how far the ooh-it's-pretty attention spans of car buyers will go before a lack of usability begins to hinder purchase decisions. To help answer that question, we took to the roads in and around Nashville, Tennessee in the 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe.
Since we're already talking fashion, let's dissect what sets the new Cooper Coupe apart from the rest of the Mini line. Most obviously, there's a completely new roofline and greenhouse that's defined by what the automaker calls a helmet. Seriously. While we don't normally attach the term 'helmet head' with amorous thoughts, it's at least a striking design that won't be mistaken for anything else on the road. At the front of the greenhouse is a windshield that's raked 13-degrees more sharply than the regular Cooper; at the rear is a sloping backlight punctuated at the top by a backwards-facing brim. It's all far removed from the upright look of the standard hatchback and its near vertical rear window.
The rest of the car carries all the cues expected of the reborn Mini brand, including the large oval headlamps, tall slab sides and short front and rear overhangs. Up front is the familiar double-decker grille flanked by a pair of fog lamps, and the bulbous hood includes an air intake on models equipped with turbocharged engines. The rear is dominated by the slick new spoiler that automatically raises itself at 50 miles per hour. Though the unit automatically stows itself at 37 mph, there's no way to manually lower it, a functionality drivers may want, as it distinctly impedes rear visibility. You can, however, manually raise it at slow speeds or when stopped via a toggle in the cabin. Again, fashion before form.
Although Mini describes the Cooper Coupe's shape as a three-box design, it doesn't actually have a proper trunk, instead relying on a rear hatch for access into the cargo hold at the rear. Considering that there's no back seat eating into the Coupe's interior dimensions, there's 7 cubic feet of storage space in the cargo hold (and another couple of cubes or so in the cubby behind behind the two front perches), which is a bit more room than the 5.7 cubic feet you'll find in the hatch of the Cooper. Of course, with the Cooper, you can fold down the rear seat backs to open up more room – a comparatively cavernous 24 cubic feet.
Surrounding the two occupants inside the Coupe is a highly stylized cabin very similar in appearance to what Mini offers in the rest of its line, except now there's two giant indentations in the roof to make sure even those well over six-feet-tall have plenty of head room. The dash and door panels look very cool with many shapes, colors and textures, and get bonus fashion points for their use of chrome toggle switches in lieu of boring plastic buttons, but it's just as much an ergonomic disaster as any other modern Mini. All the frequently used switchgear is placed at the very bottom of the center stack (window up/down, central locking...). This location is not particularly intuitive or easy to reach while driving.
Naturally, the dinner-plate-size speedometer is mounted high in the center of the dash, as it is with all Minis. Though not ideal for quick glances, we've gotten used to this giant single gauge, especially when there's a tachometer sitting directly in front of the driver that offers a digital mile-per-hour readout. As far as appearances go, there may not be a more interesting speedometer in any car, regardless of price. Inside a clear cover sits the orange needle that points at your speed, and it rotates around the perimeter of the dial, leaving the center portion of the speedometer open to serve as the location for the infotainment system.
Mini has crammed as much technology into the 2012 Cooper Coupe as it has at its disposal, featuring the Mini Connected system and its latest new trick: MOG streaming music integration. The gist is that owners of compatible phones (the Apple iPhone at present, though Mini has been promising an Android implementation for quite some time now) can install an application, connect their phones via a hardwired cable and play all their favorite tunes over the air instead of using a music player that keeps all the songs on its internal memory. We captured a video of Mini product manager Vinnie Kung going over the automaker's MOG integration, and we suggest you watch it for all the relevant details.
In practice, we found that MOG's streaming music service performed fairly well. There were a few occasions when we lost signal – once near a group of ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles in the city while we had full service and again in a remote rural area with limited cellphone connectivity – and in those cases, the music simply stops playing and you can switch to the radio or satellite to keep pumping the jams. Once we had to exit the application and log back in to make MOG work, but Mini says little bugs like this are being sifted out as you read this.
Do note that there's no touchscreen in the Mini Coupe (or any other vehicle with Mini Connected). Instead, there's a tiny joystick between the front seats that operates the system. Instead of using four-way directional movement, the joystick spins to move up and down the menu structure, and a press down on the stick selects an item. It's not necessarily difficult to use, but it's not as simple as it could be, either. In any case, those of us who grew up part of the video game generation shouldn't have any trouble figuring it out.
Power comes from the same trio of engines available elsewhere in the Mini lineup. The base 1.6-liter four offers up 121 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 118 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm while the S model's turbocharged mill puts out 181 horses at 5,500 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque from 1,600 through 5,000 rpm (a brief overboost function increases torque to 192 lb-ft). At the tippy-top of the ladder sits the John Cooper Works model seen in our photographs, which boosts horsepower to 208 and torque to 192 lb-ft (with overboost up to 207 lb-ft).
Solid fuel economy is also a hallmark of the Cooper crew, with the base model earning EPA ratings of 29 city, 37 highway and 32 combined. The turbocharged S model nets 27/35/30 and the JCW ekes out 25/33/28.
So how's it drive? Well, like a Mini Cooper. Though it counterintuitively weighs some 55 pounds more than its hatchback sibling, it's actually a hair quicker to 60 at 6.5 seconds for the turbocharged S model (or 6.1 seconds for the higher-spec JCW model) with the standard six-speed manual transmission. It's also slightly faster at the top end. Mini quotes figures of 142 miles per hour for the S and 149 for the JCW. The non-turbocharged Coupe needs 8.3 seconds to hit 60 and offers a top speed of 127 mph. Opting for a six-speed automatic will add a few tenths to either the base Cooper Coupe or the S; the JCW is offered only with the manual gearbox.
As is de rigueur for anything wearing the Mini badge, the Cooper Coupe is always in a frisky mood when the road shows off its feminine curves. Much of the added weight of the Coupe is due to structural stiffening – Mini started with the beefed-up sills of the Cooper Convertible in an effort to offer the stiffest platform possible – and the torsion wall behind the front seats that separates the passenger compartment from the cargo hold. All that adds up to a reassuringly rigid chassis that keeps all four wheels planted on the tarmac during hard cornering. Steering is excellent and, while it will default to stoic understeer when pressed, it's easy to hold a tight line during both high- and low-speed handling maneuvers just by using the throttle.
We were only able to test the S and JCW models, and we found both of them compliant enough over just about any surface this side of a pothole-infested and frost-heaved slab of concrete. We also noted that neither the standard DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) nor the DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) was too aggressive for around-town driving, and they can be disabled for those wanting to smell the scents of burning rubber in the morning. Even so, the electronic nannies will step in eventually to save your bacon – they never completely disengage, even when turned "off."
Mini provided only manual transmissions for us to test, and we found them completely satisfying. Shifting action is direct and positive and the clutch action is smooth and predictable. Past experience with the optional automatic leads us to believe it will perform well enough for the shift-averse, but we'll have to reserve final judgment until we drive one. Acceleration is snappy up to well-over-the-legal-limit speeds, if not exactly what we'd consider blistering. That said, there's plenty of power to keep a smile on your face while blasting down your favorite back road or trying to weave past slower-moving traffic on your morning commute.
Thing is, pretty much everything we can say about how the Mini Cooper Coupe feels on the road could also be said of the Cooper hatchback. Mini be nimble, Mini be quick... regardless of what shape and how many seats you choose. Just be willing to get out your checkbook: the Cooper Coupe starts at $22,000 in base trim or $25,300 for the sportier S variant. The top-level JCW Coupe goes for $31,900. In case you're wondering, that's $1,800 more than the Cooper hatchback. If you're heavy with the options, it's not very difficult to push a Cooper Coupe JCW past the $40K mark, either.
In the end, you'd really have to love the shape of the Mini Coupe to choose it over its more practical brethren, and be willing to put up with the loss of the admittedly vestigial back seat and the extra storage it affords. And if you fall into that camp, there's certainly nothing wrong with picking up a Mini Cooper Coupe because you're a slave to fashion – you'll be rewarded with a truly entertaining driving experience. Just remember that there's a two-seat Roadster on the way that's sure to be at least as trendy and stylish as this latest helmeted hardtop. Oh, and don't forget that with the top down, everyone will be able to see how stylish you look in your designer digs.
New Car Test Drive
Handling, efficiency and style in a variety of guises.The first two-seat Mini, and the fastest.Sassy sports car joins expanding Mini family.
The Mini Cooper delivers agile handling, crisp performance and an interminably cute bulldog appearance in a tidy, efficient, front-wheel drive package, with plenty of space and comfort for front seat passengers.
The number of Mini Cooper body styles has expanded to include Hardtop, Clubman, Coupe, Convertible, and Roadster versions, all similar in terms of mechanicals, structure, front sheetmetal, and interiors. All ride on the same 97-inch wheelbase except the Clubman, a stretched version that rides on a 100-inch wheelbase.
The styling of the Mini Coopers was freshened for 2011 with new bumper, tail light and wheel designs. The front ends were also reshaped to meet new requirements for pedestrian safety.
For 2012, updates for the Mini Cooper models were confined to cosmetics, including a new line of trim options aimed at giving owners more opportunity to individualize their cars. Offered as a new collection of custom options called Mini Yours, the choices include a two-tone leather-clad instrument panel with fancy stitching; a two-tone leather steering wheel; Soda pattern Lounge Leather upholstery; 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels; and new interior and exterior colors.
The 2012 Mini Baker Street and the Mini Bayswater are special edition Hardtop models with expressive design features and exclusive equipment influenced by contemporary London style as the city prepares for the Olympic Games. Mini Baker Street is oriented around the fresh, youthful style of the brand, and comes with the 118-hp Mini Cooper engine. Mini Bayswater is focused on the sporting verve and agile handling for which the Mini is renowned and is available with either the Mini Cooper engine or the 172-hp Mini Cooper S engine.
The Mini Coopers are powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine available in three levels of power output. All Minis are available with an optional 6-speed automatic.
The Mini Cooper models come standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. This engine works best with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, which adds to the sportiness and makes the Mini Cooper fun to drive. Acceleration performance isn't quick but it's adequate. The Mini Cooper delivers excellent fuel economy, earning an EPA rating of 29/37 mpg City/Highway, or 28/36 mpg with the automatic. Premium gasoline is required, however.
The Mini Cooper S models come with a turbocharged version of the same engine that generates 181 horsepower and a substantial 177 pound-feet of torque, making it one of the world's most powerful engines for its size. All the Minis are fun to drive, but in Cooper S trim they deliver exhilarating performance and nimble handling that's most easily appreciated on a twisty back road. With all that torque, this engine works well with the automatic though we still prefer the manual for sportiness. In spite of the significant performance difference, fuel economy is still excellent, earning an EPA-estimated 27/35 mpg or 26/34 mpg with the automatic. Premium gasoline is required.
The Mini Cooper Hardtop is quite practical when viewed as a two-seat car with cargo capacity. The front seats are very comfortable and supportive seats, and they are large enough to accommodate all sizes of drivers and front passengers. With its hatchback and folding rear seats, the Hardtop can haul reasonable amounts of gear. It has a two-place rear seat, but it is hard to climb into and offers very limited leg room. The back seats are best left for small children or, better yet, stuff.
Those who want more room might choose the Mini Cooper Clubman, which is essentially a small station wagon. The Clubman is 9.4 inches longer overall than the Hardtop, and 3.2 inches longer in wheelbase. The extra wheelbase converts to more rear legroom, making it more practical for rear-seat passengers. Access to the rear seat is eased by a third, rear-hinged door on the passenger side. The Clubman also features side-hinged swing-out doors at the back, for easy access to the cargo area, though they don't improve the appearance.
A wide range of styling options allows owners to personalize their cars, and it's a major part of Mini's appeal. The choices cover upholstery style, material and color; exterior graphics; trim pieces; ambient lighting; and exterior paint, including contrasting colors for the roof. Functional options include high-end features like adaptive Xenon headlights, rear obstacle warning and a navigation system. The basic Minis are reasonably priced, starting under $20,000. Check too many options, however, and the ticket can soar into luxury territory, approaching $40,000.
The most expensive Minis are the high-performance John Cooper Works models. The JCW models play on the brand's heritage as a multiple rally and touring-car racing champion in the 1960s. With 208 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque and ultra-firm suspension tuning, the JCW package turns the Mini Cooper into a little hot rod, just the thing for charging up the Monte Carlo stages. The JCW package is available for all models (except the Mini Countryman crossover). For 2012, the Mini Cooper JCW performance package includes the aero body kit as standard equipment.
Mini Coopers offer a great combination of style, driving fun, low operating costs and practicality. Engineered by BMW, Mini Coopers come standard with as much safety equipment as any small car available. After starting in the middle with the Mini Cooper Hardtop the brand grew to add the Clubman and Countryman. The Mini Coupe sets its sights smaller with two seats. Although this is a new car we wouldn't go so far as to call it a new car: The mechanical hardware, front sheetmetal, majority of the body structure and much of the interior are shared with other Minis, this one merely has a different roof and an odd trunk. A Roadster version has been introduced, also.
The Mini Cooper Coupe is based on the Cooper Convertible underneath so any style of top could be fitted and headroom is maintained. Like many Minis, the Coupe is available in three flavors: the most economical Cooper, the quicker sporty Cooper S, and the fierce John Cooper Works.
The three engines, the 121-hp four-cylinder, the 181-hp turbocharged S version of the same engine, and the 208-hp Works engines are proven in Coopers. The primary advantage of the Coupe S over the standard Mini Coupe isn't so much the 60-hp bump as the additional torque and wider range.
We found both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatics work well with both of the standard engines (121-hp and 181-hp). The 208-hp JCW engine only comes with a manual.
Fuel economy for the standard Mini Coupe with manual gearbox is an EPA-rated 29/37 mpg City/Highway. Even the Works hot rod rates an impressive 25/35 mpg.
Agility has always been a Mini hallmark, one frequently equated with kart-like handling. Only a used Lotus Elise can match the Coupe's sharp reflexes for the money, and the brakes square up the package. Minis are all about motoring fun, and the Coupe excels at this. Plus, you instantly become a member of the Mini club and on the road you can wave at other Minis.
Any Mini driver will find the cabin familiar, with a few additions and revisions. Recurring styling themes with unusual controls and instruments highlight the space and it remains functional and surprisingly roomy. Electronic options ensure your Mini will be up to date and often feel merely an extension of your smart phone.
With multiple colors for paint, roof, stripes, upholstery and cabin contrasting panels, some unique to the Coupe, ordering one to choice could make it unique. Mini offers more than 16 factory wheel choices for the Mini Coupe. You can easily run the price up to the $35,000, however.
The Mini Coupe's performance will likely attract drivers shopping the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK, and Porsche Boxster and Cayman, but we'd surmise some 370Z and Hyundai Genesis Coupe buyers might find the dynamics enticing too. Resuscitated and reinvented by BMW in 2001, the Mini Cooper line has grown and proliferated beyond the expectations of its parent company, and far beyond the vision of Sir Alec Issigonis, who designed the 1959 original.
The 2012 Mini Roadster is the sixth and most recent addition to the modern Mini lineup, a soft-top front-wheel-drive two-seater that's a first-ever model for the brand, BMW revival or original. It brings affordable sports car fun to a segment that previously consisted of one car, Mazda's MX-5 Miata. Although the Mini Roadster's price range soars higher than the Miata's, pricing for the next group of roadsters, all German brands, begins well over $40,000.
All the revivalist Mini variants were developed from the 2001 three-door Hardtop. However, the Roadster, as well as the recently introduced Mini Cooper Coupe, is more directly descended from the 2+2 Convertible. Coupe and Roadster were designed simultaneously, but the Coupe preceded the Roadster in the U.S. market by about four months, and immediately drew mixed reviews for its awkward looking roofline.
The Mini Roadster substitutes a conventional folding soft top for the Coupe's hard roof, yielding a look that's a little more conventional and distinctly more appealing. With the soft top stowed in the well behind the seats and the rear decklid spoiler deployed (automatic at 50 mph or more, but manually operable as well), the Roadster becomes a brawny little sports car with the active persona of a Jack Russell terrier.
Like other entries in the Mini Cooper collection, the Roadster offers three levels of engine power, all delivered by the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. With direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, it's on the cutting edge of current internal combustion technology. The basic version is naturally aspirated, whereas turbocharging adds thrust to the variations offered in the higher-performing S and John Cooper Works (JCW) models.
Two transmissions are available for the basic and S versions, a 6-speed manual and an optional 6-speed automatic. The latter offers a manual operating mode, but is a conventional automatic. The more powerful JCW model is limited to a manual transmission.
Respectable fuel economy is a strong suit for all Minis, and the Roadster is no exception. Standard and S models both carry EPA ratings of 27 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway or 26/34 mpg City/Highway for the Mini Roadster S automatic. The numbers fall only slightly with the JCW version, to 25/33 mpg.
The Mini Roadster's soft top is stretched over a span of sheetmetal at its leading edge, which serves as a tonneau cover when the top is snugged down behind the seats. Top stowage doesn't subtract from trunk capacity, which is respectable by small roadster standards. The top secures to the windshield header with a single latch, and is easily raised and lowered by hand, though a power option is available.
Even in larger scale versions such as the Clubman wagon and Countryman crossover, Minis place a high priority on fun-to-drive, and the Roadster arguably delivers more of it than anything else in the growing lineup. It's quick on its feet, responsive, and eager, and the snug two-seat cockpit provides the sense of intimacy, driver engagement, and open air motoring that make roadsters so entertaining.
There are caveats, practicality foremost among them. Like any small two-seat convertible, the Mini Roadster's strong suit is driving entertainment. Considered as an all-around automotive implement, though, the elements that make it appealing as a driver's toy limit its usefulness for more mundane motoring chores such as hauling multiple passengers, bulky cargo, or both.
The suspension tuning that makes the car a blast to drive on a smooth stretch of twisty country road renders its ride quality distinctly unpleasant when the pavement is punctuated by warts, potholes, and sharp bumps. Also, wind noise stifles conversation above about 60 mph with the top up.
Nevertheless, the Mini Roadster rolls onto the sports car stage as an appealing new entry at the affordable end of the two-seat spectrum, with the same blend of sassy styling and snappy handling that separates all Minis from the herd.
The 2012 Mini Cooper models are powered by 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines, with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic with Steptronic manual shift control ($1,250) is optional on most models.
The Mini Cooper Hardtop ($19,500) is powered by a non-turbo version of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. It comes with leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, power windows with auto-down, cruise control, remote keyless entry, outside temperature display, a cooled glovebox, rear wiper, 15-inch alloy wheels and AM/FM stereo with a single-disc CD player and six speakers. For 2012, both HD and satellite radio are standard, with a one-year Sirius subscription.
Cooper S ($23,100) turbocharging raises output of the engine to 181 horsepower and peak torque to 177 lb-ft. The Cooper S also has a firmer suspension, 16-inch wheels and unique exterior details.
The JCW Hardtop ($29,900) is the raciest model of all, with a 208-hp version of the turbocharged engine, even firmer suspension, larger brakes and 205/45R17 run-flat tires. The JCW models are manual transmission only.
The Mini Cooper Convertible ($24,950) is equipped comparably to the base Hardtop, except for its power-operated soft top and standard 16-inch wheels. The Cooper S Convertible ($27,950) and John Cooper Works Convertible ($35,100) approximate corresponding Hardtop models in standard equipment and performance.
The Mini Cooper Clubman ($21,200) has a slightly longer wheelbase than the Hardtop, with an equal increase in rear seat legroom. It also has a short, third side door on the passenger side for easier access to the rear seat, as well as the swing-out double doors in the back. The Clubman is also offered in S ($24,900) and JCW ($31,400) models.
For 2012, a new line of Mini Yours options is available for further personalization. Personalization is a key component of the Mini brand, with an extensive list of factory- and dealer-installed appearance options that includes exterior graphics, paint combinations, various chrome baubles and special interior colors, upholstery and trim.
Most factory options are grouped in four major packages. The Sport Package ($1,250) includes suspension, wheel/tire and other performance upgrades, as well as competition stripes, depending on the model. The Convenience Package ($1,250) adds rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, Bluetooth, a universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror and proximity key. The Premium Package ($1,750) includes a panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control and a high-power Harman-Kardon audio upgrade. The Cold Weather Package ($500) adds heated front seats, power folding mirrors and heated washer jets. Many of the items from the various packages are also available as stand-alone options. Other significant stand-alones include a limited-slip differential ($250), xenon headlights ($500), adaptive headlights ($600), Rear Park Distance Control ($500), and navigation ($1,750).
Safety features include dual-stage front impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin head protection curtains. The Convertible has a pop-up rear rollover bar. Dynamic safety features include Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and full-feature antilock brakes (ABS), with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Cornering Brake Control. All models with the manual transmission feature Hill Assist, which activates the brakes when starting on an uphill start to prevent the car from rolling back. Adaptive Headlights became available for the first time on Minis in 2011. This technology allows the headlights to follow the line of upcoming corners for better illumination of the road surface. Rear Park Distance Control obstacle warning is optional. The 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe is offered in three versions.
The Cooper Coupe ($21,300) is the base model. It uses a 121-hp 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive. It includes leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, power mirrors, locks and auto-up/down windows, 175/65HR15 tires on alloy wheels, six-way manual front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, pushbutton start, adjustable-color ambient lighting, trip computer, floor mats and AM/FM/CD/HD/satellite radio with one-year subscription. A 6-speed manual is standard; a 6-speed automatic is optional ($1250).
The Cooper S Coupe ($24,600) uses a 181-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter and close-ratio 6-speed gearbox, and adds 195/55VR16 tires on alloy wheels, sport seats, fog lights, larger front brakes and a larger fuel tank. A 6-speed automatic is optional ($1250).
A John Cooper Works Coupe ($31,200) gets a 208-hp version of the S engine, larger brakes front and rear, the S fuel tank, 205/45WR17 tires, Works aero package, dynamic traction control and red cabin stitching. The JCW Coupe only comes with a strengthened 6-speed manual gearbox.
Laid end to end the 13 order pages for a Mini Coupe are longer than the car, and the assortment of body, roof and accessory colors, wheels, upholstery and trim combinations can be mind-boggling. The following gives glance at some of the choices.
Optional on all Coupes are leather upholstery; metallic paint; Cold Weather Package ($750) with headlight washers, heated seats, washer jets, and power-fold mirrors; Premium Package ($1,750) with alarm, comfort access, chrome line cabin trim, auto-dimming inside mirror, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, automatic climate control; Technology Package ($2,000) with center armrest, rear park sensors, harman-kardon audio; Mini Connected ($750) with navigation system; Sport Suspension ($500); Bluetooth and USB/iPod ($500); adaptive headlights ($100); rear fog lights ($100); black headlight housings. There are myriad choices in mirror caps ($250), instrument panel finishes, wheels, stripes and wallpaper, with a further set of custom parts through dealers.
Mini Coupe and S models offer a Yours Soda pack of 17-inch wheels, mirror caps, Laguna green metallic paint, scuttles and tattoo. They also offer Sport packages that add stripes, white signal lenses, dynamic traction control, plus sport seats and fog lights on Coupe and xenon HID headlights on S. The John Cooper Works pack adds 17-inch wheels, aero kit, dynamic traction control, red-stitched shift and brake handles, and JCW door sills.
Safety features standard include six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control and brake hold. The 2012 Mini Roadster is presented in three trim levels based on engine performance: the Mini Roadster ($24,350), the turbocharged Roadster S ($27,350), and the high-performance JCW ($34,500). (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice. Destination charges add $700.) A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard; a 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is available for the base and S models ($1250).
Standard equipment in the Mini Roadster includes air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3-compatibility and a one-year satellite radio subscription, power windows and mirrors, a trip computer, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels with run-flat all-season tires, ABS, stability control, front and seat-mounted side airbags, reinforced windshield framing, and two fixed rollover hoops behind the seats.
Besides a healthy horsepower increase, the Roadster S adds a fancier set of 16-inch wheels, sportier seats, and foglights. Opting for the JCW adds even more pace, plus 17-inch wheels, aero body add-ons, piano black interior surface trim, and traction control.
A huge range of styling options allows owners to personalize their cars, and it's a major component of Mini's appeal. The choices cover upholstery style, material and color; exterior graphics; trim pieces; exterior paint, including contrasting colors for the roof. Functional options include high-end extras like adaptive Xenon headlights, and rear obstacle warning, a helpful feature when the Roadster's top is up. Leather seat options range from $1000 to $2250. A power top is an option ($750), and a wind-blocker is available ($250) for top-down motoring.
Safety features include front and seat-mounted side airbags, the rear rollover hoops, a reinforced windshield frame, electronic stability control, and antilock brakes standard. Dynamic Traction Control with electronic locking differential and rear park assist are optional.
The Mini Cooper lineup has multiplied since this second-generation version was launched as a 2007 model. Each new variant has been a bit different than the standard two-door Hardtop, as Mini calls the hatchback version. Yet none of the subsequent models will be mistaken for anything other than a close sibling to the chic, irrepressible cute Hardtop, or for that matter any Mini model sold since the brand was re-introduced in 2000.
All Mini models were freshened a bit front and rear for 2011. The updates include new bumper designs and tail lights, and five new wheel designs. Also, the front ends were reshaped, primarily to meet new requirements for pedestrian safety.
The Mini Convertible closely resembles the standard Hardtop, and matches its dimensions. The soft-top maintains the same basic silhouette as the Hardtop, though the heated glass rear window is tilted farther forward. The rear side windows are about a third of the size of those on the Hardtop because the cloth top wraps farther around the sides of the car. When the Convertible top is down, it stacks at the back of the car. The look is fine, but it blocks the driver's lower line of sight to the rear.
The Convertible's insulated fabric roof opens at the touch of a button in just 15 seconds at speeds up to 18 mph, which is very convenient. There are no latches to unhook, simply press the button. A sliding roof function opens just the portion of the top that's over the front seats. It's like a big sunroof that can be opened at speeds up to 75 mph.
The Clubman is identical to the Mini Cooper Hardtop from the front bumper to the back of the doors. Of its 9.4 inches of added length, 3.1 inches are located behind the doors and in front or the rear wheels, increasing rear legroom by a roughly equal amount. Another 6.3 inches are found behind the rear wheels, for more cargo space, but the Clubman still manages to keep a wheels-pushed-to-the-corners look.
The two biggest changes with the Clubman, compared to the Mini Cooper Hardtop, are the substitution of split rear barn doors at the back and the addition of a rear access door on the passenger side. The right-side access door, called the Clubdoor, is a rear-hinged demi-door that doesn't open independently of the front passenger door and provides easier access to the back seat. At the rear of the car, the handles for the split rear doors are placed together where the doors join. The rear glass is fixed and does not open.
Mini Cooper S models are distinguishable from the standard versions, no matter the body style. Black mesh grilles replace the shiny bars, lower brake ducts with optional chrome frames guide cooling air toward the brake discs. Most noticeable is the chrome-ringed hood scoop on Cooper S models.
The current group of Minis represents the second generation of the re-launched brand, but Mini heritage dates to the late 1950s. The original was a landmark design by Alec Issigonis for the British Motor Corporation. With its transverse front engine, front-wheel drive and surprisingly roomy interior, it changed the game in minimalist transportation. It became even more famous for winning the Monte Carlo Rally. Production of the original Mini finally ended in the 1990s.
BMW revived the marque with a totally new Mini Cooper in Europe for the 2000 model year. It was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year. The Mini Coupe looks like a Mini Hardtop that got whacked on top with a big hammer. The company calls it a helmet shape and we don't disagree, though it's more fire or military style than automotive crash helmet. The Coupe is actually longer than a standard two-door Cooper but more than an inch lower. Looks can be deceiving and the Coupe appears distinctly sportier.
From head-on the Coupe looks nearly the same as a Cooper hardtop. Hood, lights, grille and bumper are all the same; the changes include a fractionally longer front spoiler to maintain aerodynamic balance, and a windshield laid back 13 degrees further, yielding a roof that's 1.25 inches lower than that of the hardtop. All the examples we saw had daytime running lights using the headlight elements.
Up to the glass area the rear styling will look familiar, too, with similar vertical lamps and, on turbocharged cars, central dual exhaust. Atop the trunk is a wing that automatically pops up at 50 mph and retreats at 37 mph; it can be deployed at lower speeds or left that way for cleaning by pressing a button.
The side windows are frameless as in all other Minis except the Countryman, and the windows drop slightly at door open and rise at closing for a better seal. Aft of the doors is a small quarter window; no use for looking through but it preserves the styling. Beyond that the rear glass sweeps in and around to near the wing, like a clamshell. With black and glass concealed pillars, the roof is visually floating over the cabin.
At the back of the bubble top is another wing, this one fixed and slotted. It serves to aid high-speed stability both on its own and by funneling air to the rear wing, and to keep the rear window clean and avoid the expense and added drag of a wipe/wash system. Raindrops still hit the glass at slow speeds and while parked, but rear visibility isn't good enough to lament any missing wiper.
The Coupe models can be distinguished by badging, wheels, central exhaust, grille and brake duct openings and an S scuttle (the chrome trim ahead of the doors that also houses signal repeaters). Although it has only two seats, the Mini Roadster has the same wheelbase and foundations as the four-seat Mini Cooper convertible. Its width-to-length-to-height proportions give it a scrappy, action-ready look. The summit of its soft top is about three-quarters of an inch lower than that of the 2+2 Convertible, and a smidge lower than the Coupe, making it the lowest roofline of all Minis.
While the rear deck seems to end abruptly, there's more room in the trunk, 8.5 cubic feet, than in the cargo compartment of the Convertible (6.0 cubic feet), though the Convertible's rear seats fold forward to expand capacity. The Roadster's trunk features a square pass-through opening that allows occupants to stash small items without having to stop and go around to open the deck lid.
The front end is unmistakably Mini, and the steeply raked windshield, shared with the Mini Coupe, contributes to the Mini Roadster's sports car chops, as do the twin stainless steel rollover hoops behind the seats. They're in fixed position here, as distinct from the pop-up hoops in the Mini Convertible. As with the Coupe, the a wing pops up from the rear decklid when the Roadster hits 50 mph, re-stowing itself below 37 mph. The wing generates rear downforce, lending stability as speeds climb, but in our opinion its contribution to the car's appearance is just as significant. The wing can also be deployed at the driver's command, mitigating the chopped-off look of the rear end.
A set of 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels is standard on the basic and S versions of the Coupe, with 17-inch wheels optional and standard on the JCW.
Mini interiors were updated for 2011 with new features and materials and improved noise counter-measures, and the 2012 Mini Yours line of optional upgrades lend an opportunity for owners to personalize and upgrade their cars. Mini affords numerous interior trim options that can give each one an individual character.
All Mini Cooper cabins are charming with excellent finish. The plastics have a quality look and feel. This also goes for the base Leatherette upholstery (vinyl). Multiple leather options are available, including a cloth and leather combination, a full leather option, and the glove soft Lounge Leather with contrasting piping, similar to classic British sedans. Ambient lighting is standard on most models, and it softly illuminates the door panels and footwells with subtle LEDs. The driver can change the color of the lighting across a spectrum from soft orange to crisp blue.
Despite diminutive exterior dimensions, Mini cabins are surprisingly spacious up front. Even a 6-foot, 5-inch driver can be comfortable in the front seat. The basic manual levers, controlling height, seatback rake, and front-rear travel, allow just about everyone to easily find a comfortable spot.
The Mini driving position is excellent. We found the seats comfortable for long-distance trips, and they're nicely bolstered to keep you in place when you inevitably hustle through the turns. The available sport seats are even better.
A round, plastic transmitter replaces a conventional ignition key. It slides into a slot next to the steering column, and the driver fires the engine by pressing the adjacent a start/stop button. The button is cute and inoffensive, but no more effective than a standard key. The optional proximity key allows the driver to leave the transmitter in purse or pocket and just press the start button. We'd prefer a traditional key, but that's not an option.
All models follow Mini's sporty tradition of a big, round speedometer in the center of the dash. The tachometer is mounted on the tilt/telescoping steering column, moving with the wheel as it's adjusted it up and down. The Convertible has a unique Openometer next to the tach. It tracks the number of hours you drive with the top down and displays the owner's enthusiasm for open-cockpit motoring, a cute feature.
Heating and air conditioning controls sit below the speedo, and they're straightforward in base models. The available automatic climate control system is cleverly configured in the shape of the winged Mini logo. The switch layout is generally effective, though sometimes it's a bit too clever.
The audio controls sacrifice ease of use for design symmetry. The tuning knob is centered with most other audio buttons at the bottom of the speedometer, while the volume control sits further down the center stack, closer to the HVAC controls. At first, you may find yourself changing the station when what you really want is to turn up the volume. The integrated design of the audio controls makes it nearly impossible to fit any aftermarket sound system, and the buttons are obviously plastic, with a matte-gray in finish, and detract from the otherwise high-quality interior appointments.
A retro touch, chrome toggle switches that look like something out of an airplane or racecar cockpit, are positioned at the base of the center stack to control the windows, auxiliary lights, and stability-control system. The toggles are duplicated above the rearview mirror to control interior lights, the optional sunroof and the Convertible top. The steering-column stalk switches for wipers and turn signals are pleasing to look and satisfying to use.
The navigation or Mini Connected systems add a rectangular 6.5-inch video screen in the central speedometer, with a digitally generated speed needle around its perimeter. Maps are stored on a built-in flash drive. Both Mini Connected and the full nav system add Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port, and they make it easy to integrate mobile devices. Audio can be streamed via Bluetooth, and album cover artwork and mobile-phone caller lists can be displayed on the monitor. BMW is a leader in this area.
Interior storage space is not abundant, but it's adequate. There are bins in the door panels, map pockets on the front seatbacks, a small center-console bin and an average-size glovebox. The glovebox can be cooled with the air conditioning, and it's enough to keep a bottled drink reasonably cool, or to keep chocolate bars from turning to mush. The optional Center Rail storage and fastening system replaces the standard center console with two aluminium rails running lengthwise through the middle of the interior. Various accessories, including cupholders, storage boxes, trays or armrests can be locked anywhere along the rails to the occupants' preference.
In the Mini Cooper Hardtop, the rear seat is barely habitable for adults, and only for very short rides. Access to it is anything but convenient. The Convertible has even less rear leg room, 28.1 inches compared to 29.9 inches, so adults or even children won't fit back there unless the front seats are moved far forward.
The Clubman offers more interior space. Its additional wheelbase length translates into additional legroom for rear-seat passengers, and those in back have more shoulder room, as well. The Clubdoor makes the Clubman's rear seat of the Clubman much easier to access from the passenger side. A slot was added on the door for 2011 that keeps the front seatbelt out of the way when rear passengers duck in. The third door is particularly handy for parents who need to deal with child safety seats.
The Convertible has the least cargo space of the Mini models. Room in the trunk doesn't change when the top is lowered, which is good, but there is only 6.0 cubic feet of space to begin with, which is bad, and hard to use, which is also bad. The rear seats fold down, and Mini claims that opens up 23.3 cubic feet of space. But that space is hard to get to, and big items won't slide in behind the front seatbacks or through the short trunk opening. In short, the Mini Convertible is an impractical car.
The Hardtop, with its large rear hatch and separate folding rear seatbacks, does better as a cargo hauler. With the rear seats in place, there's a miniscule 5.7 cubic feet of storage, enough for an airline roll-aboard and a brief case. But with the rear seats folded down, cargo volume expands to a readily accessible 24 cubic feet. That's more than enough for two passengers on long trip.
The Clubman provides a more usable 9.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and a shade-type, pullout cargo cover is provided. With the rear seatbacks folded, it presents a flat load floor and nearly 33 cubic feet of space. The Split Rear Barn Doors are hinged on the rear pillars and open out, providing wide access.
Forward vision is excellent in all Minis, at least when the road ahead is clear. Given the Mini's diminutive size, larger cars can block the view in the same way big SUVs can block the view from the driver's seat of midsize sedan.
Rear sightlines are good in the Hardtop. The Convertible has a couple of issues, however. When the top is down, the lower portion of the driver's rearward line of sight is compromised. With the top up, its corners block vision in the rear quarters. Backing out of a parking spot can be a challenge, making the Park Distance Control warning system an important option. In the Clubman, the line where the rear barn doors join is a bit of a distraction in the rearview mirror. The Coupe's cabin is pure Mini, which means unusual relative most cars. Pick any adjective in the realm of unusual, strange, odd, or quirky and it could easily apply. And like every Mini the cabin is centralized so it's easy to build left- and right-hand drive versions of it.
With ellipses and circles in most styling elements it draws the eye, and a closer look reveals it's well put together and not a sea of uninspired plastic. Upholstery is cloth, leather (artificial or real, contrast piped or not) or a combination of cloth seat centers and leather bolsters, and the Coupe offers two exclusives: Toffee and Punch. Door panel inserts and armrests have some soft-touch surfaces and Mini proudly proclaims that floor mats (both of them) are standard.
The Coupe gives up a little headroom to its larger cousins but our combo of 6-foot, 3-inch and 6-foot, 5-inch frames didn't have any issues. The front seats are reasonably comfortable, and the sport seats are up to the car's capability. The cushions are adjustable for height but not angle, so longer legs may find thigh support minimal and tend to submarine, sliding down and forward over time. The passenger's floor is flat and open, good for comfort and bracing oneself, while the driver's side has a bit more legroom and a good dead pedal for holding themselves in the seat. Your passenger may find even a sport seat not enough for an exuberant driving style, and you'll both want to get out and stretch after a few hours.
A tilt/telescoping steering wheel, shifter and handbrake properly placed ensure decent driver positioning and the pedals are nicely placed for fancy footwork if your shoes aren't too big. The optional center armrest, included with some packages and carrying audio inputs within, might present an obstacle to longer arms or elbow whether it's up or down. Laying the windshield back has a detrimental effect on forward visibility where undulating roads often required awkward neck twists to see the road around or under the rearview mirror, the quarter windows are of little benefit, and the marginal rear window is bisected by the wing most of the time.
Most switches and controls are black with white labeling, and the chrome rings on everything from shifter to tachometer are rarely flat so glare issues are minimal; we got blitzed only once from gauge glare bouncing off the outside mirror lens. Instruments and controls are bathed in deep amber at night, while door handles and ambient lighting get a rainbow of colors.
The tachometer is directly ahead of the driver and most of the scale can be seen through the wheel. It includes a digital speed display which is handy because the parallax error in the central speedo can be up to 5 mph and it's an awkward device to follow. The tach also has the display for miles, temperature, trip computer info and so on, and like the audio display in the bottom of the speedometer, polarized sunglasses sometimes affect legibility.
The huge speedometer has an orange flower-shape for fuel level that draws the eyes, and audio controls are the bottom. On cars with optional electronics the speedometer has a stubby needle on the outside ring, a TFT center display (not affected by polarized lenses) and the fuel gauge arcs across the bottom like so many pieces of candy corn.
Below that are the CD slot, ventilation controls, toggle switches for the auto-down windows, and door locks. The lock toggle does not correlate push-down with lock and lift-up for unlock, it just moves the locks to the other position whenever you move the switch. Further toggles are found overhead (mostly cabin lights and the rear spoiler) while stability and sport mode are pushbutton ears on the shifter base.
The navigation system is run via two buttons and a small rotary controller just behind the shifter, an arrangement that works better than it sounds. Menu logic and programming is much like BMW's latest iteration of iDrive, so all the bugs were worked out before Mini got it.
Mini's Connected system brings IOS 4.2 iPhone 3GS or 4, or Touch, or 6G nano, features into the car with a free iPhone app, and now works with Pandora and MOG as well. You can listen to web radio, have your Mini automatically tweet your approximate location and temperature while you're motoring and can have RSS or tweets read aloud to you. Since the iPhone et al have a stable platform with hardware and software by the same maker it is currently the only system for Connected.
No back seat implies a lot of cargo room, but a chunk of the area is covered structure. A lockable pass-through from the cockpit is big enough to get your laptop or compact backpack through but you may need long arms to retrieve it from the deep well without opening the hatch (which clears our tall testers). The only concealed cabin storage is in the glovebox and a small space within the armrest. We found a jack under the rear floor but no tire nor room for one. Inside, the Roadster maintains the retro Mini look that's part of the brand's success. The center of the dashboard is dominated by a speedometer the size of a serving platter, with the speed indicator tracking around its rim and the center devoted to an info screen, as well as a nav system in Minis so equipped. The tachometer straddles the steering column, which is adjustable for both steering wheel rake and reach.
There is a substantial quantity of plastic, but the interior materials are of high quality. Like the speedometer and tachometer, a bevy of toggle switches help the Mini retain touch with its distinguished past. The standard seats are comfortable, although the S and JCW models offer more lateral support and a sportier feel. There's a good range of adjustability, manual in all models, and several upholstery options.
The Mini forsakes a conventional ignition key for a round plastic fob that docks in a slot next to the steering column, and the driver fires the engine by pressing an adjacent a start/stop button. The advantage of this system is hard to perceive. This could also be said for the standard ambient LED lighting in the door panels and footwells. The driver can change the color across a spectrum from soft orange to crisp blue.
Heating and air conditioning controls reside beneath the speedo, well marked and easy to use in the basic Roadster, and automatic climate control is available.
Audio controls aren't quite as straightforward. The tuning knob is centered with most other audio buttons at the bottom of the speedometer, but the volume control is lower, closer to the HVAC controls. The standard audio system is good, but inevitably Mini offers a premium upgrade, one of a vast, almost bewildering array of optional features available for all models.
Elbow room is limited, but head and leg room are plentiful, even for tall occupants. Like most convertibles, the Mini has substantial blind spots in the rear quarters with its top up, and the smallish glass rear window limits vision directly astern.
If there's any disappointment inside, it's with the single-layer top, whose support bows are exposed. It seals well, but at speeds above 60 mph or so, wind noise becomes obtrusive.
Of course, the Mini product planners equate open top motoring with fun, and seem to think the only time it's acceptable to cover the cockpit is during monsoon weather. To that end, the Roadster, like the Convertible, is equipped with a gauge called an Openometer, which measures the time the car has been operated with top down, as an index of enjoyment. A piece of kit that might be useful for top-down motoring is a wind blocker, a Mini accessory that straddles the rollover hoops and mitigates but does not eliminate cockpit turbulence when the top is down.
We've driven all the Mini Coopers on race tracks, streets and highways around the world, and rank them among the most fun and responsive front-wheel-drive cars available, enhanced by outstanding real-world fuel economy. All Minis have a basic sporting character. Yet most are quite comfortable as daily drivers.
The current-generation Mini, introduced as a 2007 model, is in nearly all respects a better car than the version that re-launched the brand in the U.S. as a 2001 model. It's even easier and safer to drive quickly, and benefits from changes to the suspension and increased engine torque.
For 2011, Mini upgraded its 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine across the line. The changes were aimed at improving efficiency, with less engine weight and friction, accessories that sap less power, and BMW's full, no-throttle Valvtronic variable valve timing. Still, engine output has increased slightly.
The 1.6-liter engine in standard Mini Coopers delivers 121 hp at 6000 rpm, 114 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. The turbocharged 1.6-liter in Cooper S models generates 181 hp at 5500 rpm, with a minimum 177 lb-ft available from 1600-5000 rpm, plus an overboost feature that will deliver 192 lb-ft in short bursts. The extra-racy John Cooper Works models peak at 208 hp at 6000 rpm, 192 pound-feet of torque at 1850-5000 rpm plus an overboost delivering 207 pound-feet when needed. Measured by specific output, a technical label for the amount of power an engine delivers for its size, the Mini JCW four is one of the most powerful engines in any automobile.
Mini touts its new Mini Coupe (reviewed separately) as the quickest member of the lineup, but we think the Hardtop is the best body style from a driving standpoint. It seems the most fun to drive in the purest sense.
Mini says the Hardtop hits 60 from a stop in 8.4 seconds, which is not particularly quick, while the Mini Cooper S performs this feat in 6.6 seconds, which is quick.
The turbocharged Mini Cooper S engine reacts almost instantly to the gas pedal, with only the tiniest hint of turbo lag, and produces satisfying acceleration at all speeds. Its steady, even power delivery across a wide rpm range is impressive, as we've learned in a race track test drive, as well as public road experience.
Cooper S models come with a sport-tuned suspension, but their behavior is still quite refined, and more so than some other cars capable of similar track speeds. With a MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, the Cooper S is flat and stable in corners, and absorbs small bumps and joints without discomforting passengers. With front-wheel drive, the car never feels at risk of spinning out, even with radical changes in throttle position or braking in the middle of corners.
A key factor in the Mini's sporting feel is its electromechanically assisted steering, which uses an electric motor, instead of a hydraulic pump, for steering assist. Despite the fuel-saving electric power assist, the steering shaft is still mechanically connected to the steering box, so the driver continues to enjoy great feel for the road. This system also varies the steering ratio and effort according to speed.
The effect of the electric steering is most apparent in tight, slow parking lot maneuvers, where very little effort or wheel motion is needed to make large changes in direction. In comparison, at highway speeds an equal rotation of the steering wheel results in smaller and less sensitive directional changes. Another advantage of electrically assisted steering, from the performance perspective, is that steering ratios can be optimized for various portions of a curve, and not just varied with vehicle speed. In the Mini, this means that the initial turn into a corner is cushioned slightly, so the car doesn't feel as go-kart twitchy as the previous generation. It feels a bit numb on center.
The 6-speed automatic transmission works reasonably well with both the standard and turbocharged engines. Paddles on the steering wheel let the driver override the automatic and shift manually; and when the driver stops using them, the transmission reverts to Drive, picking the gears itself. Automatics also come with a Sport mode button that switches to a more aggressive shift algorithm that holds gears longer to keep more power on tap. On all models, the Sport button quickens throttle response and chooses a quicker steering ratio.
The 6-speed manual gearbox offers more driver engagement than the automatic and wrings the most from the Mini's small engine. We strongly recommend the manual for the low-powered base models, and prefer it for the high-powered models. It's crisp, precise, and makes the driving experience more fun.
Mini brakes are first-rate. The four-wheel discs are large for cars of the Mini's weight, and they provide quick, stable stops with good, consistent pedal feel. They're also managed by one of the slickest control programs in small cars. Both the base and S models benefit from Mini's brake cornering control, which can use the ABS to apply individual brakes to inside wheels to help get the car through a corner.
The Convertible is almost as sporty as the Hardtop. This latest version handles better than the previous-generation, thanks to a stronger body structure that substantially reduces cowl shake and body shimmy.
The Clubman is nearly as fun to drive as the regular Mini Cooper Hardtop, and its extra length is an advantage in some ways. The longer wheelbase makes the Clubman a bit more stable in turns. The Hardtop is slightly more eager in quick changes of direction, but the Clubman is still nimble compared to similarly sized cars in tight quarters.
On the road, most drivers should find the Clubman a little more comfortable than the Hardtop. The longer wheelbase makes for smoother ride quality. If ride comfort is a top priority, the Countryman should be the Mini Cooper of choice.
Tires play a crucial role in the Mini ride-quality equation, and there is a variety of tires to choose from. All-season tires on the smaller rims deliver the most comfortable ride. This is most obvious in the Convertible, which tends to emphasize road shock and shakes. The run-flat performance tires on the Mini Cooper S Convertible with a Sport Package made us dread the early spring potholes blooming on Chicago streets. Be sure to actually drive a car with the sports suspension and big rims, regardless of the Mini variant, before buying. They may make the ride too stiff for some tastes. The Mini Cooper has often been cited as handling like a go-kart. Of course this is only in relative terms as a kart's much smaller mass allows it to change directions, brake and potentially accelerate quicker than a real car. So, since it's only one seat more than a go-kart, consider the Coupe the most kart-like of the Cooper lineup.
Although it weighs a bit more than the four-seat Cooper Hardtop, the Coupe's better aero profile and calibrations let it accelerate ever-so-slightly better (by 0.1 seconds to 60 mph) and achieve top speeds higher by approximately 5 mph. At 149 mph for the Works version you'll need a good-size racetrack or deployment orders to Germany to explore it. Not quite able to reach that on U.S. soil but with experience in other Minis, we can surmise this one would be stable at that speed, and quite loud.
The standard Coupe has a 121-hp engine and runs with the Hardtop, as able to get in and out of traffic ahead of most 30-mpg cars but not fast. The gears in the 6-speed manual are widely spaced for all purpose use, neither too short for best acceleration, nor too tall for low-rpm cruising. And Mini will be happy to help you man up and learn to drive a manual if you never have.
That 121-hp manual Coupe is the most efficient at an EPA-rated 29/37/32 City/Highway/Combined. Subtract 1 mpg for an auto, 2 mpg for an S model. The JCW is 25/35/28 mpg. However, the turbocharged cars have larger fuel tanks and greater cruising range than the Coupe. Motoring at a fair clip we averaged better than 30 mpg in S and JCW versions.
The 6-speed automatic is less involving but among the best in small cars. With two modes you can leave it in Drive to sort things on its on, do that with more verve in Sport, or shift manually by paddles on the wheel (both paddles shift up/down by push/pull) or the lever. In Drive, using the paddles will make the shift you request then revert to auto mode after a few seconds of no shifting activity. In Sport mode, the paddles remain full manual, even refusing to downshift if you mat the gas pedal at moderate engine rpm. This can make you a smoother driver, especially in the turbocharged cars by using the progressive building of torque rather than a jerkier, more frenetic acceleration from a forced downshift.
The turbocharged Cooper S is rated at 181 hp at 5500 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque from 1600-5000 rpm, for generous urge at any speed. For short time periods, like the few seconds needed for a pass, it will deliver 192 lb-ft of torque from 1750-4500, making child's play of barely mobile homes or merging, often without needing a shift. The way an S gathers speed seems quite effortless, and an automatic S is easy to zip past 80 mph sooner than you think.
The Works engine is more highly strung, dumping 208 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, for 0-60 around 6 seconds. Manual gearboxes in the turbocharged S and JCW cars have more closely spaced gear ratios than the Cooper, and combined with the broad torque spread deliver eager performance.
All the engines are smooth and deliver an exhaust note that improves coincident with power. With the majority of our exuberant driving in S and JCW models we still averaged 30 mpg or better.
Despite losing rear seats and glass the Coupe, like the Convertible, is heavier than the Hardtop because of added structure below and behind the doors. That's because the roof is not a structural member, and the soft-top Roadster version is coming.
Suspension design parallels other Minis, with spring and shock rates matched to the Coupe's weight distribution, yielding a solid, stable ride that keeps the car planted like a larger German sedan. Large undulations are capably handled by suspension travel but small impacts are easily noticed, and along with potential wheel damage, a big reason we'd recommend 16-inch wheels or smaller unless your infrastructure is table-top smooth or you need 17s for brake clearance. Each version offers a sport suspension package, even the boogey-bomb JCW, and a further step-up to John Cooper Works aftermarket suspension is available through dealers. Some race series don't offer so many choices.
The Coupe also has a larger rear antiroll bar and feels like it rotates better off throttle. It's fairly balanced for a car that comes with more than 60 percent of its weight on the driving front wheels but it's also reasonably idiot-proof in how much it takes to go around completely. For most drivers on most roads it's simply a blast to point and go.
All Coupes come with a sport button that makes the engine respond to the throttle faster, though engine response is so good the only time we found this advantageous was for blipping the manual's throttle on downshifts. The automatic has its own sport setting.
That button also affects the effort needed to steer, but we found it made the steering unnecessarily heavy because it doesn't add any feel. The steering is a bit numb dead ahead, a characteristic shared by many cars with similar systems, but the Coupe turns in crisply and the directional stability is very good. Brakes are up to the Coupe's dynamic standards too, and each progressively sportier Coupe gets faster, crisper response to pedal input. Hard stops in an S or JCW feel like a giant net was thrown over it with no drama or wiggling. Electronic stability control is standard too, though if you get too eager in the snow it's still possible to stuff it in a snowbank and have everyone admiring the snowman's hat with racing stripes. Removing roof structure to create a convertible inevitably requires compensatory stiffening in the chassis and body shell. As a consequence, the Roadster weighs in about 90 pounds heavier than the Coupe, model for model, though it's lighter than the Convertible. This may diminish acceleration by a tenth of a second or so, but the effect will be basically undetectable to owners and in any case the sense of speed always seems higher in an open car.
The chassis stiffening measures, while extensive, don't quite bring the Roadster's structural rigidity up to the level of the steel-roofed Minis. There are occasional quivers in the chassis, dashboard, and steering column on rough or bumpy pavement, present in all models but more apparent in the S and JCW versions, with their stiffer suspension tuning. However, the chassis tremors are minor and don't seem to have any real effect on the Roadster's brisk responses.
Ride quality is another matter. Firm suspension components, combined with the standard run-flat tires (there is no spare tire), add up to limited suspension compliance, sending notification of every bump, ripple, or freeway expansion joint directly to the occupants.
This becomes tedious in very short order. Ride quality can be markedly improved by discarding the run-flats in favor of a conventional tire. Many Mini owners have made the switch, and the difference in ride comfort is dramatic.
Ride issues notwithstanding, the Roadster's responses are pure Mini: eager and athletic. The electromechanical steering is sports car quick with good road feel, the brakes are powerful with excellent pedal feel, the manual transmission delivers positive shift engagements, and throttle response is brisk, turbo and non-turbo alike.
The 6-speed Steptronic automatic includes a manual operating function via a set of paddle shifters. Though not as quick as the dual-clutch automated manual offered in some BMWs, it's reasonably satisfying. The 6-speed manual transmission makes the most of the engine's output, particularly in the non-turbo Roadster, and also makes the driving more fun. Which is the whole point of this car. So we recommend the manual.
Aside from suspension tuning, the principal distinction between the three trim levels is power. The naturally aspirated version of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is rated for 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. With the standard 6-speed manual transmission 0-to-60 mph takes a little over eight seconds, and a little longer with the optional 6-speed automatic. That's not notably quick nor notably slow.
The pace picks up with the turbo versions. In the S model, the engine produces 181 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of maximum torque, and 0-to-60 drops to a quick 6.7 seconds, according to Mini. The hot rod JCW, with its revised cylinder head and higher turbo boost, produces 208 horsepower and 192 pound-feet. It's capable of hitting 60 in just over six seconds, with a top speed of almost 150 mph.
The Mini Cooper models are nimble and visually unique. In Cooper S trim, they are quite fast. There is plenty of room for the passengers in front, but the Clubman is the better choice if the rear seat will be used for people. Prices range from just over $20,000 for a basic hatchback up to $40,000 for a loaded Convertible. Any way you choose, the Mini provides as much style and sheer fun as any small car extant, and even more personalization options.
Kirk Bell reported from Chicago, with J.P Vettraino reporting from Detroit. The Countryman is a logical extension of the Mini Cooper line. It remains true to the character and style of Mini, and offers the same array of personalization avenues to ensure yours is as unique as a Rolls-Royce. And it delivers the performance and driving engagement you expect from Mini, while offering more space, practicality, and the option of all-wheel drive.
G.R. Whale filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test driver of the Mini Coupe near Nashville. The Mini Cooper Roadster is agile, visually unique, and in S or JCW trim, a brisk performer. Its appeal begins to diminish when options send the price up to and over $40,000, where it begins to compete with Audi's TT roadster. But with a little restraint in ordering, it offers a high fun-for-the-buck index. There are purists who insist a front-drive car can never be regarded as a proper sports car. We suggest that an afternoon spent with the Roadster on a serpentine back road will convert even the most entrenched traditionalists.
Mini Cooper Hardtop ($19,500); Cooper S Hardtop ($23,100); John Cooper Works Hardtop ($29,900); Clubman ($21,200); Clubman S ($24,900); John Cooper Works Clubman ($31,400); Cooper Convertible ($24,950); Cooper S Convertible ($27,950); John Cooper Works Convertible ($34,100). Mini Cooper Coupe ($21,300); Cooper S Coupe ($24,600); John Cooper Works Coupe ($31,200). Mini Cooper Roadster ($24,350); Cooper S Roadster ($27,350); John Cooper Works Roadster ($34,500).
Oxford, England. Oxford, England. Oxford, England.
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($1,750) includes dual-pane panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, and Harman Kardon audio upgrade; Convenience Package ($1,250) includes rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, Bluetooth, universal garage door opener, iPod adapter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and proximity key access and starting; Cold Weather Package ($750) includes heated front seats, heated folding mirrors and heated washer jets; cloth/leather upholstery package ($1,000); sport seats ($250). Silver sport stripes ($250); punch leather ($1,500); premium package ($1,750), sport package with twin-blade wheels ($1,750); cold weather package ($750); technology pack with navigation ($2,750). Mini Connected with Navigation ($2500) includes navigation, voice command, Bluetooth, USB/iPod adapter, real time traffic, iPhone integration; Premium Package ($1750) includes automatic climate control, anti-theft alarm, chrome line interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, and Harman Kardon audio upgrade; wind blocker ($250); heated seats ($500); silver-white metallic paint ($500); sports stripes ($250).
Mini Cooper Clubman S ($24,800). Mini Cooper S Coupe ($24,600). Mini Cooper S Roadster ($33,800).
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