BMW hit a home run when it introduced the reincarnated Mini. America’s appetite for small, fuel-efficient cars has something to do with the Mini Cooper’s success, but the fact that it’s a hoot to drive definitely doesn’t hurt. The Mini once distinguished itself in the automotive market because of its petite size, but with an increasing number of quality subcompacts on the market, the Mini now trades more on its driving dynamics and reputation as a premium small car than on its small size and fuel economy. Last year, all Coopers gained a power bump thanks to direct injection and BMW’s throttleless Valvetronic technology. The retro-chic Cooper continues with a satellite-sized, center-mounted speedometer and a smattering of toggle switches throughout the interior to recall the original Mini from decades past. While it may not be the most ergonomically efficient interior, it’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing. The Mini is available in three body styles: a three-door hardtop, a softtop convertible, and the long-wheelbase Clubman with a set of split rear cargo doors and a half-sized third door on the passenger side for easier rear-seat access. Engines come in normally aspirated and turbocharged forms, with the 208-hp John Cooper Works version epitomizing the Mini’s go-kart driving feel. As for customization options, Mini claims there are more than 10 million possible combinations, so if you’ve always wanted to own a one-of-a-kind car, here’s your chance.
Trim levels: Cooper, Cooper S, John Cooper Works
Body style: Coupe, convertible, wagon, 4-passenger
Engines: 1.6L I-4, 121 hp, 114 lb-ft
1.6L turbo I-4, 181/208 hp, 177/192/207 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
Passenger volume: 80.0 cu ft (est.)
Cargo space: (hardtop, rear seats up/down)
5.7/24.0 cu ft; (convertible, rear seats up/down) 6.0/23.3 cu ft; (Clubman, rear seats up/down)
9.2/32.8 cu ft
Fifteen-inch, seven-hole wheels are standard on the hardtop and the Clubman. John Cooper Works hardtops and Clubmans now come standard with the JCW aero kit. For 2012, customization choices for the Cooper line are expanded with the Mini Yours program, which allows buyers to select special colors and materials from an exclusive palette.
ABS; corner brake control; electronic brake-force distribution; tire pressure monitoring; and dual-stage front and side air bags are standard. Side curtain air bags are standard on the Cooper and Cooper Clubman; thorax air bags are standard on the Cooper Convertible. Adaptive xenon headlights, run-flat tires, and park distance control are optional.
All: 25-29 mpg city/33-37 mpg highway
- High fun-to-drive factor
- Retro-chic styling
- Can get expensive
- Awkward ergonomics
The quintessential small car.
- Fiat 500
- Hyundai Veloster
- Volkswagen Golf/GTI
- Volvo C30