A modern-day reincarnation of an automotive legend, the Mini confirms that good things still do, indeed, come in small packages. Coupe or convertible, Cooper, Cooper S, or John Cooper Works S, this sprightly, space-efficient 2+2 has been grabbing headlines and hearts since being introduced for as 2002, two years after the marque was acquired by BMW. Like its forebear, which sold over five million units during four decades in production, today's Mini sets precedents for style, packaging, and just plain fun.
Expanding, literally and figuratively, on the look of the original, the Mini Cooper maintains the classic two-box form, but with a stronger structure, smoother contours, bolder details, and better aerodynamics. Although it's grown, the Gen-II Mini still spans a mere 143.1 inches nose to tail. Short overhangs and a relatively wide track create a sporty stance that rightly indicates its superb handling skills. All versions come with alloy wheels. Cooper variants have conventional 175/65HR15 tires while S and Works models ride on 195/55VR16 run-flat rubber -- and forfeit their normal temporary spares. A variety of color combinations (roof, body, mirrors) and exterior treatments (fascia, stripes, foglamps, wheels) allow owners to personalize their car from the factory.
The Mini cabin is a visually enticing realm where body-color metal, black plastic, argent trim, and chrome accents do look remarkably cool. Sadly, it's also a land where style often takes the measure of ergonomics. Everything you really need to drive the car is pretty handy, including well-positioned pedals and a leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel on a tilt column. However, the design and location of much of the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired, starting with the standard black-on-silver instrumentation.
In ancestral homage, the Mini has a large speedometer located in the middle of its dash while the tachometer -- with a tiny LCD velocity display -- lies dead ahead of the thick-rimmed wheel. Despite its scale, numerous warning lights, odo readouts, and fuel and temperature sub-gauges in its lower margin seriously impact the main speedo's readability. Fixing the problem requires the Chrono Package, an option that puts proper versions of both main gauges back where they belong and fills the center ring with lesser items. Switchgear residing below the center stack -- which also houses controls for the Mini's standard AM/FM/CD audio and air conditioning systems -- is equally grim. There, finger-foiling metal loops further obstruct ill-positioned toggles for its power windows, doorlocks, foglamps, and optional stability control system.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Mini's six-way manually adjustable front buckets are a driver's delight. Covered in leatherette, they're firm yet comfortable and superbly supportive. The 50/50 split folding "bucketed" rear bench is less endearing; its ability to carry even smaller adults being largely dependent on the size of the person sitting dead ahead. With both seatbacks down, cargo space more than quadruples, rising from a petite 5.3 cu ft in the coupes we drove to a more usable 23.7. Save for a climate-controlled locking glovebox, interior storage is modest in scale and marginally useful for anything larger than a cell phone or sunglasses. Dual 12V powerpoints do add some function.