New & Used MINI Cooper: In Depth
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The MINI Cooper is one of the most revered nameplates in the automotive world. It was made famous with the original Sixties Mini, penned by Alec Issigonis, and revived in 2002 under its latest owners.
Since its revival, the BMW-owned MINI brand has expanded from its three-door hatchback original to encompass a five-door hatchback, a convertible, an unusual small wagon called the Clubman, and for a time, two-seat Coupe and Roadster models.
Each model has been offered in a John Cooper Works (JCW) version, which emphasizes performance.
The MINI Countryman and Paceman, while they share space at dealerships, aren't technically related to the Cooper lineup.
For 2016, the MINI lineup has been pared down to the hatchbacks, the convertible and Clubman. The Coupe and Roadster? They've been discontinued.
MORE: Read our 2016 MINI Cooper review
The three-door hatchback, by far the most recognizable, was the first MINI Cooper offered in a new and redesigned generation for the 2014 model year. It was followed by a new five-door hatchback for the 2015 model year. The convertible model followed halfway through the 2016 model year, a couple of months behind the Clubman edition.
The various MINI models compete with different small cars, although the Fiat 500 range comes closest to matching the MINI across several models. Reintroduced to the U.S. market 10 years after the MINI, the Italian small car too includes a three-door hatchback and convertible, as well as a hot-hatch Abarth version of both body styles. There's also the Fiat 500L tall wagon, something of a competitor for the Countryman, and soon there will be a Fiat 500X with all-wheel drive to compete more directly as a crossover.
Other competitors come into play when the MINI Cooper is viewed as a style statement, from the Mazda Miata to the Nissan Juke, with the even-more-retro VW Beetle an obvious matchup as well. Given its price range of $20,000 and up, the MINI is less likely to compete against more value-conscious small cars like the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, but similar size and features on some models do make them good matchups.
The new MINI Cooper hardtop model, as the three-door hatchback is known, is larger than either of the two previous generations--especially in the nose, which is visually longer and consequently alters the proportions of the whole car. It's larger in every dimension, though, including passenger volume and cargo space, but it's still both recognizably a MINI and substantially smaller than most other cars on the road. Performance specs for the five-door hatchback and Clubman follow the same pattern.
Base versions of the MINI Cooper hardtop use a new turbocharged three-cylinder engine that displaces 1.5 liters and puts out 124 horsepower. The higher-performance Cooper S variant sticks with a turbocharged four, this one at 2.0 liters and making 189 horsepower. Either engine can be had with the choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. While the auto is fine, we tend to prefer the manual, as it's better fitting with the MINI's spunky nature.
EPA-rated gas mileage sees a boost in this generation despite the size increase, with the most efficient model, the manual-transmission Cooper, seeing 34 mpg on the highway; the Cooper auto hits 33 mpg, while the Cooper S variants are not far behind, at 29 mpg for the manual and 31 for the automatic.
The handling remains flat and stick-to-the-road sharp, with better power steering and a tighter body structure adding comfort and security--not to mention all the latest modern safety features, whether standard or optional. Either engine is fun to drive, though we felt the three-cylinder's distinctive exhaust note gave the new MINI more personality. Except for sheer straight-line acceleration, where the Cooper S triumphs, either car delivers satisfying driving in a stylish package that remains as cheerful as the very first 1959 Mini.
MINI began selling a new five-door Cooper hardtop here—officially, it's being called the hardtop 4-door—in 2015. The engine specs are the same as with the three-door Cooper and Cooper S. The Clubman joined the lineup for 2016, with four doors and a pair of barn-style doors at the back. It's the only true compact vehicle in the Cooper lineup, at roughly the same size as a five-door VW Golf.
The John Cooper Works (JCW) model returned to the lineup for 2015. MINI offered it first on the two-door, with the four-door to follow. The JCW is powered by a 228-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and is available with either a manual transmission or an automatic, the first time an autobox has been offered on any JCW model aside from the Countryman.
Earlier MINIs (and Minis)
The Mini is quite possibly the best-known British volume car in the world. The original 1959 model pioneered the front-wheel-drive “econobox” formula, with a transverse front-engine layout that has since become the standard layout for small cars. Small numbers were sold in the U.S. through 1967, and in Canada into the 1980s.
BMW acquired the rights to the brand and capitalized it to emphasize its new beginning in 2002. Then it introduced a new and larger MINI Cooper that proved even U.S. drivers would purchase premium-priced small cars, if they offered style, power, sporty handling, and good perceived value for money.
The first generation of the new MINI Cooper, sold from 2002 to 2006, was the first MINI sold in the States since 1967. Unlike its U.K. home market, which included an ultra-fuel-efficient MINI One model, it was only offered here in sporting Cooper trim and two model variations: The standard MINI Cooper, with a 115-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine, and the MINI Cooper “S”, with a 168-hp supercharged version of the same engine. A convertible was added for 2005. A five-speed manual gearbox was standard, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) served the function of an automatic.
Completely redesigned for 2007 (the Convertible followed in 2008), the second-generation MINI Cooper closely resembled the earlier model but offered a number of feature and safety refinements. That MINI introduced a new 120-hp, 1.6-liter engine, which in the “S” model received a turbocharger that took its power up to 175 hp. A six-speed manual gearbox was standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. A high-performance John Cooper Works model was also available.
For 2011, the Cooper range was upgraded to 121 horsepower in base models through reduced internal engine friction, while the Cooper S increased to 181 horsepower with additional tuning. The John Cooper Works models from 2011 forward now rate 208 horsepower, and include an upgraded suspension and unique appearance items. Other updates for the 2011 and 2012 model years include freshened exterior appearance elements including a new bumper, a new set of interior and exterior customization options, and, for 2012, a new MINI Yours personalization program.
A Clubman model, with a longer body and an unusual door arrangement (with a second rear-hinged door on the passenger side) joined the lineup, and in 2012, a new two-seat Coupe model was added. Soon after, a convertible version of the Coupe, dubbed the Roadster, was added as well.