- Turbo thrust
- Improved ride
- MINI character
- Electric power steering
- Options add up quickly
The 2008 MINI Cooper didn’t need change, but change has done it some good.
The 2008 MINI Cooper may not look new, but in 2007, the British hatchback was completely redesigned (the Convertible was not; TheCarConnection.com covers it separately). With the new design come new engines, a better ride, and a richer interior.
It takes an expert to pick out the differences between the 2008 MINI Cooper and the first-generation car. The headlamps blend into the body better, the rear side glass panels are a little more tapered, and the shoulders on the rear fenders are slightly more pronounced. Good thing--the MINI's iconic shape didn't need a complete reinvention. Inside, the Cooper has more obvious changes, including a slimmer center stack of controls, a much bigger speedometer that now contains audio controls, and a Start button.
The standard engine for 2007 is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder delivering 120 horsepower, enough to get the new MINI to 60 mph in just over 9 seconds. The S version gets a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter engine developing 175 horsepower, sufficient for 0-60 sprints of about 7 seconds flat. The base engine has highway fuel economy of up to 28/37 mpg. It's great, but the turbo is far livelier, with an induction growl and turbo whine. A six-speed manual is standard, while a six-speed automatic is an option. The manual is a pleasure to row, much more so than the old gearbox. The gearshift has a longer throw, but its heft and response are much finer.
The 2008 MINI Cooper's suspension teams MacPherson struts in front with a central-arm rear axle, an unusual design for small front-wheel-drive cars. Even on the sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch wheels, there's a noticeable improvement in ride response. The new electric power steering is pretty good as far as these systems go, but there's an artificial feel that's contrary to everything else about the MINI.
Long rides will be much more comfortable in the 2008 MINI Cooper, thanks to better seats. Three levers let drivers and passengers maneuver their seats into optimal positions, as does the telescoping steering wheel. The sculpted seatbacks give rear-seaters marginally more room for knees, even though interior dimensions haven't changed. The backseat remains a place for occasional riders in a good mood. Even without passengers, rear headrests cut into straight-back visibility.
Six airbags, anti-lock brakes, and traction control are standard on the MINI Cooper S. Traction control has its own off switch for sporty driving decided by your limits, not some computer's. Stability control is available. The MINI Cooper gets mostly four-star crash ratings from the NHTSA and a five-star rating for rollover resistance.