- Turbo thrust (S)
- Firm but absorbent ride
- Overall MINI character
- Electric power steering
- Fashion-victim instrument panel lacks functionality
- Options add up quickly
The 2009 MINI Cooper is a practical, fuel-efficient small vehicle with the soul of a sports car and a look like no other.
The 2009 MINI Cooper may not look new, but in 2007, the British hatchback was completely redesigned. The Convertible was fully redesigned this year and is covered by a separate review.
The MINI's iconic shape doesn't change much on the outside, but inside the Cooper gets a slimmer center stack of controls, a much bigger speedometer that now contains audio controls, and a Start button. Unfortunately, the whole arrangement is still form above function—although it looks good.
The standard engine 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 in the 2009 MINI Cooper has highway fuel economy of up to 28 mpg city, 37 highway. 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 2009 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.
The interior of the 2009 MINI Cooper is reasonably comfortable. 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 NHTSA and a five-star rating for rollover resistance.
New for this year is a John Cooper Works (JCW) model that maintains the look of the JCW package offered in years past. The JCW brings the engine up to 208 horsepower and includes a host of other performance upgrades.