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PERFORMANCE | 9 out of 10
No matter which flavor of 2011 Mini Cooper you might be interested in, you can expect thrilling handling and quick responses to driver inputs.
The Cooper S has a zero-to-60 time of 6.6 seconds and achieves an estimated 29 mpg average fuel economy with the manual transmission.
While the base engine already had Valvetronic variable intake timing and lift, that technology is new to this year's turbo
Electronic power steering has allowed the crafty German engineers to add anti torque- and anti bump-steer to the Cooper's repertoire, and the modifications were obvious when compared to last year's model.
The turbocharged Cooper S and Clubman S gain Vanos variable valve-timing for the intake valves, and a bonus 4 hp brings the total to 181.
Car and Driver
Despite the busy interior and myriad options, the MINI's fun-to-drive personality shines through. Base Coopers get a 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at 121 horsepower, a small rise over last year thanks to reduced internal friction. Cooper S models add a turbo to the standard 1.6-liter mill, gaining nine horsepower in 2011 for 181 hp total thanks to re-tuned variable valve timing controls. The John Cooper Works model stays put at 208 horsepower, using a higher-boost version of the Cooper S engine.
Fuel economy for the base Cooper is solid for a sporty hatch at up to 29/37 mpg, with the Convertible trailing by 2 mpg city and 1 mpg highway. Upgrade to the Cooper S and the turbocharged 181 horsepower engine still manages 27/36 mpg with the manual and 26/34 mpg with the automatic. Given the small fuel economy penalty, enthusiasts will choose the Cooper S for its livelier drive and exhaust note. A responsive and slick six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic is optional, and offers paddle shifters on the Cooper S.
Front wheel drive and sitting on MacPherson struts up front and a central-arm rear axle, the MINI Cooper's suspension design is unusual for a small hatch, but the arrangement takes out some of the harshness while preserving sharp handling. Even with low-profile tires on 17-inch wheels and sport suspension, the ride isn't bad.
We find the Cooper's electric power steering to be less realistic and feedback-laden than we'd like, but it's still pretty good. Upgrades to the system for 2011 help reduce torque steer, as well. With the standard 15-inch wheels and tires, ride quality is fair, while the 16- and 17-inch options offer progressively stiffer feel. The Cooper S equips run-flats as standard, which compound the harshness over rough pavement.
The 2011 MINI Cooper is downright fun to drive in any guise, but the John Cooper Works model provides the biggest kick in the pants.