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PERFORMANCE | 9 out of 10
The 2008 MINI Cooper exists because drivers want to have fun. And, as Cars.com points out, “The Cooper is, above all, fun to drive.”
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. For 2008, the base MINI Cooper features a 1.6-liter engine rated at 118 horsepower that moves the lightweight hatchback with respectable ease. Edmunds determines that while MINI claims a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds, "it feels even quicker, especially compared to the previous coupe." Kelley Blue Book remarks the MINI Cooper has "adequate acceleration but needs to be shifted down a gear or two to maintain speed when driving uphill on the freeway." Edmunds adds, “despite its modest power numbers, the base Cooper hatchback's engine provides more than enough gusto for most buyers.”
The S version gets a turbocharged edition of the 1.6-liter engine developing 175 horsepower, sufficient for 0-60 sprints of about 7 seconds flat. It's great, but the turbo is far livelier, with an induction growl and turbo whine. However, reviewers note few faults with the MINI Cooper S and its 172-hp, supercharged version of the Cooper's four-cylinder engine. Kelley Blue Book telegraphs that this version "provides ample power with virtually no lag" and offers "quick and worry-free merging or passing maneuvers." Cars.com agrees: “The turbocharged S model has plenty of power and almost no turbo lag, making moot our concerns that the change from a supercharger to a turbocharger would change the character of the car.” Edmunds reports, “The turbocharged version found in the Cooper S, meanwhile, is terrific, providing particularly strong acceleration when the special 'overboost' mode is active.” (Overboost provides brief periods of extra power from the turbocharger.)
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 only complaint that seems to arise here is from ConsumerGuide, who notes "S models with automatic transmission suffer jerky shifts and occasional harshness." Edmunds reports the automatic comes with “manual shift control.”
The base engine has highway fuel economy of up to 28/37 mpg, while the EPA says the Cooper S fuel economy ranges from 26 mpg city to 34 mpg highway.
The 2008 MINI Cooper gets much of its driving fun from a suspension that 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 in the Cooper. While the new electric power steering is pretty good as far as these systems go, there's an artificial feel that's contrary to everything else about the MINI. ConsumerGuide claims "MINIs turn on a dime with outstanding steering response." Road & Track contends that the "MINI's well-tuned suspension...offers a firm but comfortable ride." Conversely, ConsumerGuide remarks that the 2008 MINI Coopers "suffer a firm, choppy ride over anything but glass-smooth pavement. However, only an S with optional 17-inch tires is really harsh over bumps." Edmunds says “responses to driver input are quick, and the Cooper sucks its driver into the experience, delivering lots of feedback through the steering wheel, driver seat and pedals,” but notes its “somewhat stiff ride quality.” Cars.com, like other sources, calls the brakes “confidence-inspiring.”
The 2008 MINI Cooper charms drivers with athletic handling and more than adequate power.