The MINI Cooper's charming driving personality shines through in all its hardtop and convertible forms.
The base engine is a 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, which MINI claims will push the Cooper to 60 mph in about 9 seconds, and to a top speed of 126 mph (124 mph in the Convertible). The base engine in the MINI Cooper has highway fuel economy of up to 28/37 mpg, dropping 1 mpg highway with the Convertible. It's fine for puttering around town, with enough urge to merge deftly into highway traffic. Motor Trend testing reveals "a base Cooper can reach 60 mph in approximately 8.5 sec." Autoblog finds the "entire MINI range is reasonably quick."
The Cooper S models upgrade to a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine with 172 hp, which drops 0-60 mph times to 7 seconds flat and raises the top speed to 139 mph (or 1 mph less with the convertible). Motor Trend clocks the Cooper S at "6.7 sec" to 60 mph. The dealer-installed John Cooper Works kit raises the turbo's output to 189 hp and torque, at times, to 200 lb-ft; 0-60 mph times fall here to 6.5 seconds. The turbo versions have amazing thrust, but with consequences: Car and Driver's reviewers feel the "torque steer from a stop or when powering out of a low-speed corner is bonkers." Fuel economy dips to 26/34 mpg. For enthusiasts, the turbo engine's the obvious choice; it's far livelier, with a rorty induction growl and turbo whine and thrust on demand.
A six-speed manual is standard on the MINI Cooper, while a six-speed automatic is an option; it's offered with a sport-shift option that adds paddle shifters to the Cooper S. 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-and it just feels better in tune with the MINI's mission. ConsumerGuide warns "S models with [the] automatic transmission suffer jerky shifts and occasional harshness," while the base Cooper with the automatic "kicks down promptly for more passing power." As for the manual, Edmunds calls it "one of the easiest gearboxes to master, with snick-snick shifts and a light and compliant clutch," and Car and Driver says "the manual gearbox remains a pleasure to use."
A front-driver, the MINI Cooper sits on front MacPherson struts and a central-arm rear axle in back. It's an unusual design for a small front-wheel-drive car, but it helps the MINI's ride smooth out a bit while maintaining its tossable handling. Even on the sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch wheels, the ride's improved noticeably-but it's still a bit too harsh. Motor Trend says the MINI is rightfully "famed for its 'go-kart' handling," while MyRide calls it "responsive to a fault" with "quick and immediate" steering. The ride quality suffers as tire size and horsepower rise, though. ConsumerGuide warns that "MINIs suffer from a firm, choppy ride over anything but glass-smooth pavement," and MyRide contends the MINI's "party-all-the-time nature starts to get a little grating" during long commutes. Edmunds recommends that you "pass on the hard-core sport suspension and bigger wheels option unless you need the extra performance for track days." Fifteen-inch wheels and tires are the standard rolling stock, but 16- and 17-inch wheels are options; the Cooper S's tires are run-flats, which contribute to its worse ride. Autoblog piles on and warns "rough pavement finds its way into the passenger compartment with minimal damping." Automobile merely states that the MINI has "firmer than necessary suspension settings."
Stopping is a happier story, as Car and Driver admires the MINI's "always-there brakes."