The MINI Cooper range offers three primary types of performance: standard, Cooper S, and John Cooper Works.
The standard model uses a 1.6-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder engine rated at 121 horsepower. That's not much, but the base MINI weighs just over 2,500 pounds, so it's still plenty for some pep. The base MINI also gets the best gas mileage of the bunch. Light, comfortable, but still tossable, the standard MINI isn't quite a hot hatch, but it's a fun hatch.
For those with a taste for snappier acceleration, the Cooper S and its 181-horsepower turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter engine might be more attractive. It only loses about 2 mpg for the extra 60 horsepower, and it's a much more engaging drive, especially on a windy back road where you'll enjoy the extra pull out of the corners--corners you can take a bit more aggressively thanks to the upgraded Cooper S suspension. This is the sweet spot of the hot side of MINI.
The John Cooper Works substitutes a 208-horsepower version of the four-cylinder engine and a much stiffer, more performance-oriented suspension. The result is a hot little hatchback that's rewarding and fun to drive hard, though that spirit comes at the cost of a bit of day-to-day comfort. For those seeking every last edge, the MINI Coupe JCW is the fastest of the group, clocking 6.1-second 0-60 mph runs and a 149-mph top speed--with an active spoiler that rises about 50 mph and recedes under 37 mph.
Since the 2013 model year, all three flavors of the MINI range are available with either a six-speed manual (standard) or a six-speed automatic.
All of the MINI models pack the fun and feel of a car that's built for something more than mere transportation--the question is just how much of that sense you're after.