2009 MINI Cooper

2009 MINI Cooper

The Basics:

TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven all the variants of the MINI Cooper and bring you their overall assessment in this Bottom Line. And to help you get the most information as you shop for a new vehicle, TheCarConnection.com researched a wide range of road tests, adding more impressions and details.

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 2009 MINI Cooper is a practical, fuel-efficient small vehicle with the soul of a sports car and a look like no other.

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.

The diminutive MINI Cooper has grown slightly over the years, but it maintains its status as one of the most attractive small cars available. The base 2009 MINI Cooper hardtop hasn't changed for this latest model year, but the high-performance John Cooper Works edition features some new styling elements.

The 2009 MINI Cooper hardtop is a compact, two-door shot of pure exhilaration that Edmunds says is "available in three trim levels: Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works." Externally, all three versions of the MINI Cooper are largely identical and feature "clown-car styling," according to MyRide.com. Cars.com notes that the MINI Cooper S is distinguished by its "hood-scoop intake," while Edmunds observes that the MINI Cooper John Cooper Works edition gets "17-inch wheels, upgraded brakes...and unique exterior and interior styling cues." The base MINI Cooper rides on 15-inch alloys, and the mid-range MINI Cooper S has 16-inchers filling out its wheel wells.

The 2009 MINI Cooper is a practical, fuel-efficient small vehicle with the soul of a sports car and a look like no other.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com contain nothing but praise for the 2009 MINI Cooper's styling, regardless of the unique trim level applications. Edmunds simply loves the "endearing retro styling," while J. D. Power feels that the MINI Cooper is "a pop-culture icon with a cult following." While "cult" might be a bit of a stretch, it is definitely true that the MINI has stirred owner loyalty and passion matched by few vehicles of any price range.

Once you've finished admiring the exterior elements that make the 2009 MINI Cooper so darn appealing, it's time to sit inside the cabin, which continues the retro theme so prominently established on the exterior. Some reviewers find this emphasis on form over function somewhat off-putting, and Cars.com notes the "interior features a center-mounted speedometer" that can require some acclimation time. ConsumerGuide reports that "many dashboard gauges and controls sacrifice functionality for 'retro' style," including the speedometer and the tachometer, which is "partially blocked from view." MyRide.com agrees, warning that the MINI Cooper's speedometer "may be a great styling element, but in practice it constantly reflects the outside world and suffers from noticeable parallax error." On the positive side, Motor Trend finds that the interior is "still relatively stylish," and drivers should grow accustomed to the unique interior layout after a while.

Few cars manage to blend joyful driving enthusiasm with guilt-free fuel economy numbers as well as the 2009 MINI Cooper. The addition of the new 2009 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works edition only adds to the MINI's already impressive performance credentials, as this new turbocharged MINI brings the top-end horsepower above the 200 mark.

The 2009 MINI Cooper is, according to TheCarConnection.com's research, the most potent of all MINI model years. The review staff at J.D. Power reports that the base MINI Cooper is "powered by a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine making 118 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 114 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm," while the MINI Cooper S and John Cooper Works versions are significantly more capable. Edmunds observes that the 2009 MINI Cooper S "features a turbocharged version of the same engine that produces 172 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft at full throttle, thanks to an 'overboost' function)," while the top-end "John Cooper Works is equipped with a revised version of this turbocharged motor that pumps out 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque (206 lb-ft via overboost)." The trio of engines is very good at motivating the MINI Cooper, and Motor Trend testing reveals that "a base Cooper can reach 60 mph in approximately 8.5 sec"; the Cooper S "does 6.7 sec" to 60 mph. Expect the 2009 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works to be even faster still.

For 2009, prospective buyers will have the choice of whether or not they want to shift for themselves. Motor Trend reviewers note that "a six-speed manual transmission is standard on the Cooper and Cooper S, while each car also can be ordered with a six-speed automatic featuring a sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters." However, if you want the extra performance of the John Cooper Works edition, you will need to know how to drive a manual, since that is the only transmission available on this 208-hp slot car. Reviews of the transmissions are fairly good, although ConsumerGuide warns that "S models with [the] automatic transmission suffer jerky shifts and occasional harshness." On the base model, however, ConsumerGuide says that the automatic "kicks down promptly for more passing power" when the situation calls for it. As for the manual, Edmunds calls it "one of the easiest gearboxes to master, with snick-snick shifts and a light and compliant clutch."

Many reviewers rave about the performance attributes of the 2009 MINI Cooper, which isn't surprising given its go-kart-like handling and quick bursts of acceleration. What does come as a surprise is the MINI's incredibly thrifty nature at the gas pump, where it holds its own against vehicles like the Honda Civic. According to the official EPA estimates, the base 2009 MINI Cooper should get 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway with the manual transmission, while the automatic knocks those numbers down to 25/34 mpg. The supercharged MINI Cooper S returns 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with the manual and 23/32 mpg with the auto, while the turbocharged John Cooper Works edition gets 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.

The 2009 MINI Cooper certainly isn't the quickest car off the line, but reviewers still love this little European hatchback for the way it carves through corners. ConsumerGuide raves that "MINIs turn on a dime with outstanding steering response" and notes "even base models corner with little body lean." Motor Trend adds that the 2009 MINI Cooper is "famed for its 'go-kart' handling," while MyRide.com says the "MINI is responsive to a fault" with "quick and immediate" steering. Unfortunately, all those elements that make the 2009 MINI Cooper so much fun to drive on spirited jaunts conspire to complicate its use on a daily basis. ConsumerGuide warns that "MINIs suffer from a firm, choppy ride over anything but glass-smooth pavement," and MyRide.com mentions that the MINI's "party-all-the-time nature starts to get a little grating" during long commutes. The stiffer suspension and harsher ride of the Cooper S and John Cooper Works lead Edmunds to recommend that you "pass on the hard-core sport suspension and bigger wheels option unless you need the extra performance for track days."

With a name like the MINI Cooper, this latest BMW product should be especially cramped inside, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show this isn't necessarily the case. Being a BMW subsidiary also benefits the 2009 MINI Cooper in the overall quality department, as reviewers inevitably praise the high build quality on this little hatchback.

The 2009 MINI Cooper hardtop offers standard seating for four, but the odds of cramming four full-sized adults into the passenger compartment are minimal at best. Up front, ConsumerGuide reports that the MINI Cooper's "generous seat travel and a high ceiling accommodate even large occupants," and MyRide.com adds that "tall drivers needn't worry about space in the MINI." Edmunds agrees that "neither headroom nor legroom is an issue" for those riding closest to the windshield, but the rear seats are another matter entirely. The MINI Cooper's second row offers "nearly nonexistent legroom," according to Edmunds, while ConsumerGuide feels that "knee space is tight even with front seats set back partially; it disappears with them fully rearward." MyRide.com reviewers offer a succinct and appropriate summary of reviewer sentiment regarding the rear seats, stating simply that "the rear seat in the MINI is a joke."

Even the most efficient interior layout will eventually run into the volume limits imposed by the 2009 MINI Cooper's petite dimensions. With so much space devoted to the front passengers on the 2009 MINI Cooper John Cooper Works and base editions, there is little room left over for cargo. MyRide.com is surprised to find that "for a car aimed at the young and the hip, the MINI has an amazing lack of storage space." Edmunds reviewers also point out that "trunk space behind the rear seat is severely limited, but folding down the 50/50-split rear seat creates a useful square-shaped cargo area." You also won't find much room for personal items inside the MINI Cooper's passenger area, as ConsumerGuide notes that, "aside from large map pockets in the doors and a two-tier glovebox, interior storage is meager." If the MINI's styling appeals to you but you can't live with the restricted cargo space, you might want to look at the 2009 MINI Cooper Clubman, which is slightly larger and covered in a separate review on TheCarConnection.com.

BMW is renowned for the exemplary workmanship and build quality featured on all of the company's vehicles, and the 2009 MINI Cooper does its part to uphold the BMW reputation for quality. Kelley Blue Book calls the interior "truly one-of-a-kind," with high-end build elements like "handsomely sewn seats" and "backlit armrests in the doors." ConsumerGuide is normally very conservative in their reviews of build quality, but they say that the 2009 MINI Cooper exhibits "solid workmanship" throughout the cabin. MyRide.com agrees when it comes to build quality, proclaiming that "everywhere you look, the MINI exhibits very good build quality." However, those same MyRide.com reviewers are more critical when it comes to the actual materials employed, claiming they are "all over the map," with a few upscale elements like the "soft touch plastic" featured on the door panels and dash that are mitigated by the poor "outer dash vent housings and the squeaky, flimsy center console."

While the MINI Cooper has its fair share of unappealing elements in this category, none is more noticeable or annoying than the road noise that invades the cockpit at even moderate speeds. Edmunds calls the 2009 MINI Cooper "an amusement park ride on wheels, albeit a noisy one," and ConsumerGuide agrees that "wind and road noise grow intrusive at highway speeds." The overall driving experience can be very enjoyable with the 2009 MINI Cooper, but MyRide.com says daily commuting is "where the party starts to wear thin," as the unnecessarily loud exterior noises can be "fatiguing to the point of exhaustion."

Crash tests show that while the 2009 MINI Cooper isn't the best performer, it certainly fares better than much of its competition.

The 2009 MINI Cooper hardtop has been crash-tested by both major testing authorities in the United States, and the results are slightly above average for the class. In IIHS tests, the 2009 MINI Cooper earned the top score of "good" in the frontal offset impact category and a second-best rating of "acceptable" for side impact collisions. NHTSA reversed the IIHS' marks for the MINI Cooper hardtop, with the 2009 MINI Cooper earning four out of five stars in both front impact categories and a perfect five-star rating for NHTSA's side impact test. In the side passenger impact category, the 2009 MINI Cooper earned another four stars. As you might expect, the squat 2009 MINI Cooper is very resistant to rollovers, earning NHTSA's highest rating in the rollover risk category.

The MINI Cooper may be small, but it is by no means an economy car. This is evident throughout the 2009 MINI Cooper, but it is particularly noticeable when you look over the MINI Cooper's safety features. According to J.D. Power reviewers, the MINI Cooper's "safety features include standard dual front airbags, dual front seat side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags for both rows of seats." TheCarConnection.com is also impressed to learn that DSC, MINI's stability-control system, is now standard across the 2009 MINI Cooper lineup. Other standard safety features include "Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Cornering Brake Control," reports Motor Trend, while "Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) is available as an option." Last but not least, Edmunds states that "all 2009 MINI Coopers come standard with antilock disc brakes" on all four wheels.

According to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, visibility from the driver's seat of the MINI Cooper is outstanding. MyRide.com says driving the 2009 MINI Cooper "is like driving a fishbowl, partly because you get a lot of attention, but also because it's so easy to see out of," thanks to the fact that the "pillars are thin and virtually disappear," while the "rear seat head restraints are tucked down next to the seatbacks."

When it comes to car purchases, MINI recognizes that one size definitely does not fit all. In order to broaden the MINI Cooper's appeal as much as possible, MINI has made it incredibly simple to completely customize your 2009 MINI Cooper with a variety of styling options and interior feature additions.

Despite the wide range of options available for the 2009 MINI Cooper, all MINIs feature a standard set of interior items. Kelley Blue Book reports that "the 2009 MINI Cooper's standard equipment includes a push-button engine stop/start, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers and MP3 capability, [and] air conditioning." Edmunds adds that "full power accessories" are also standard across the lineup. The 2009 MINI Cooper lineup is rather unusual in that the upper trim levels, in this case the Cooper S and MINI Cooper John Cooper Works, add only upgraded performance parts and no other creature comforts. For that, you'll have to turn to the options list, which ConsumerGuide says offers "a dizzying array of personalizing accessories."

J.D. Power reports that "when loading the vehicle configuration software on the MINI USA website, it informs the user that there are more than 10 million ways to tailor a Cooper, virtually guaranteeing that no two are alike." With all those options available, however, you should be mindful of the MINI Cooper's sticker price, which can approach $50,000 for a maxed-out John Cooper Works edition. While many of the options are available individually, Kelley Blue Book notes that some packages are available as well, including a Premium Package that adds "steering wheel-mounted controls, power glass panoramic sunroof and automatic air conditioning." Kelley Blue Book also states that the "Convenience Package includes [a] universal garage remote, Bluetooth connectivity or Hi-Fi radio, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps and center arm rest." Edmunds reviewers list some of the other options available for the 2009 MINI Cooper as "xenon headlights, cruise control, rear park assist, front and/or rear foglamps...heated seats, [and] heated power-folding mirrors." In keeping with the high-end aspirations of the MINI lineup, both integrated and portable navigation systems are offered, as well as an upgraded 10-speaker sound system.

Buying Tips:

Don’t feel like you have to step up to the MINI Cooper S or the JCW to get the look you want. If you don’t need all the extra horsepower, MINI has a wide range of add-ons available in the showrooms; your Cooper could have a Union Jack flag on the roof and white-painted wheels, if that's what you want.

Other Choices:

  • 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle
  • 2008 Mazda MAZDA3
  • 2008 Porsche Boxster

Reason Why:

It’s tough to choose rivals for the 2009 MINI Cooper because some buyers are looking at it for its small-car practicality, while others view the Cooper S almost as a niche sports car. The Volkswagen New Beetle is a modern spin on the classic Bug shape, with better everything, but no air-cooled engine. Moving way up the price ladder, the Porsche Boxster adopts the look of the classic 1950s Porsche Spyders and melds it with stunning performance and a leather-laden cockpit. Somewhere toward the more affordable end would be the Mazda3, which wows TheCarConnection.com’s editors with an excellent interior and driving dynamics.

The Bottom Line:

The 2009 MINI Cooper is a practical, fuel-efficient small vehicle with the soul of a sports car and a look like no other.

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