Mini Cooper excels on handling, mileage, style

Mini Cooper excels on handling, mileage, style

Mini Cooper I still love driving a Mini Cooper, even the aging, but slightly updated Hardtop version.

This week’s test car was a blue-gray Mini with white roof and racing stripes on the hood. Nice look, even if the color is $500 extra.

The Minis are light on their tires but carry a wide stance and handle like a sports car.

The test car checked in at 2,535 pounds with 16-inch alloy wheels, part of a $1,250 sport package that also adds a tiny rear spoiler, more contoured sport seats, fog lights and traction control.

The wide stance brings stability in turns. Rack and pinion steering along with four-wheel independent suspension give the car a racy feel and handling not often found in small, modestly priced cars.

[![Mini Cooper Hardtop snapshot]( "Mini Cooper Hardtop snapshot")]( to enlarge.
However, its standard 1.6-liter I4 engine is underwhelming. It creates 121 horsepower, but even with a six-speed manual transmission the car feels a little light in the torque department. First and second gear give some pop from a stop, but by third gear the Mini starts to bog down.

The six-speed gearbox shifts easily and smoothly, but the throws are pretty long for such a small car.

If you desire more power, opt for the Mini S. It carries a supercharged version of the same I4 and creates 181 horsepower. Move up to the John Cooper Works model and you’ll have a ferocious 208-horsepower version of the I4.

The underlying chassis remains the same and riding on a 97.1-inch wheelbase delivers a rather stiff and bumpy ride. Get on a smooth highway or stretch of suburban asphalt and you’ll feel like you’re riding in a luxury go-cart. Steering effort is moderate and you’ll zip around corners.

Braking is good from the four-wheel discs with ABS and that sport package adds traction control to make the car better on sloppy roads. Stability control is standard.

Inside, the Mini offers a mix of garish toy car fun and games, and comfortable seats and clever surroundings.

I like its styling, a mix of circles and ovals on the dash and doors. But the giant speedometer, which houses a digital radio readout mid-dash is a waste of space in a small cockpit.

The test car had a soft black textured dash with matte silver trim and a smooth black material on the dash’s lower side. Most controls are scattered about the dash and overhead.

Mini’s steering wheel is manually adjusted tilt/telescope with radio and cruise controls on the hub.

The radio and navigation system housed mid-dash are both frustrating and not so useful. The radio lists stations variously by frequency and call letters, and not always in order, say from lowest to highest frequency. Finding a station can be bothersome.

Navigation? Save the $1,750. Mini uses a slick map that looks attractive, but even on ¼-mile range you can’t read all the small side street names, making it next to useless. Also skip the $250 center armrest. I folded it up as it’s constantly in the way of your elbow when you shift.

The $750 cold weather package includes heated front seats, and heated mirrors along with power folding mirrors.

[![Mini Cooper exterior]( "Mini Cooper exterior")]( like its styling, a mix of circles and ovals on the dash and doors.
Seats are well shaped and comfortable. Second row seats are for small folks or adults just tagging along to the movies or mall. Under the hatch and behind the second row seats is room for at least four grocery bags. Plus you can fold the rear seats flat for more cargo space.

Gas mileage is a big plus. I got 34.1 mpg while the EPA rates this at 29 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. Mini requires 89 octane or better.

The base hardtop lists at $19,400 and adds $700 for delivery. The test car hit $24,600. If you’re willing to go that high, consider the S version at $23,000. A racy JCW model goes for $29,100.

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