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In 1959, a groundbreaking new subcompact coupe emerged in England using a transverse-mounted engine and an efficient, boxy front-wheel-drive layout. It achieved truly mini-compact exterior dimensions along with a surprising amount of usable space inside. Because it was affordable, stylish, fun to drive and easy to park anywhere, the British Mini and Mini Cooper quickly achieved icon status around the world -- including the U.S., where it sold as a brief counter-culture favorite during the 1960s.
After a lengthy break, the Mini Cooper returned to our shores in 2002 under BMW's direction to resurrect the legend. As before, the current Mini Cooper hatchback coupe and convertible appeal to a diverse audience. Its high style is embraced by pop stars and celebrities, while an affordable bottom line enables middle-class commoners to easily scrape together the entry-level price of admission. It's a uniquely sporting blend of classic British mini-car heritage and charm combined with precise German engineering and construction underneath.
The born-again Mini Cooper and high-performance Mini Cooper S are stylish, affordable go-karts for adults. New or used, you will find that a Cooper's price can rise very quickly if it has a lot of optional equipment installed. Then again, those customizable features are a big part of what makes a Mini a Mini. It's a pleasant dilemma to be faced with as no matter how you equip one, a Cooper hatchback or convertible is one of the most satisfying and fun subcompacts for the price.
Current Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper is available in two-door hatchback and convertible body styles, both of which seat four people. Those in back will be very cramped unless the folks up front are on the small side.
The Mini manages to please a wide variety of drivers, thanks to its discrete trim levels. A relatively demure runabout in its base 121-hp trim, albeit a dynamically well-sorted one, the Cooper is perfectly content playing grocery-getter or errand-runner. Step up to the 181-hp turbocharged Cooper S or 208-hp John Cooper Works model, however, and the Mini is transformed into a hot hatch with dynamic acceleration and handling. With any engine or transmission (six-speed manual or automatic), owners are treated to excellent fuel economy -- up to 32 combined mpg for the base model and 29 combined mpg for the two turbocharged models.
The Mini is all about agility, however, and is a stand out whether on a serpentine road or just darting through the city. The down side is a rather firm ride, especially with larger wheels fitted. The Mini's tiny size also makes it easy to find a suitable parking spot, though the convertible's compromised rear visibility will make it difficult to get into that spot.
All Coopers comes well equipped, but the options list is chalk full of countless luxury and customization features. The cabin is endearing to look at, but it can be a head scratcher to use. The pie-plate-sized center-mounted speedometer honors the Mini's past, but from a functional standpoint it's a bit silly. Meanwhile, the climate controls are awkward to use and the stereo controls aren't much better. The phrase "form over function" is quite apt when describing the Mini Cooper's interior.
Overall, though, we've found the Mini Cooper to be one of the most endearing cars on the road. While it may have its flaws, Mini buyers are likely to deem them "quirks" worth living with given this little hatchback and convertible's boundless fun and character.
Used Mini Cooper Models
The current Mini Cooper represents the modern car's second generation, which debuted for the 2007 model year for the coupe. The convertible lasted as a first-gen car through 2008. The John Cooper Works was on hiatus until that year as well.
The goal in this redesign was an evolutionary one, as befitting an icon. Though scarcely different looking, the Mini Cooper's mechanicals were updated and many shortcomings were addressed. Notably, the ride was improved, build quality strengthened, the steering effort at low speeds was lightened and all-new engines boasted more refinement and much better fuel economy.
Originally, the engines produced less power than they do today. The base engine produced 118 hp and the turbo Cooper S had 172 hp. The current outputs arrived for 2011, along with tweaks to the steering to limit the torque steer originally experienced in the Cooper S. That year also saw welcome changes to the interior. Previously, the audio controls were even more nonsensical, with the volume control located a good 6 inches below its fellow stereo mates. Both the audio and climate controls were also originally painted silver, more closely resembling something that belonged on a toy rather than a car.
There have been other changes throughout the years that used Mini shoppers should be aware of. Prior to 2010, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel were optional. Prior to '09, stability control was an option. Should you see the names "Mini Camden" or "Mini Mayfair" in a used ad, these were a pair of special editions for 2010 that packaged some popular options with unique trim pieces, colors and a kitschy "Mission Control" system that featured a cast of in-car voices that responded to certain vehicle functions.
Prior to all of this, Mini sold the first-generation of the modern Mini Cooper hatchback from 2002 to 2006. If you're looking for a Cooper Convertible from this era, they were sold from '05 to '08. As today, there were regular Cooper and Cooper S models, while a 207-hp John Cooper Works edition arrived for '05.
Those interested in this generation should be aware of some of the key differences between it and the current car. For starters, the standard Cooper had just 115 hp and wasn't refined, so we'd opt for the supercharged Cooper S that weighed in with a more forceful 163 ponies (or 168 for '05 on). Transmissions are important to note. The Cooper came standard with a five-speed manual, while an optional continuously variable automatic did the car no favors. The Cooper S came standard with a six-speed manual, and starting in '05, a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters was optional.
Expect lively handling from either model, but be aware that the suspension setup of the Cooper S -- though enthusiasts will love it -- is even stiffer than the current model's. We would avoid those cars with wheels bigger than 16 inches. This Cooper also had much stiffer steering at slower speeds, but many have found it far more communicative and indicative of a go-kart than the current electric power steering.
Inside, this Cooper's various controls were much simpler and easier to use, but the cabin wasn't screwed together well -- almost every car suffers from frequent squeaks and rattles. While taller drivers will find plenty of leg room, there was no telescoping steering wheel available. The seats were also less comfortable.
Detail improvements and color changes carried the Mini Cooper through its first few years, so even early examples look up to date and can make particularly fine used car values. To keep things fresh and perky in 2005, Mini updated the Cooper's front and rear fascias, though it wasn't so significant that many should notice or care. More important to note are the addition of features for '04, like a more comfortable three-spoke steering wheel (versus the more classic two-spoke) and a digital speedometer mounted in the tachometer.
Read the most recent 2013 MINI Cooper review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used MINI Cooper page.