What's New for 2002
BMW subsidiary, Mini, resurrects an unforgettable old favorite with the release of the 2002 Mini Cooper. Available with either a 115-horsepower four-cylinder or a supercharged version of that engine worthy of 163 hp, the pint-sized but glamorous three-door hatchback features BMW-engineered suspension and steering and a base MSRP under 17 grand. Whether you're a 40-something hoping to relive earlier days, an autocross enthusiast or just the mild-mannered next-door neighbor, we expect that you'll run to the nearest BMW dealership in search of this coveted bundle of joy.
Last sold here in the early 1960s, the Mini is coming back to the United States for 2002 in care of BMW. You see, BMW is the owner of the Mini name. And while the company's Mini Cooper brainchild looks much like the original and still routes power to its front wheels, the newcomer is a completely modern automobile in every other respect. And that's OK with us -- we'll take BMW-designed suspension, steering and brakes any day. Especially when pricing starts at $16,850.
This endearing three-door hatchback will be available in two versions -- the Cooper and the Cooper S. The base car is powered by a 1.6-liter 16-valve inline four that makes 115 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 110 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. This may not sound like much power by today's standards, but keep in mind that the engine has only 2,300 lbs of car to propel. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but if you don't want to shift your own gears, you can purchase a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) as an option. The CVT includes a six-speed Steptronic automanual mode. The sporty Cooper S is aided by an intercooled supercharger, allowing it to pump out 163 hp at 6,000 rpm and 155 lb-ft of twist at 4,000 rpm. A six-speed manual gearbox is your only transmission choice. Premium fuel is recommended for both models.
You can expect lively handling from either Cooper, as the car borrows its sophisticated multilink independent rear suspension from the current BMW 3 Series and gets a MacPherson strut arrangement up front. All four corners are suspended quite firmly, and like the original, the new Mini is glued to corners while exhibiting very little body roll. Additionally, the more performance-oriented Cooper S gets reinforced antiroll bars and firmer springs. Our early driving impressions suggest that the S model's suspension may be too stiff for some buyers, so a test drive is definitely a good idea. Electrically powered rack-and-pinion steering is standard in both cars -- you'll find that this setup feels incredibly responsive (you know, like the steering in BMW's lineup).
All Minis come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes assisted by Electronic Brake Distribution and Cornering Brake Control. The S model also includes traction control, and should you equip either model with the Sport package, you'll get Dynamic Stability Control, along with a corresponding wheel/tire upgrade, sport seats and fog lamps. Other standard-issue safety features include a flat-tire monitor, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the driver and front passenger, head airbags (called the Advanced Head Protection System) and a crash sensor that automatically turns on the hazard and interior lights and unlocks all the doors in the event of a collision.
The base Cooper is outfitted with 15-inch wheels and tires; six-way manually adjustable leatherette seats (cloth is a no-cost option); a tilt steering wheel; a centrally mounted speedometer; air conditioning with micron filtration; a six-speaker stereo with CD changer pre-wiring; speed-sensitive intermittent wipers; and power windows (including an auto-down feature), locks and mirrors. The Cooper S adds 16-inch wheels and run-flat performance tires (which can make the ride a bit harsh), seat height adjustment, manual lumbar adjustment and a leather-wrapped steering wheel; all of these features are available for the base car. Oddly, cruise control costs extra for both models, and you have to pop for a $1,250 Premium package (sunroof, automatic air conditioning and more) to get it. Of course, the options list for either Cooper is extensive (think leather upholstery and onboard nav system) -- so much so that you could easily drive away with a Mini Cooper every bit as luxurious as a well-trimmed 3 Series.
Once you start piling on the options, though, the Cooper's reasonable base price will soar into the 20s, at which point the price of nostalgia and spirited if not explosive performance grows a bit steep. And with the first Coopers arriving in limited quantities, Mini retailers (cleverly housed within BMW dealerships) will not be cutting deals. Given the rather generous standard features list for both models, we suggest that you option the Cooper as sparingly as possible. You won't need leather and a Harman Kardon sound system to dart off onto a coastal highway with that special someone.