Full 2006 MINI Cooper Review
What's New for 2006
For 2006, the Mini Cooper can be equipped with a new Checkmate package, which includes special wheels, stability control, unique trim and graphics, HID headlamps and foglamps. The John Cooper Works package, formerly a dealer-installed option, can now be fitted at the factory.
In 1959, Alec Issigonis designed a vehicle that combined minimal exterior dimensions with a surprising amount of interior space, thanks to a transverse-mounted engine and a boxy shape. Mini's decades-spanning history may be biblical, but it boils down to a car that was affordable, compact, stylish and fun to drive. Sales in the U.S. were limited to the years between 1960 and 1967, but those who have some connection to Europe always seem to harbor some tender recollection of the British icon.
Then, as now, the Mini Cooper had a wide appeal and reached a diverse audience, its style lending itself to artistic interpretations by pop stars, while its price allowed the middle class to own and enjoy it as well. In 1994, BMW acquired the Rover Group, which included the Land Rover, Rover, MG and Mini brands. BMW wanted entry into the lucrative high-end sport-utility market and sought Land Rover as a foothold, but the acquisition proved to be ill-fated. The company unloaded Land Rover to Ford in 2000, but kept Mini around so it could extend its reach into all segments of the marketplace, including that of the economy hatchback. BMW's goal was to retain the Mini's basic philosophies while raising the engineering bar to Bavarian standards. Enter the latest Mini Cooper. It merges British heritage and facade with German innards (much like the Windsor royals) in the form of technology and construction.
Although the 2006 Mini Cooper can be rather slow in base trim, it has all of the things that made it so popular in the first place: an accessible price, miniature dimensions for urban convenience and fun -- in both its style and its go-kart handling. Mini made a bold move for 2005 -- chopping the top off the Cooper. The convertible Cooper successfully takes the "cute" factor to yet another level. With a soft canvas top that can be lowered in just 15 seconds, the Mini convertible combines the fun of open-air driving with the one-of-a-kind style that made it famous. The Mini's soft top not only folds completely away at the flip of a switch, it can also slide back up to 15 inches at the front for those days when you don't want to go completely topless. And even when you do decide to drop the top, there's still over 4 cubic feet of cargo space in back (six with the top up) -- not bad for a four-seater that's less than 12 feet long. Allow us to suggest that you option your Mini Cooper sparingly -- they are eligible for most BMW-grade content, but even with just a few options, you'll end up with one enjoyable hatchback or convertible.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Mini Cooper is available as either a two-door hatchback or a two-door convertible with a power-operated top, and both are available in two versions -- base and "S." The base Cooper is outfitted with 15-inch wheels, leatherette upholstery (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 player and power windows, locks and mirrors. The Cooper S adds 16-inch wheels with run-flat performance tires, seat-height adjustment and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A wide range of customizing packages and options are also available.
Powertrains and Performance
The base Cooper is powered by a 1.6-liter inline four that makes 115 horsepower. This isn't much power by today's standards, but with only 2,300 pounds of car to propel, it's not dreadfully slow. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with an automanual mode is optional. The sporty Mini Cooper S is aided by a supercharger, allowing it to pump out 168 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. For those who need more performance, Mini offers the John Cooper Works package, which on the S increases output to 207 hp and also includes upgraded brakes and a limited-slip front differential.
All Mini Coopers come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes. The S model also includes traction control, and should you equip either model with the Sport package or Checkmate package, you'll get Dynamic Stability Control. Other standard safety features include a flat-tire monitor, side airbags for front occupants and head curtain airbags for the front and rear. The convertible version features fixed roll bars perched just behind the rear seat. In government crash tests, the Cooper hatchback earned four stars (out of five) for frontal impacts and four stars for side impacts involving front occupants. In IIHS frontal-offset crash testing, the Mini Cooper was named a "Best Pick" among small cars.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Cooper's petite cabin looks stylish with its metallic trim, tubular structures and Frisbee-size speedometer in the center of the dash. Although everything looks good, some of the plastics used are low in quality. Passenger and cargo space is predictably tight -- there's just 5.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats in use for the hatchback. Amazingly, the convertible has roughly the same amount of cargo space.
You can expect lively handling from the 2006 Mini Cooper. Additionally, the more performance-oriented Cooper S gets reinforced antiroll bars and firmer springs -- its setup may be too stiff for some, but enthusiasts will love its tight reflexes around corners. Engine power is modest in both Coopers, but they get by just fine in traffic and the Cooper S loves to rev.