Full 2011 MINI Cooper Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011, the range of Mini Cooper models receives a slight increase in power output, modified steering for reduced torque steer under hard acceleration, minor cosmetic changes inside and out, optional adaptive headlights, reworked radio controls, standard HD and satellite radio, and added sound insulation.
Motoring fun doesn't have to destroy the planet, nor does eco-friendly driving have to be boring. The 2011 Mini Cooper is proof that you can be entertained by a lively car without drawing criticism from environmentalists. With agile handling, loads of charm and a cool factor that's hard to match, it's no surprise the Mini Cooper has remained so popular for so long.
Under the hood, the fun starts with the lively yet economical base 1.6-liter and moves up to the sporty turbocharged Cooper S and raucous John Cooper Works versions. There's not a whole lot of power here on the spec sheet (the base engine puts out just 121 horsepower, for instance) but the Mini doesn't weigh very much, either. This boosts fuel economy and helps the Cooper feel lively around town. The car's small size makes it a breeze to park, too. Inside, the Cooper is surprisingly spacious for two people, and Mini offers further enticement with a dizzying array of factory options and dealer-installed accessories.
It's not all sunshine and smiles, though. While the suspension is understandably tuned to foster the car's spry handling, there is a trade-off in a rather firm ride quality that might not suit some drivers (we highly recommend sticking with smaller wheels). The Cooper's rear seat has an almost comical lack of legroom, although the Cooper Clubman (reviewed separately) is a remedy.
If these qualities seem like turnoffs, it might be good to check out some alternatives. Hatchbacks like the Mazda 3/Mazdaspeed 3, Volvo C30 and VW Golf/GTI are all more practical thanks to their roomier seating and cargo areas. For a drop top, the BMW 1 Series is more refined and the Volkswagen Eos is more comfortable. That said, none of these cars can match the Cooper's unique blend of personality, performance and frugalness. For a small coupe or convertible, it comes highly recommended.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mini Cooper is available in two-door hatchback and convertible body styles. Each is available in three trim levels: Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW).
The base Cooper comes standard with 15-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, multicolor ambient lighting and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, HD radio, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Cooper convertible models add 16-inch alloy wheels and a full power convertible top that includes a sunroof feature. The Cooper's Sport package adds 16-inch wheels on the hatchback and 17-inch wheels on the convertible, foglamps, traction control, a rear spoiler, sport seats and hood stripes.
The Cooper S adds 16-inch wheels, a turbocharged engine, firmer suspension tuning, foglamps, sport seats and alloy pedals. The Cooper S Sport package adds 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, traction control and hood stripes. The John Cooper Works includes a more powerful turbo engine, upgraded Brembo brakes and cloth upholstery. A limited-slip differential and a firmer suspension can be fitted to both the S and the John Cooper Works.
Options are plentiful and arranged in several packages, with most features available à la carte. Major optional features include adaptive xenon headlights, a dual-pane sunroof, automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless ignition/entry, a 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, Bluetooth and an iPod interface. Other options include different wheels, parking sensors, cloth or leather upholstery, a navigation system and a multitude of different interior trims and materials. As has been the case since the Cooper's debut, a multitude of dealer-installed features are additionally available.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Mini Cooper comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine good for 121 hp and 114 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual with hill-start assist is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. Mini estimates a manual-equipped hatchback will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds (9.7 seconds with the automatic). EPA-estimated fuel economy is 29 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined with the manual (27/35/31 convertible) and 28/36/31 with the automatic.
The Cooper S has a turbocharged version of the same engine good for 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft at full throttle thanks to an overboost function). Mini estimates 0-60 mph acceleration in 6.6 seconds for the manual and 6.8 seconds for the automatic. EPA estimated fuel economy is 27/36/30 with the manual and 26/34/29 with the auto.
The John Cooper Works cranks up the turbo boost to produce 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only available transmission. Mini estimates a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds for the hatchback and 6.6 for the convertible. Fuel economy is 25/33/28.
All 2011 Mini Coopers come standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control and front-seat side airbags. Side curtain airbags are standard on the hatchback, while the convertible features pop-up rollover bars and larger front side airbags that extend to head height. Traction control is optional. In Edmunds braking, various Mini Cooper S models with 17-inch wheels stopped from 60 mph between 112 and 115 feet -- excellent results.
The Cooper has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedure. Its 2010 rating (which isn't comparable to the new methodology) was four stars out of five for frontal and side impacts for both driver and passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the hatchback its best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset test, and its second-best score of "Average" in the side-impact and roof-crush tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Of all the ways to describe the Mini Cooper's interior, we doubt anyone would call it boring. The massive center-mounted speedometer is a nod to the original Mini, but in terms of practicality, it comes off as a bit gimmicky. One of our main gripes of previous Minis was the oddly placed stereo control knobs. Fortunately, that has been rectified for 2011 with a slightly more conventional layout.
Despite the Mini Cooper's small size, the front seats are surprisingly spacious. There is no shortage of headroom or legroom and the cabin feels extraordinarily airy. The rear seats, by comparison, are much less accommodating, with a notable lack of legroom. Trunk space is also restrictive, at a very meager 5.7 cubic feet, but folding the rear seats flat increases cargo capacity to a very usable 24 cubes.
The convertible features a tailgate-style trunk opening with an upper package tray that can be raised to allow larger items to fit in the tiny 6-cubic-foot trunk. Unlike most convertibles, the Mini's rear seats can be folded flat to accommodate larger items, but the rollover hoops and soft-top mechanism prevent the loading of bulkier objects. Rear visibility for the convertible is poor with the top down and even worse with the top up.
No matter which flavor of 2011 Mini Cooper you might be interested in, you can expect thrilling handling and quick responses to driver inputs. On the downside, the Mini's ride is on the stiff side and can be rather loud, as well. Opting for the Cooper S or John Cooper Works models further stiffens the ride, leading us to recommend that mainstream buyers forego the sport suspension and larger wheels.
The base Cooper will likely satisfy most drivers, while the S adds quite a bit of excitement and the JCW turns the fun dial up to 11. The six-speed manual transmission is notable for its precise shifter and compliant clutch. The automatic isn't the smoothest-shifting unit in the world, but in Manual mode it responds quickly to the driver's inputs to the shift paddles on the steering wheel.