In 1959, a groundbreaking new, boxy subcompact coupe emerged in England using a transverse-mounted engine and a space efficient front-wheel-drive layout. Within its tiny footprint it provided a surprising amount of usable space for people and packages. Because it was affordable, stylish, fun to drive and easy to park anywhere, the British Mini and sportier 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. Through the course of three generations, new Minis have provided a uniquely sporting blend of classic British mini-car heritage and charm with precise German engineering and construction. New or used, however, you will find that a Cooper's price can rise very quickly if it has a lot of optional equipment installed. Then again, that abundance of available features is 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 front-wheel-drive Mini Cooper is available in two-door hatchback and convertible body styles, both of which seat four people. The 2014 model year marks a fully redesigned, third generation of the hatchback. It's slightly larger and roomier than before and also features a pair of new engines. The convertible lags behind and is essentially carried over from last year.
The Mini Cooper hatchback comes with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine good for 134 horsepower. The Cooper S hatchback boasts a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 189 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional for both models. With any combination, fuel economy is very good.
The Cooper convertible, being of the previous generation, has a 121-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The Cooper S convertible comes with a turbocharged 1.6-liter rated at 181 hp. There's also a John Cooper Works convertible with a higher-performance version of the turbo 1.6-liter producing 208 hp. Transmission choices are the same as for the hatchback. Fuel economy is worse with the base engine, but about the same with the S.
The Mini Cooper manages to please a wide variety of drivers, from penny-wise to thrill-seeking. Thanks to its two body styles, comprehensive options and bold interior and exterior design options, there is a seemingly infinite combination of personalized Minis. Each model -- Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW) --- is essentially defined by the engine that powers it and the size of its wheels. However, slight variations in equipment exist.
All Mini Cooper hatchbacks are equipped with air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and iPod integration. The S hatchback is further outfitted with a more powerful engine, larger wheels, foglights and sport seats. There is an abundance of options that vary according to body style and trim level, but include various wheels, sport-tuned and/or adjustable suspension, a rearview camera, an automated parking system, a dual-pane sunroof, parking sensors, cloth or leather upholstery, a navigation system, smartphone app integration, automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless ignition and entry and a premium Harman Kardon audio system.
The Cooper convertible is equipped similarly to the Cooper hatchback and adds a full power convertible top that includes a partial-open "sunroof" feature. The Cooper S convertible likewise adds performance-themed perks similar to those of the Cooper S hatchback. The John Cooper Works convertible includes an even more powerful turbo engine, upgraded Brembo brakes and an aerodynamic body kit. An even firmer suspension can also be fitted to the John Cooper Works.
In reviews of the redesigned Mini Cooper and Cooper S hatchbacks, we found the model's larger and more sensibly designed interior to be a noticeable improvement. Though its rear seat is still small, occupants gain almost an inch of legroom and a full 3 inches of shoulder room. Luggage and cargo room also grow noticeably. As before, the hatchback has an engaging personality thanks to its nimble handling and quick performance. The trade-off is still a firm ride and occasionally raucous cabin environment, but overall, the essential elements that gave the Mini its mojo from the get-go are still present and well accounted for.
The yet-to-evolve Cooper convertibles are still worthwhile for all the reasons we liked them in the first place: distinctive styling, peppy performance and the remarkably useful "sunroof in a convertible" full-power soft top. Also, the convertible is the only way to get the most powerful John Cooper Works engine in 2014. On the other hand, the drop top retains the traditional, pie-sized center-mounted speedometer and less sensible control layout. The backseat is also very small and rearward visibility is poor.
Read the most recent 2015 MINI Cooper review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used MINI Cooper page.