When a 2008 Mini Cooper S sauntered into our office recently, we couldn't resist saddling up for an Edmunds Test Drive before it galloped off into the sunset. Why? Separation anxiety, mostly -- we wanted to spend as much time with this lovable Lilliputian as possible. But we also wanted to highlight the Mini's remarkable combination of performance and fuel economy, which becomes more newsworthy with each report of skyrocketing oil prices. When it comes to SPGs -- smiles per gallon — the Mini Cooper S is in a league of its own.
Even the base Cooper induces its share of grins, what with its peppy naturally aspirated engine, playful chassis and still greater disdain for filling stations. But the turbocharged 2008 Mini Cooper S is a genuine pocket rocket. As for fuel economy, the EPA pegs it at 26 mpg city, 34 highway and 29 combined -- numbers that would turn many appliance-grade econoboxes gasoline-yellow with envy. We recorded multiple tanks above 30 mpg, which is quite impressive given that our lead-encased feet never tired of matting the Mini's throttle.
The miserly Mini did try our patience in some respects. Our aching vertebrae certainly could have done without the 17-inch wheels and sport suspension, an optional one-two punch that should only be considered by hard-core track junkies or those who have chiropractors in their families. Serious road noise at speed also mitigated our Mini enthusiasm; we know this is a performance car, but that doesn't mean it should apprise our ears of every change in pavement composition. Furthermore, while the Cooper's diminutive dimensions make it an excellent city vehicle, adults simply can't fit in back unless the front seats are pulled uncomfortably close to the dashboard. Additional demerits were assessed for the Mini's overstyled interior, which is long on form and short on function.
On the whole, though, there was a lot of editorial love for this rambunctious runabout. It went like stink, handled like a slot car and refused to guzzle gas no matter how mercilessly we flogged it. With the glory days of cheap oil likely behind us, one of the many new challenges for automakers will be to provide no-compromises performance in a fuel-efficient package. History may well remember the current-generation Mini Cooper S as the first contemporary car to have gotten this formula right.
The front-wheel-drive 2008 Mini Cooper S is propelled by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 172 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque 192 lb-ft when "overboost" mode is activated by full-throttle applications. Our Mini was outfitted with the six-speed manual transmission. We dispensed with the 0-60-mph sprint in 6.9 seconds and zipped through the quarter-mile in 15.0 seconds at 93.9 mph. Braking performance was similarly sharp at 115 feet from 60 to zero mph.
These are tidy numbers, to be sure, but they're only slightly better than those generated by traditional high-revving sport compacts like the Honda Civic Si. Take a Cooper S for a spin, however, and you'll realize that it's an entirely different beast. Peak torque is available from just 1,600 rpm, at which point the Mini lunges forward as if an invisible jockey were giving it the crop. Indeed, one of the turbocharged Cooper's most endearing virtues is that you don't have to drive it like a hooligan in order to extract maximum performance. Forget 6,000-rpm torque peaks and 8,000-rpm redlines; the Mini's turbo thrust is there whenever you want it, so there's no need to flirt with the rev limiter when it's time to scoot.
Happily, the Cooper S has the rest of the performance fundamentals covered as well. Our car's six-speed manual shifter was generally a model of precise engagement, though more than one editor felt it was too easy to confuse Reverse and the adjacent 1st gear. In fast corners, the Mini's distinguishing trait is its near-total lack of body roll, in keeping with its go-kart reputation. The electric power steering is tight and responsive, though it's lacking in feel. Our only serious complaint involved the car's exuberant torque steer under hard acceleration, which evoked an inebriated Sonic the Hedgehog.
We've covered fuel economy already, but we'll say it again the turbocharged Mini's allergy to gas pumps is possibly unprecedented at this level of performance. Suffice it to say that the Chevrolet Cobalt XFE, a bare-bones economy car optimized for fuel-efficiency, is EPA-rated at an identical 29 combined mpg.
Road noise is intrusive even at moderate speeds, and our test car's sport suspension and performance tires dialed up the impact harshness to a borderline intolerable level. Given its compact footprint, however, the 2008 Mini Cooper S is remarkably hospitable inside for two adults, with ample front-seat head- and legroom. The front buckets are adequately supportive, but their modest side bolsters are a poor match for the car's lofty handling limits. While backseat headroom is fine, legroom is basically nonexistent if average-size adults are sitting in front. Try the extended-wheelbase Mini Cooper Clubman if you plan to carry more than two people on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, Mini's interior designers chose to prioritize style at the expense of substance. Too many of the car's functions are actuated by identical-looking metal toggle switches, and the stereo buttons are arranged haphazardly, most notably the power/volume knob, which sits in no-man's land in the middle of the center stack. Speaking of the stereo, our Mini's base six-speaker unit made it sound as though we were listening to our music through a telephone. If you care about such things, ante up for the premium sound system and don't look back.
In our real-world usability tests, the Mini actually fared rather well considering its size. Cargo capacity with the rear seats up is minimal, as our standard suitcase fit upright with barely an inch to spare, and there's only enough room back there for a modest collection of grocery bags. Fold the seats down, however, and 24 cubic feet of cargo volume are at your disposal, or about 9 more cubic feet than you'll find in a typical family sedan's trunk. On the downside, a set of golf clubs is wider than the Mini's cargo area, so you'll have to fold down the seats and either slide the bag straight in or position it diagonally. Both of the child safety seats we attempted to install in the backseat were too large to fit, so parents of young children considering the Cooper will need to research compatible car seats on their own.
Design/Fit and Finish
The stylists nailed the Cooper's exterior design, in our collective opinion, producing an endearing shape that's at once cute and aggressive. The interior layout is another story, however. The operative euphemism would be "polarizing," but frankly, most of us were put off by its toylike appearance, which starts with the cartoonish center-mounted speedometer. Moreover, materials quality generally failed to impress, as there's too much cheap hard plastic on the center stack and console, and our tester's optional center armrest felt flimsy and had a nasty habit of squeaking loudly when touched. Other issues included an ill-fitting A-pillar trim piece and inconsistent gap tolerances between the door panels and the dashboard.
Who should consider this vehicle
At $21,850 to start, the 2008 Mini Cooper S is attractively priced for those who want a unique combination of performance and fuel economy in a stylish and even somewhat practical package.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
2008 MINI Cooper Overview Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2008 MINI Cooper and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2008 Cooper featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
Our Review Process This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.
Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2008 MINI Cooper and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2008 Cooper 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2008 Cooper.
Review Great car but the S models tires & susp R harsh except on smooth roads. When time to replace them, buy softer tires & the car will b so much more enjoyable. U feel every bump w/OEM tires. Recall for timing belt tensioner & they replaced w/main crank seal, no charge. Paid $60 for new timing belt. No chatter anymore like it did on really cold starts. The auto trans is a worry. Seems to not know what gear it wants when U slow & then accelerate-bucks like a horse - I expect it will fail one day but so far at 55k, ok. The computer tells you 2 have service at like 40k & dealer charges $200 just to check the vehicle over, no maintenance -I wouldn't recommend it if you can find someone else 2 check
Edmunds Value Edmunds has deep data on over 6 million new, used, and certified pre-owned vehicles, including rich, trim-level features and specs information like: MSRP, average price paid, warranty information (basic, drivetrain, and maintenance), features (upholstery, bluetooth, navigation, heated seating, cooled seating, cruise control, parking assistance, keyless ignition, satellite radio, folding rears seats ,run flat tires, wheel type, tire size, wheel tire, sunroof, etc.), vehicle specifications (engine cylinder count, drivetrain, engine power, engine torque, engine displacement, transmission), fuel economy (city, highway, combined, fuel capacity, range), vehicle dimensions (length, width, seating capacity, cargo space), car safety, true cost to own. Edmunds also provides tools to allow shopper to compare vehicles to similar models of their choosing by warranty, interior features, exterior features, specifications, fuel economy, vehicle dimensions, consumer rating, edmunds rating, and color
Available MINI Cooper 2008 Submodel Types: Hatchback, Convertible, John Cooper Works, S
Available Trims: S, Base, John Cooper Works
Exterior Colors: Pepper White, Chili Red, Midnight Black Metallic, Blazing Red Metallic, British Racing Green Metallic, Pure Silver Metallic, Volcanic Orange, White Silver Metallic, Dark Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Astro Black Metallic, Sparkling Silver Metallic, Iced Chocolate Metallic, Laser Blue Metallic, Lightning Blue Metallic, Spice Orange Metallic, British Racing Green II Metallic, Eclipse Gray Metallic, Oxygen Blue, Thunder Gray Metallic, Horizon Blue Metallic , Hyper Blue Metallic, Ice Blue, Highclass Gray Metallic, Moonwalk Gray Metallic, British Racing Green II, Electric Blue Metallic, Hot Chocolate Metallic, Interchange Yellow, Mellow Yellow, Melting Silver Metallic, Velvet Silver Metallic, Kite Blue Metallic, Lapisluxury Blue, Indi Blue Metallic, Jet Black, Liquid Yellow, Caribbean Aqua Metallic, John Cooper Works Rebel Green, Purple Haze Metallic, Reef Blue Metallic
Interior Colors: Checkered Carbon Black/Black cloth, Carbon Black Cross Punch leather, Double Stripe Carbon Black premium cloth, Carbon Black leather/sueded microfiber, Checkered Carbon Black/Carbon Black cloth, Carbon Black SensaTec leatherette, Carbon Black leatherette, Grey/Carbon Black leatherette, Carbon Black leather/cloth, Black Pearl leatherette/cloth, Panther Black/Panther Black, Lounge Carbon Black leather, Black Pearl leather/cloth, Black/Panther Black leatherette, Black/Panther Black, MINI Yours Carbon Black Lounge leather, Gravity Tuscan Beige leather, Panther Black Leather, Punch Carbon Black leather, Diamond Carbon Black leather/cloth, Gray/Black leatherette, Malt Brown Chesterfield leather, Pacific Blue/Carbon Black leather/cloth, Black/Black leatherette, Gravity Polar Beige leather, Gray/Carbon Black leatherette, Polar Beige Gravity leather, Carbon Black Lounge leather, Cordoba Beige, Diamond Satellite Gray leather/cloth, Gravity Tuscan Beige/Tuscan Beige leather, Gray/Black, Lounge Dark Truffle leather, Lounge Hot Chocolate leather, Lounge Toffee leather, Panther Black leather, Satellite Grey Lounge leather, Space Gray/Magnesium Gray, Space Gray/Panther Black, Toffee Lounge leather, Cross Check Toffee/Carbon Black leather/cloth, Dark Truffle Cross Punch leather, Lounge Classic Green leather, Lounge Redwood Red/Redwood Red leather, MINI Yours Satellite Grey Lounge leather, Malt Brown leather, Panther Black/Gray, Panther Black/Panther Black leather, Polar Beige/Carbon Black Cross Check leather/cloth, Punch Rocklite Anthracite leather, Ray Rooster Red/Carbon Black leather/cloth, Red/Carbon Black leather/cloth, Rooster Red/Carbon Black leather/cloth, Space Gray/Panther Black cloth
Popular Features: Fold Flat Rear Seats, Rear Bench Seats, Tire Pressure Warning, Post-collision safety system, Trip Computer, Aux Audio Inputs, Stability Control, Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel, Bluetooth, Auto Climate Control, Multi-Zone Climate Control, USB Inputs, Automatic Emergency Braking, Soft Top, Heated seats, Parking sensors, Electronic Folding Mirrors, Sunroof/Moonroof, Upgraded Headlights, Upgraded Stereo, Keyless Entry/Start, Navigation, Alarm, Back-up camera, Heads up display