2023 MINI Cooper S Hardtop: What's It Like to Live With?
Is there still room for the compact hatchback from BMW? Follow us for the next 12 months while we find out.
Latest Highlights (updated 08/31/23)
- Early on, we're being won over by its performance.
- We got 38.2 mpg on a single tank thanks to smooth sailing on highways.
- Then we performance tested it and saw just 12.1 mpg.
- The air conditioning is unimpressive.
- The infotainment system interface is far from winning our hearts.
What We Bought And Why
• Our test vehicle: 2023 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door
• Base MSRP: $30,900
• MSRP as tested: $33,700
A 2023 Mini Cooper S is joining our long-term fleet for an entire year. It's in a classic shade of British Racing Green and comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that makes 189 horsepower and 201 lb-ft of torque under the hood. That power is routed through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to the front wheels only.
What Did We Get?
We went with the S trim for a little extra verve, but considered the John Cooper Works model a bit too expensive and specialized for what we wanted out of our time with the Mini. The Cooper S is a popular trim level, so this gives us a chance to test a car that tens of thousands of buyers a year feel is the best fit for them. Will we think the same? Only time will really tell.
Our new Mini also comes with a few optional goodies like a head-up display, built-in navigation and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility. All in, this Mini costs $33,700. That's comparable to other cars in its segment like the Honda Civic Hatchback and even the Volkswagen Golf GTI in its base S trim.
Why did we get it?
Why did we go for something so niche? Well, there are plenty of reasons, but the biggest one is we wanted to see if, in 2022, Mini still has some of the charm that made the original so popular. Call us selfish, but sometimes these things are worth sussing out. So is it still a hot-hatch contender, or just an impractical appliance? We have 12 months and 20,000 miles to go so that we can find out for sure.
Mini loaned Edmunds this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Average lifetime mpg: 27.8
EPA mpg rating: 27 combined ( 23 city / 33 highway )
Best fill mpg: 38.2
Best range (miles): 397.0
Current odometer: 16,532
Jekyll and Hyde mpg
After a long road trip with the Mini, we're comfortably hitting the EPA's combined fuel economy expectations. As you can see from our best fill (38.2 mpg), the Mini can be a pretty economical car when you let it. But our worst fill (12.1 mpg) came on a track day when we were whipping the Cooper S around tight turns and laying the throttle down. That gives you an idea of how Jekyll and Hyde the Mini can be and it's something to keep in mind as we run through our test.
2023 MINI Cooper S Hardtop: Maintenance
Keeping you up to date with the maintenance needs of our MINI Cooper S
|Total routine maintenance costs||$285.88|
|Additional maintenance costs|
|Scheduled dealer visits||1|
|Unscheduled dealer visits||1|
|Days out of service|
|Breakdowns stranding driver|
|Total body repair costs|
We needed a new set of tires, and that's where the trouble started
Editorial Assistant Albert Hernandez went through a bit of an ordeal with our Mini Cooper S.
"I was exiting the 101 freeway on Universal Studios Boulevard on a Sunday evening when suddenly I found myself dodging pothole after pothole. In the end, I traversed one that caused a bubble to emerge out of the sidewall of the front right tire. Fortunately, the Goodyear Eagle F1s that came equipped on our Cooper S are run-flat tires, so we were able to drive it back home safely until Mini Cooper of Universal City had the exact same tire in stock.
"I called the Mini dealership the day after the incident and by Friday of that same week they had the tire ready. I had scheduled a routine maintenance appointment for that Friday either way, so everything worked out perfectly. I dropped off the car at 9 a.m. and was told it'd be ready in approximately three hours without any conditions mentioned. After five hours, I still had not received any updates, so I decided to call them. The service adviser told me that the work on our Mini had not begun. To play it safe, he told me to just pick it up by the end of the day. Sigh. Apparently, the Universal City shop was very busy because all the work that other dealerships were supposed to get were now redirected to Mini Cooper of Universal City.
"Recently, a handful of Mini dealerships have closed for good and are, therefore, unable to offer service to their local customers. I received a call towards 5 p.m. notifying me that our Mini was finally ready to be picked up. Thankfully, Mini did order an Uber for me. When I arrived, I met with the service adviser who, to my surprise, asked me to wait another 20 minutes because our car was in the wash. He proceeded to tell me that our car would have been ready in the three-hour time he initially gave me only if I had stayed and waited for the vehicle. Welp, too bad I did not have three spare hours to just hang around. Either way, I was not informed of this stipulation in the first place. I ended up driving away [with the car] around 5:30 p.m. I can safely say that this was an irksome experience.
"The new Goodyear Eagle F1 tire cost us $222.95 and labor was $40. The total, with taxes, came out to $285.88."
The Mini wants to have fun
"When you put the Mini in Sport mode, all the interior lights turn red and the exhaust growls and the whole car seems to go, 'Grrrrr, I wanna be bad!' Everything about the driving experience encourages hooliganism. If you asked the Sport-mode Mini, 'Who would win a soccer match between three professional players and a hundred 10-year-olds?' it'd say, 'Grrrr, give the kids nunchucks and then we'll see!'
"When you switch back to Normal mode, all the lights turn a soothing blue, like you've been dunked in a cool bath. At night, the psychological impact cannot be understated. It really feels like someone splashing cold water on your face." — Will Kaufman, senior writer
Bottom line: Is the Cooper S fun to drive?
Josh Sadlier isn't thrilled by the Cooper's looks, but he's won over by its performance:
"Stylistically, BMW's first two Mini generations were such home runs, especially the original R50 from 2002, that a letdown was probably inevitable. Still, I've never been able to make peace with the way the current F56 looks. It's bulbous and overgrown where its predecessors were clipped and tidy. There's only one way our F56 long-termer could win me over, and that's by providing the same rambunctious driving experience that set its predecessors apart. Well, guess what: It does. From behind the wheel, where of course you don't have to look at the thing, it's a riot. The throttle's super sensitive, the transmission can't wait to downshift, and the turbo motor just wants to go go go. Oh yeah, and that characteristically twitchy Mini steering? Present and accounted for. The styling is what it is, but I'm relieved to report that the Cooper S continues to drive like a Mini should."
"The manual transmission undoubtedly maximizes driver engagement in this car, but I think you'll be satisfied with the automatic transmission if that's the way you go. Our long-term test car has the seven-speed automatic transmission and I've found it works pretty well. When in drive, it upshifts smoothly and downshifts promptly. You'll rarely notice it doing its thing, which is the way it should be. Switch over to manual mode with the gear selector or paddle shifters and you get reasonably quick upshifts and rev-matched downshifts." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written content
"The power specs for the Mini Hardtop Cooper S are unremarkable: 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. That's less than what the Honda Civic Si ponies up. A Golf GTI is a comparative beefcake with its 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. But in real-world driving, our Cooper S feels powerful enough. The Mini is still a relatively lightweight car, and if you keep your foot down it piles on the speed. It sounds decent too. I don't know if the engine's sound is augmented by sound coming from the speakers — something parent company BMW has been known to do — but ultimately it's a fun experience." — Brent Romans
"On a twisty road with no other cars around, the Mini is an absolute joy to drive. My forebrain knows it's gotten bigger and heavier, but it still feels small and darty and quick, and my hindbrain still says, "Go-kart, wheeee!"
"Of course every time I go around a right-hander, I have to duck to keep an eye on the road because the rearview mirror blocks my view..." — Will Kaufman, senior writer
The Mini Cooper S could use grippier tires
"This car would benefit from more front-end grip. As it is, cranking it around a tight corner with some enthusiasm often results in tire squeal and possibly the stability control system activating a bit. I can feel the car has more potential but it's held back. Could the cause be these Goodyear Eagle F1 run-flat tires? That'd be my guess. At our test track, our long-term Cooper S pulled an uninspiring 0.86 g around our skidpad. That's not-so-great for a sporty car. For comparison, our long-term Honda Civic Si easily outgripped with a 0.97 g on the skidpad! (Interestingly, also on Eagle F1s, but presumably a more performance-oriented compound.) Front-end weight could also play a part, as our Cooper S weighed out with a 63.2% front-end bias at our test track. Our Civic was less at 60.2%.
"My take seems to have been echoed by co-worker Kurt Niebuhr, who wrote this after our instrumented testing of our long-term car: 'While the Cooper S might feel lively down a twisty road, it feels a bit dead around our skidpad. During steady-state cornering, the Mini defaults to a safe if uninspiring level of understeer. These Goodyears just don't have a lot of grip, and it takes away from the tenaciousness I expect from a Cooper S.'" — Brent Romans, senior manager, written content
Yes, the Mini is as easy to park as you'd expect
"It might have been taken for granted by our staff but I want to point out the obvious: The Mini is super easy to park. Sure, this latest generation is bigger than the original, but it's still small relative to just about everything else on the road. For urbanites who have to park on the street a lot, this is a big upside to Mini Hardtop 2 Door ownership." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written content
What do you think about the ride quality?
"The Mini is a terrible car to drive if you're suffering from a headache. The short wheelbase and firm, bouncy ride couldn't be less suited to LA roads. Potholes, drainage ditches, cracks, bumps, bad patches ... you feel them all. But the Mini is also shorter than the precast concrete slabs that make up many of our roads and freeways, so you bounce over every joint. See, as the slabs settle, each one takes on just a bit of a tilt. A longer vehicle straddles the slabs, so you don't really feel that (except on some particularly poorly maintained sections), but in the Mini you feel all the detail of each and every slab you drive over.
"Then there's the headrest, which seems to have been built by the suspension engineers: It's not stiff or harsh but firm and a bit bouncy. So I found, as I drove over the rhythmic undulations of the road, my aching dome being rhythmically bounced against the headrest." — Will Kaufman, senior writer
How are the seats in the Mini?
"The seats are (surprisingly?) comfortable! I'm 6-foot-1 and won't confuse the Mini for 'roomy', but the vehicle makes decent use of its space. It also offers padding on areas where your knees would otherwise meet hard plastic — something high-priced vehicles don't always do." — Jake Sundstrom, editor
We have mixed feelings about the climate control
"The air conditioning on this vehicle is not good. A mild heat wave in Orange County (read: 82 degrees Fahrenheit) required the max AC function to properly cool the vehicle — it also needed to be reactivated to keep it cool. Keep that in mind if you live somewhere it gets proper toasty." — Jake Sundstrom, editor
"It's been cold in LA, so I appreciate the toasty bun warmers in the Mini, and how quickly the climate control can warm up the small cabin. But the system has that BMW thing where even in auto mode you have to set the fan intensity, which kinda defeats the purpose. Also, this has dual-zone climate control but I can't for the life of me find a way to sync the two temperatures. So when it's just me, I have to make every temperature adjustment twice, and then adjust the fan intensity." — Will Kaufman, senior writer
The Mini makes a suitable road-trip companion
"In the midst of planning a couple of road trips, I requested one of our long-term cars from Rex. Given the distance (Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and Los Angeles to Flagstaff, Arizona), I preferred something that wasn't electric. Beyond that I was open to whatever was available. I'd need the car for about two weeks given the back-to-back trips, so the only thing that wasn't booked was our Mini. Sure, sounds like a wonderful car for several thousand miles of cruising.
"We of course have the sporty Cooper S in our fleet. The suspension is firm, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as I was worried it might be. It's still a hot hatch, not some out-and-out sports car. Small imperfections are mostly tuned out, but the small dimensions mean you can't just drive over some bigger potholes. The road between the California state line and Flagstaff was particularly broken in parts. It was bad enough to toss the car around if I hit broken asphalt.
"Still, the seats are supportive, and there's plenty of space inside. My girlfriend and I took a weekend away and had plenty of space in the back for luggage and more." — Reese Counts, vehicle test editor
Infotainment system user woes
Senior writer Will Kaufman isn't going to be forming a Mini-technology fan club anytime soon. He vents, "I'm sure there's worse tech interfaces than what's in our Mini, but right now I can't think of any. For example, in order to skip or rewind a track with the steering wheel controls, you have to use the up and down arrows to navigate a small, timed menu that pops up on the HUD [head-up display]. So to skip, you hit down and then OK. If it takes you a few seconds too long to hit OK, the menu will close and nothing will happen. This is just dumb.
"Worse is any interaction involving the infotainment, especially if you're trying to use the rotary knob. The menus are unintuitive and poorly labeled, and the outcomes of pushing around the knob aren't always expected. For me, the most egregious is that, while trying to turn on the steering guidelines for the rearview camera, I discovered that nudging the knob over the wrong way one too many times would just close the camera entirely. While the vehicle is still in reverse. YOU CAN CLOSE THE REARVIEW CAMERA WHILE THE VEHICLE IS IN REVERSE. WHY IS THIS EVEN AN OPTION?
"Every interaction with our Mini's technology, whether the infotainment, gauge display, or HUD, is a trial. No, it's worse than a trial. The trial's over. It's a sentence. It's serving time. And the only possibility of parole is buying a different car."
The menu-heavy touchscreen can be a chore
"Perhaps the most obviously BMW-centric part of the MINI Cooper S is its central touch screen. It is very menu heavy, so trying to find something like the trip computer or the lock/unlock settings can be a bit of a chore. The searchable owners manual is nifty, but using an on-screen keyboard is only mildly functional." — Jake Sundstrom, editor
"I dislike the gauge cluster on our long-term Ford Bronco for being ugly, but the one in the Mini is just...consternating. The dials on either side of the screen sort of look like they're digital, but they're just lit-up analog needles behind a tinted screen. The screen in the center is weirdly fuzzy, a bit like when your uncle finds a funny meme on his desktop computer, then takes a picture of his monitor to text to you. My eyes aren't great, so it's annoying seeing slightly blurred edges on text and numbers--I have to check to make sure my glasses are actually on. Also, most of the screen shows a fixed display, you and there's not enough real estate to give you much info. All the rest is relegated to a tiny sliver at the bottom of the screen that you have to cycle through to find what you want. It won't display, say, engine temp and trip distance at the same time, and you have to cycle through a ton of options to get back to where you started." — Will Kaufman, senior editor
No adaptive cruise control is a bummer on road trips
"The lack of adaptive cruise control definitely hurts the Cooper S as a road trip vehicle, particularly because other vehicles at its size and price point, like the Honda Civic, come equipped with that tech. If you're less enthused with ACC than me, and I know many of you are out there, the Cooper's regular cruise control is easy to activate and adjust by 1- or 5-mph increments." — Jake Sundstrom, editor
Speed-adaptive volume is a good idea with so-so execution
"Someone had cranked the speed-adaptive volume to its maximum setting. I get why, the Mini is a really noisy car at freeway speeds, but the amount that the max setting cranks up the volume is actually painful. There's a huge difference in the volume stopped and the volume at 50 mph. Turning the setting down one notch makes it almost too quiet, though, and any less than that...well, you might as well not have it on. It's a little annoying to have that "too much or not enough" feel, but in the end I opted for the latter and manually adjusted the volume myself." — Will Kaufman, senior writer
We've found the Mini Cooper S surprisingly roomy
"Had the Cooper S over the weekend. Great commuter car in the slog but then fun on the 110 when speeds and curves open up a bit. I'm 6-foot-1 with a long torso and even with the sunroof I had head room to spare. My daughter's bulky (and heavy) Foonf car seat fit surprisingly well. The LATCH anchors were easy to find and hook into, and the LATCH mount covers are hinged, so no plastic covers to annoyingly lose. The over-the-top strap anchor was simple to route under the headrest. Bea hopped in 'the GREEEEEEN lil car' in a flash and her highlight was having a reachable cupholder for her fave water bottle." — John Adolph, supervising producer
Can you fit a family of four?
"Well, it probably depends on the size of your four family members. But I was pleasantly surprised with the result after using our Mini Cooper to take my wife and two kids out for dinner. Here's the height rundown: me (5-foot-10), wife (5-foot-8), daughter (5-foot-6), son (5-foot). With the driver's seat set for me, there was enough legroom behind it for my son. My wife had to scoot up the front passenger seat, but doing so opened up enough legroom in the back for my daughter. They were comfortable enough that they didn't complain about the 20-minute drive to the restaurant (and back home). Sure, there was probably a certain amount of lowered expectations — they knew what they were getting into, literally. But in a pinch, you can likely use a Hardtop 2 Door for family duty, and that's all that's really needed with a car like this." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written
We're happy with the build quality of the Mini
"I appreciate the solid build quality feel of our Mini Cooper Hardtop 2 Door. The doors close shut with a satisfying 'thunk' and the controls have a premium look and feel to them. From that aspect at least, the ownership experience is a noticeable step up from what the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Golf GTI provide." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written
The dual-panel sunroof is a nice touch
"The dual-panel sunroof on the Cooper Hardtop is pretty cool. It's pretty big and complements the already expansive outward visibility of the car. Power down the windows and open up both sunshades on a nice day and you've (almost) got yourself a convertible." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written
Unfortunately the passenger doesn't get a sun visor
"I'm relaying a complaint from my wife: 'Why doesn't this car have a side sun visor for the front passenger?!' She was quite annoyed as we were driving along together and the sun was setting on her side. For the driver, the Cooper Hardtop has twin sun visors — one for the windshield and one for the side. But you only get the windshield one for the passenger, and it doesn't swing out like on other cars." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written
You can use the Mini to carry a kid, but should you?
Senior writer Will Kaufman notes while trying to install a child seat in the Cooper: "In order to fit your kid's car seat through the space between the doorframe and the front seatback, you'll need to turn it sideways, work the bottom of the seat into the car, and then rotate the rest of the seat in. If you've ever fit an L-shaped desk through a narrow door, you'll already understand the basic principle. But in this case there's a bit more vertical wiggling.
"Once the seat is in the vehicle, the best way to secure it is to just climb into the back seat on the driver's side. In fact, get used to that maneuver because that's also the easiest way to arrange your kid's harness.
"With the seat in place, I find the easiest way to get your kid in is to first set them down on the rear floor, then wedge your own body into the car for the final lift into the child seat. Because of how far you'll be bent over, it'll be hard to balance and use both hands to arrange the child or harness, so just focus on getting the kid in the seat and then climb into the back seat on the driver's side for the fine work.
"You'll also need a sunshade. Even though smaller kids will have a hard time seeing out, the tall, square rear glass lets in plenty of light!"
We love hatchbacks
"Hatchbacks for the win. Our Mini is small but its squared-off rear hatch area can hold some bulky stuff in the back if you fold down the rear seats. For example, I had to take a utility cabinet out of storage and it fit no problem in the back of our Mini. (I also had along my tennis racket and basket of balls -- this is a hauling combination I guarantee no other Edmunds staffer will be replicating in the future.) I didn't need the full capacity of the Mini, but I know the job would have been harder with a sedan. The Mini's rear seats don't fold down completely flat, unfortunately, but overall there's some helpful utility here." —Brent Romans, senior manager, written content
The Mini isn't as pizza-friendly as we'd prefer
"It's expected that a Mini Cooper would have a small cargo area but I wanted to give a reference point for scale. I ordered a large pizza last weekend and it would not fit in the trunk. I had to place it on the passenger seat and even then, it was a tight fit. That said, I could fit about four to five grocery bags, which would be fine for a one-to-two-person household." Ron Montoya, senior editor
We were hoping for more from the key fob
"WTF is this key fob? This thing is huge! And it weighs nothing, there's no sense of solidity. The buttons all fit on a little panel in the middle, and the rest is just...there? It feels like a normal key fob wearing a cheap plastic helmet that's three sizes too big." — Will Kaufman, senior writer
Is the latest Mini better than the old one?
"I don't like saying, "the old thing is better," especially for cars. There's a kneejerk reaction that often overlooks a lot of important factors out of a sense of nostalgia. On the whole, cars today are better than they've ever been. But I owned a Mini a little over a decade ago, and I do not feel that this newer Mini is better in every way but one. I'm sure it's faster, but it's no more fun to drive than my old one was, it's no roomier even though it's gotten bigger (it's actually lost a tiny bit of headroom), and the many unfortunate design choices that were made when designing the new infotainment and controls make daily life just that little bit more frustrating.
"BUT, I had a manual transmission car. The current 7-speed automatic is actually quite good, and definitely an improvement on the old 6-speed automatic. It also gets the best fuel economy.
"Now, if you navigate to fuel economy dot gov and look, the 2023 S with a manual actually gets slightly worse mileage than the manual S from 2010, and it has a smaller fuel tank. I did the math, and over 50,000 miles that adds up to 30 extra trips to the gas station!" — Will Kaufman, senior writer
The Mini isn't a big fan of rain
Vehicle test editor Reese Counts noticed an issue with the Mini Cooper following some wet weather in Southern California.
"It's been raining a lot in Los Angeles lately. More rain than I've ever seen in my few years living in Southern California. Water can do all sorts of nasty things to cars, especially when it gets into places it's not supposed to be. Like the inside of the right side-marker light on our long-term Cooper S.
"I noticed the issue after picking the Mini up from the wash, but it's difficult to say how long the moisture has been there. And that's what it is. I saw a XJ Jeep Cherokee in traffic a few weeks back with enough water in its taillight to support a goldfish. This isn't that bad, just some water spots on the inside of the lens.
"This doesn't necessarily warrant a specific visit to the dealership, but it's a bit worrisome to see some slight build quality issues on a car with around 15,000 miles."
The Cooper S' hood scoop looks great — unfortunately, it's fake
"Order the Cooper S version and it comes with its distinctive hood scoop, something it's had since the first-generation hatchback that came out for the 2002 model year. I like that it makes it easy to spot a Cooper S compared to a base model. There's just one issue: It's a fake hood scoop. Take a close look and you can see that it's blanked off. Boo. Apparently, the second-generation Cooper was this way, too; only the first-gen had a functional scoop." — Brent Romans, senior manager, written