By on August 5, 2011

Ever since I test drove the original Honda CRX a quarter-century ago I’ve been a big fan of small cars. In everyday driving I’d rather have a small car with limited power than a large car with a lot of it. And yet I’ve never quite connected with the MINIs I’ve driven. Perhaps I just needed more time in the seat? To find out, I recently spent a week with a MINI Cooper S—a small car with plenty of power.

More than anything else, styling distinguishes a MINI from other small cars. The car’s iconic exterior provides people who would never buy a Fit or a Fiesta with a reason to buy a B-segment hatchback. The tested car’s $500 “spice orange metallic” exterior was further distinguished with a $250 “MINI Yours Tattoo, Funky” graphics package. A MINI’s interior is even more highly styled than its exterior, though one must wonder if the styling in this case helps or hinders sales as ergonomics and ease of use were clearly low on the list of the designers’ priorities. The idiosyncratic controls are different from those in any other car, are in few cases intuitive, and often require more steps than they ought to. The most irritating: after my aging Motorola phone (a very popular model when new) was connected via Bluetooth, I had to hit “okay” five times to accept the MINI’s requests for data transfers every time I started the car. Perhaps the Smartphone Integration is smarter when paired with a more intelligent phone? The speedometer at the top of the center stack is too large and too close to the driver to serve any purpose aside from decoration; there’s a digital speedometer in the tach so the driver can actually tell how fast the car is going. The sliding armrest is too easily and too often bumped backwards when working the shifter. Some of the materials are decent, but many are a lower grade of plastic than the car’s $27,000+ price might suggest.

A MINI’s driving position is similarly unique. You sit lower than in today’s typical small car and well behind an upright windshield. While this lends the car a different, more retro feel compared to run-of-the-mill subcompacts, it also blocks traffic signals until one learns to stop well short of the white line. Otherwise, visibility is very good all around, thanks to thinner pillars than the contemporary norm. The sport buckets provide good lateral support, but comfort is compromised by a headrest that juts too far forward. The seat recliner is located on the inside, where it is hard to reach. The rear seat in the standard MINI hatchback isn’t intended for frequent use by adults. Even my tenth-percentile eight-year-old son complained that it was tight back there. Need more rear seat room? Then step up to the three-door Clubman or four-door Countryman. Cargo room behind the seat is similarly limited to a single row of grocery bags. Nevertheless, by sliding the front passenger seat all the way forward and tipping its seatback I was able to squeeze a bicycle into the car with just the front wheel removed.

Earlier Cooper S’s had supercharged engines, but the blower was replaced by a turbocharger when the car was redesigned a few years ago. Though in years past this would have meant more lag before the boost kicks in and less low-end power, the MINI’s 1.6-liter four largely avoids these traditional disadvantages. One reason: the turboharger is small and a twin-scroll design. The torque peak of 177 foot-pounds runs all the way from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm, with the horsepower peaking at 181 at 5,500. As with other turbocharged engines, the low torque peak is a little deceiving. It’s easy to stall the engine pulling away from a dead stop with the AC on, and there’s a little lag at low rpm. But from 2,500 on up power comes on so smoothly and in such a linear fashion that it’s not even obvious that the engine is boosted. Just strong. Hit the redline in first at WOT, shift, and the engine slams the car forward upon engaging second—the boost is right there, waiting. And yet this engine doesn’t feel as explosive or as smooth as the newer, 188-horsepower direct-injected 1.6 in the Nissan JUKE.

The six-speed manual shifter, dressed in an odd narrow boot and topped with an uncomfortable knob (style uber alles again), feels a little crunchy and reverse can be difficult to locate. It’s still better than any transmission without a clutch. Fuel economy is impressive given the level of performance, with EPA ratings of 27/36 and trip computer reports of 30 to 35 in the suburbs and 40 on the highway. Expected better from such a small car? Well, the MINI Cooper S might only be 146.8 inches long and 66.3 inches wide, but it tips the scales at 2,668 pounds, seven more than the 178.3-by-69.9-inch Hyundai Elantra. Which should at least partly assuage any safety concerns—this isn’t any tin can.

The JUKE’s engine might feel more powerful, but the MINI’s chassis is far more capable of putting its power down. Get even moderately on the gas mid-turn in a front-wheel-drive JUKE, and the inside front tire breaks traction. Do the same in the MINI, and the car rockets out of the curve. A lower center of gravity and better suspension geometry no doubt contribute, but the MINI’s more sophisticated, seam-free traction control system deserves much of the credit.

The MINI’s quick steering feels firm in normal mode, but provides limited feedback and makes the car seem larger and heavier than it is. Hitting the “sport” button further firms up the steering, but the chassis then feels less agile and the steering more artificial without providing more nuanced feedback. I prefer “normal” in all but the most aggressive driving. A shame, as the chassis is otherwise a match for any other front-driver’s, and far better than the JUKE’s, with the precision, balance, composure, and strong responsive brakes that make twisty roads a delight. Unless the road happens to be bumpy, in which case the chassis maintains the selected line but ride quality borders on harsh even without the optional sport suspension. And if you like your cars quiet, this isn’t your car. But then you probably knew that already.

The tested car listed for $27,700 when fitted with the sport package, keyless access, heated cloth seats, and the too clever by half phone integrator. Knock off $250 if you can do without the funky tattoo and another $500 if you can live with a more basic Bluetooth system.

Until the half-foot-shorter, four-inch-taller FIAT 500 Abarth arrives, the significantly larger VW GTI is the Cooper S’s closest competitor. It’s not possible to equip a GTI to a similar level, as MINI lets you order options a la carte (for more of that retro flavor) while VW forces you into the $5,530 Autobahn Package if you must be able to start your car without touching the keys. Xenon headlights require either this package or the navigation system. Do without these features and the GTI checks in about $1,500 below the Cooper S. Adjusting for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool reduces the difference to about $900. Add the Autobahn Package and the VW comes in $3,000 higher than the MINI, but adjusting for its additional features reduces the difference all the way back to about $600. So the Cooper S and GTI are close in price. A MazdaSpeed3 undercuts the MINI by about $1,000, so it’s also in the same ballpark (unless you opt for the $6,100 John Cooper Works package on the MINI to get its straight line performance closer to the Mazda’s). A Nissan JUKE SL, on the other hand, lists for $2,500 less than the MINI, and adjusting for feature differences pushes the gap beyond $4,000.

The MINI Cooper S is certainly fun to drive. But so are the GTI, JUKE, and MazdaSpeed3, all of which can be had for the same or significantly less money. The MINI’s compact dimensions and relatively light weight should lend it a more agile, more tossable character than the others, but this advantage is compromised by the car’s heavy, somewhat artificial steering. Even after a week in the car, this steering came between the MINI and me rather than tightly connecting us. In a midsize sedan this steering would be okay, even better than okay, but a small, powerful hatch deserves a livelier, chattier system. It’s the thing I most wish MINI would improve. (Mazda tends to do the best in this area.) Not that the MINI’s secondary controls don’t also need improvement, as they are among the most difficult to use in any car. A less avoidable weakness: the minimal rear seat and cargo space. If you want a small car with a sporty driving position, these are going to be part of the deal. Add it all up, and there’s only one big reason to get a MINI over the larger, more powerful, better outfitted, and/or less expensive alternatives, and that’s style. Love the look? Then there’s no substitute.

MINI provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.


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72 Comments on “Review: 2011 MINI Cooper S...”


  • avatar
    PintoFan

    The real question here is: What in God’s name do you need that many boxes of Mini Wheats for?

  • avatar
    morbo

    Should of eaten Total instead.

  • avatar
    Syke

    They are truly neat cars. And it’s my alternate plan for my next car: Instead of getting a B-class hatchback and keeping the Porsche, I’m considering a used MINI and trading in the Porsche. I could be happy either way. It all depends on whether I want two or three cars in the driveway.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I would have taken that car very seriously if it wasn’t for the interior. You know how some people will justify an ugly car that performs well by saying they don’t have to look at it while they’re driving? In the MINI you have to look at it, and I just can’t.

    • 0 avatar
      JJ

      Same here. I like the exterior (with the right wheel and right colors) but the interior is way to gimmicky and cutesy for me and then on top of that the plastics aren’t always great. If the ergonomics aren’t good that’s also bad news.

      I guess BMW was afraid with the first MINI that if they’d given it a dreary businesslike interior it wouldn’t appeal to younger buyers so they gave a German the task of doing something frivolous and different. That sort of thing rarely ends well.

      It would be a great update for the new new new MINI if they hired some Italians and give this car a stylish yet more serious interior, seeing as though they can’t change the exterior that much anyway. That or a minimalistic German design with lots of steel, little plastic and iDrive.

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      Point taken about the interior of the Cooper. Having driven several Coopers, a thought crossed my mind. If an American car, at any price point, or any size, had an interior that A) had ergonomics as bad as the Cooper, and B) had plastics in the center stack as cheap and Fisher-Price as the Cooper, how much hell do you think the car magazines would be giving that car? I’m no defender of American car quality, but it blows my mind that the Mini, at an average list price of $26,000 for the Cooper S, and around $23,000 for a standard Cooper, gets a pass for that.

  • avatar
    Bryce

    This would make a good replacement for my Citroen Xsara as it sounds like it corners properly unlike Japanese hatches but Id go for the Diesel version it has a Peugeot motor

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Nice write up. I was impressed you managed to get a bicycle in the MINI after removing the front wheel. Stow that wheel in the trunk and you’ve got a spare tire for the MINI! :P

    I know a couple who has the 2009 MINI Cooper S and they are happy as clams. But they’re a little worried about reliability as their previous MINI was a maintenance nightmare. Is MINI hit and miss regarding to reliability? I know, you are going to send me to TrueDelta, aren’t you? :)

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      The S motor has some known issues (carbon build up, timing chain, maybe fixed for 2011, maybe not), and the discontinued CVT was, well, a CVT, but aside from that they’re fairly solid. You can find horror stories, of course, but that’s true for about any car.

      JDPowers initial quality rates them pretty low, but that survey dings cars for having controls that are hard to use, so no surprise that Mini’s quirks land it in the cellar. Took me a month to figure out the damn radio.

      • 0 avatar
        blowfish

        The CVT was a Mini created rip off, they didnt provide any rebuilts, one can only buy fact CVT at premium costs, one gal i knew had to sell her car at scrap value!
        The fact should allow some trans rebuilder to do them at a reas cost, so when the CVt is toast, owner can spend the lesser amount to keep owning the car.

        As we all knew the 250 rule, a person knew about 250 folks, for bad news its going to spread faster than wild fire!

    • 0 avatar

      Based on the responses I’ve received to TrueDelta’s survey, reliability has been about average for the 2009 and 2010, and most of the earlier model years as well. The 2008 has been worse than average, perhaps partly because people get stuff done as the warranty ends.

      One odd common problem: melting hood scoops on the S.

      I’ve heard a few horror stories myself. They’re far from the norm. But when these cars are bad, they can be really bad.

      http://www.truedelta.com/car-reliability.php

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Not being able to see traffic signals is probably my biggest peeve with the car, and I expect the effect gets worse for taller drivers. I’ve never seen the issue you had with the Bluetooth, and I’ve synced mine to a few phones. No question the controls are weird, after spending a few days in our Honda there’s always some confusion when I get in the Mini. But that’s part of its charm, when you’re in a MINI you know you’re in a MINI.

    There are certainly better cars for the money on paper, but the wife loves the looks and it’s a kick in the pants to drive, so no regrets here.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife used to have a PT Cruiser, so I was somewhat used to the traffic signal issue.

      Do you have the standard Bluetooth option or the expanded connectivity package, which includes Smartphone integration? I wonder if there’s a difference between the two. Or maybe it’s my phone, a second-gen Motorola razor that’s well past its prime.

      Whatever the cause, I couldn’t use the Bluetooth until I hit “ok” five times on the phone to accept data sync requests.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        yea, a 2nd gen razr is practically an artifact. imagine, a cell phone that’s primarily a phone?!?

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll probably get some sort of smartphone later this year. There’s been no hurry since I spend most of my time at home (where I also work) and have spotty cell phone coverage while there.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Mine’s a 2009 with the “Bluetooth and USB/iPod Adapter” option. I can’t remember where that falls on the Fancy Integration scale, but I think it was one notch below the top option.

        I miss my Razr, I’d still have it if it hadn’t developed the dreaded speaker-sounds-like-crap bug.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I never had a RAZR, but I did have its cousin the KRZR, same guts, slightly different form factor. I actually still have it, as a “back up” phone in case one of our others ever dies. I love that the battery lasts for 4-5 days between charges. And when its been in a box for months, turned off, the battery still has power to turn on! Our Android and iPhones are lucky to get 4-5 hrs of life before dying if we have all the “cool” connection options turned on.

        Michael, dont be so quick to join the Dark Side. I made a pretty strong case for my dad to keep his ancient flip phone and pick up a tablet for data services and connectivity.

      • 0 avatar
        Cjmadura

        I had the traffic light issue as well in my 2007 MCS. Being 6’4″ did not help, but this did.

        http://www.lightinsight.com/

        I would have sold the car much sooner if not for this product. I dumped the rearview mirror as well, mounting the keyless receiver in the headliner and using the side mirrors as I do on my motorcycles.

        P.I.T.A., but that’s MINI ownership for you.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I liked the Mini Cooper S a lot when I was shopping for a car. I think I would bypass any options and just go with the base model, its a good mix of feature for the money, and the option packages seem to be very overpriced. In the end I bought a GTI, which has a similar problem… the Autobahn package is a complete rip off, but the only way to get some features SOME people feel they cannot live without. Also, I didnt know they dropped Xenon headlights from the base model GTI this year, thats too bad, it was always a signature feature. But then again, they made 18″ rims standard, so I guess its a trade-off. Of course I bought a used GTI, no autobahn pack. I shopped a few used Coopers, and they did not seem to age as well, the plastics and trim seemed to look worn on them, but the used Coopers tend to price out about the same as used GTIs.

  • avatar
    JMII

    A MINI’s interior is even more highly styled than its exterior, though one must wonder if the styling in this case helps or hinders sales as ergonomics and ease of use were clearly low on the list of the designers’ priorities.

    It hindered the sale to my wife. She loved the size/style, hatch usefulness, acceleration and toss-ablity of the Mini, but simply could not live day-to-day with the wacky Fisher Price interior. However one look inside the Volvo C30 and she was in love! The floating “waterfall” audio/HVAC console is a thing of beauty and it is Apple iPod easy to operate. Also Volvo’s seats are legendary in the comfort department. At this price point the Mini’s interior is just not cutting the mustard, it looks like one of those plastic toy kitchen sets a 3 year old thinks is “just like mommy’s”.

    The Volvo C30 was brought to the US to complete directly with the Mini – it was original offered in the same build-your-own never ending option list with a wide range of colors. Of course the C30 has been a complete sales flop (less then 300 a month leave showroom floors) because nobody knows it exists and unless you skip the options boxes the price can rapidly climb in into WTF territory.

    Using the TrueDelta price tool I see a $2K (invoice) difference between the two cars after feature adjustments. However the C30 is a bigger car, more along the size as the Golf.

    However given our past experience with our Passat there was no way the wife would accept another VeeDud. Instead we were looking at the Mini, C30 or an Infiniti G35 Coupe. Now if the Mazda Speed 3 was available in a 3 door configuration it would have been the logical (cheaper/faster) choice. The G35 was pushing the budget, plus it was a tad too much RWD power for a city grocery getter and the trunk was tiny. The C30 won out for doing everything right and looking damn sexy while doing it. We bought a used ’08 white/java 2.0 edition as my avatar shows.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The C30 is a good comparison for this car that I hadnt thought of, and its surprised that the price comes out so close using True Delta. I looked at them as well, and the ones I could find were priced very very high… $34-37k IIRC. Granted, they were loaded up pretty well, but there were no base models to be found around here, and not even one used one anywhere close. Now from what I recall, the performance is quite a bit down from the GTI or Cooper S, but I never drove one so take that with a grain of salt.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        I’ve seen 0-60 times that put all 3 cars (GTI, C30 and Cooper S) at nearly the same 6.6 second range. However ranges from 6.1 (GTI) to 6.7 (C30) can also be found online. The C30 is the HEAVY (blame Volvo safety?) thus clearly not built with performance in mind, but it moves pretty good with T5 engine.

        Volvos are overpriced to start with (my opinion) and the C30 is shockingly expensive at first blush… that is why I went the used route. Given its low sales volume finding a used one is a challenge, it took me nearly 3 months of constant looking and at the time only 3 manual transmission examples were available in all of Florida!

        But that is just part of the C30′s charm… you are not going to see another one in the mall parking lot. Since the car came out in ’08 I’ve seen maybe a dozen examples on the road. Bentley’s are a more common sight in Boca Raton!

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I agree, they do tend to be overpriced, but they usually discount them a lot, and the used ones self-correct pretty quickly. Plus, owners of Volvos tend to treat their cars well. As for performance, I am sure its adequate, but there are less tuning options for the C30 vs. GTI.

        But I really liked them, that was the car I primarily wanted from the start. A hot hatch, but for grownups! I simply couldn’t find one in 3 months of looking. I didn’t know you were in FL too, maybe there are more of them in So. FL?

    • 0 avatar
      Hogun

      My girlfriend and I were looking for fun and practical cars last month after our 1993 Civic bit the dust. The Mini was on The List until we saw the interior. I’m repulsed by the giant speedometer placement and she wasn’t a fan of the obtuse controls. As far as I’m concerned, the only person that needs to know how fast the car is travelling is the driver, and that’s the one person who can’t see it in the Mini! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun car to drive and I can ignore the interior while driving spiritedly. Unfortunately, I get stuck in Boston traffic often and all of the interior quirks would start scrabbling at the walls of my sanity, until I just sat there, drooling. The boutique price for the Mini didn’t help its case either.

      Anyway, we wound up with a Mazda2. It’s not perfect, but it checks enough boxes in the “fun” column to overlook its flaws. The interior is still a little Fisher Price, but at least it’s inoffensive and easy to use. Plus, red gauges are always cool.

      • 0 avatar

        The Mazda2 is a very fun car to drive. I love how it steers and handles. It doesn’t have the style or premium image of a MINI, but it’s also a lot less expensive.

        The central speedometer is essentially a design element. For the driver to check how fast he’s driving there’s a digital speedometer in the tach.

    • 0 avatar
      johnnyreno700

      I cross-shopped a MINI S but wound up with a C30. I felt the Volvo was less likely to give me a goddamn headache every time I drove it.

      The C30 is a great car. It’s fast, it’s solid, and Volvo makes the best seats in the business. It’s a pleasure to wind that thing up.

      The C30 is, however, WAY over-priced, and it gets crummy gas mileage.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        The C30 is a great used buy, though. I year or so ago I was looking at Red Sox editions(only 107 made), just for yuks. New they were something like $30K, one year and 9k miles later, $21,500.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        What does the Red Sox Edition look like? I want one bad.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Well whatever it is, I am sure it doesnt look as good as the Yankees edition… :)

        But seriously, does it get worse that 21mpg around town? Thats all I get in my GTI. And were they only $30k? I thought they went way over that new…

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        This is basically it but for whatever reason it lacks the Red Sox logos
        on the fenders and the rear glass.

        http://www.cars.com/go/search/detail.jsp?tab=photos&paId=401439758&recnum=&listingId=67401029&paId=401439758&listingRecNum=20&criteria=sf1Dir%3dDESC%26mkId%3d20044%26stkTyp%3dU%26mdId%3d20749%26rd%3d100%26crSrtFlds%3dstkTypId-feedSegId-mkId-mdId%26zc%3d03301%26rn%3d0%26PMmt%3d1-1-0%26stkTypId%3d28881%26sf2Dir%3dASC%26sf1Nm%3dprice%26sf2Nm%3dmiles%26isDealerGrouping%3dfalse%26rpp%3d50%26feedSegId%3d28705&tracktype=usedcc&pageNumber=&numResultsPerPage=&largeNumResultsPerPage=0&sortorder=descending&sortfield=PRICE&certifiedOnly=false&&aff=national

        And time flies. I was looking at these in 2009. Wow.

      • 0 avatar
        johnnyreno700

        I see 19 on city streets. 19.

      • 0 avatar
        The Comedian

        I’m beginning to sound like a broken record posting this every time the C30 comes up on TTAC, but here I go again.

        Just because the sticker price is so high on these cars doesn’t mean that they actually cost that much new. Unfortunately the high sticker seems to scare most folks off before negotiations even begin.

        Small world being small, I actually own a 2008 Boston Red Sox Special Edition C30 R-Design.

        I bought it new in early 2009. Sticker was $30,210.

        Dealer had it on the lot with a mirror hanger for just under $23,000. I paid $22,500, cash deal. Suddenly the report of one selling used with 9,000 miles on it for $21,500 takes on a very different appearance.

        Like the one for sale in the nearby post, I too have de-Bosoxed mine, getting rid of the 18″ diameter Sox logo in the rear window, the Sox logo floormats and the little white logo badges behind the front wheels. I live in Connecticut and I just couldn’t see driving the car into NYC with all that BS crap on it.

        http://c30world.com/forums/album.php?albumid=126

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Wow, thats a massive discount, very good deal. Had I been able to find one with that kind of deal, I would have bought it. When I was looking for a car, I think there was only 2 in the area new, both were loaded up and both automatics, also I do not think they were leftover 2009 models, this was early 2010 and the 2010 models were already out, not as well discounted, but I didnt really bother negotiating since I didnt want an auto and never thought the price would go THAT low.

      Funny what you say about the Red Sox edition in NYC, no it wouldnt cut it for sure. I am surprised thats even a real edition, I have to admit when @mazda3r mentioned them, I thought they were just one of those dumb dealer specials, not a real model. :) What tie in does Volvo have with the Red Sox? I wouldnt be surprised by a Twilight edition, but never knew they were Bosox fans in Sweden!

      @johnnyreno… 19? That is bad… makes me feel much better about my 21-22 city avg in the GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        @mnm4evr

        Volvo was the Official car of the Boston Red Sox. It also goes well with the New England Patriots edition F-150.

        http://www.boston.com/cars/news/articles/2008/03/04/a_volvo_for_true_believers___of_the_red_sox_persuasion/

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/2005_Ford_F-150_Patriots_Edition.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I had a guy trying to trade a ‘Patriot’s Edition’ F-150 about a year ago. He was convinced it was a special collector’s item worth much more than a non-Patriot’s edition truck with the same equipment, but as far as we could tell it was just a dealer customized job from somewhere in New England. As far as I know it was never a Ford trim option, but it was the only one I’ve ever seen in south Florida.

        Ford does have a factory ‘Texas Edition’, but it’s basically just a badge kit that says ‘Texas Edition’ on the tailgate. We’ve ended up with some when we’ve bought excess truck inventory from Texas dealers, and we have the detail guys remove the ‘Texas Edition’ badge as it isn’t really a selling point in FL. As far as I’ve seen there are no other differences in the truck.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        But its a Chrome edition with Patriots badging!!! It’s gotta be worth like $2,000 more!!!

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Glad to see a few other C30 posters here, the car is rare and overlooked.

        My wife is getting around 21 mpg city in her C30. 19 sounds about right if your not short shifting as much as possible. Once the wife got comfortable with 6th the extra torque can easy save a few rpms by “changing up” as Europeans say. A poster below is correct: the C30 doesn’t feel that “fast”, I’ve read that 1st and 2nd gear are limited to control torque steer, but once your in 3rd the car takes off. I said before and worth repeating… the C30 is HEAVY and you can feel it.

        And yes on the used market C30s are a bargin. We got our ’08 (40k miles) for only $17k, its MSRP was around $28k. I had my eye on one with half the mileage that sold for only $15k in Orlando. According to the sales guy I was two days late on making the phone call. I watched online as that particular car sat on the lot for nearly 4 months and dropped $2K.

    • 0 avatar
      sjb

      My search was narrowed down to basically the same models and I’m probably going to go with the GTI. Here’s my take:

      C30 – test drove the base model in stick (’11) and it felt really flimsy to me. The R-Design felt tighter and more solid but they only had it in auto and finding an R-design in stick was slim pickin’s so I never did drive one. Guess they’re out there now with ’12′s arriving but my concerns remain: low epa rating (which surprised me considering the mileage is decent), handling (both in cornering and handling rought roads) and options. I find the option package(s) for the C30 more irritating than those of the GTI. I don’t care about keyless, but I want manual trans, upgraded sound, leather, heated front seats and sunroof and I can get that all in one swoop with the autobahn.

      Infiniti G35 Coupe – absolutely love that car. It turns my head everytime I see it…alas, I don’t think it’s a pracital choice for my lifestyle. I use my car primarily for going to the gym, to run and to take my 75lb lab to the park twicea day which usually includes a lot swimming. So, I’m either all sweaty, she’s all wet and we’re both often muddy. Plus, I haven’t measured one personally but specs indicate that the rear head room is less than that of the C30 and GTI and since we also have a 125lb mountain dog that I have to transport occasionally, I’ve crossed this car off the list. Also, more HP than I really need and hence, not great mileage or EPA rating.

      VW GTI – just can’t help myself. Your wife is smarter than I, she actually learns from experience. I had a lot of problems with my ’02 but I think the reliablity is getting better (fingers crossed.) Plus, I love the “mat kit” (rubber mats for the wet dog!)

      Oh, the Mini Cooper was a blip on the screen at one time, but it’s just too cute by half and all those color and pattern options are, like, gag me with a spoon.

      • 0 avatar
        needsdecaf

        Solution…buy a C30 via Overseas Delivery (OSD).

        You’ll get a hell of a deal, get two free tickets to Sweden, a free night in a hotel, and get to drive your car in Europe. Best of all, options that are only available in packages are sometimes a-la-carte for OSD orders. As well as some additional colors! To get an idea of OSD pricing, click here (not affiliated with this dealer). http://flyvolvo.com/C30MY12.pdf

        The C30 is only about 80% of the performer the VW is. But you get Safe and Sound 5 years, 50k miles warranty AND maintenance. And the R Design is no slouch in terms of performance. The T5 engine is a hell of a lot of fun, unique and sounds great.

        I wish that Volvo had a car in the lineup that I could have purchased to replace my V70R, but alas the S60 is too small, the S80 is too dated, and the V60 is not for the US. But these cars are very good deals for what they are.

        Good luck!

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I hate to steer you away from the GTI, as I love mine dearly, but with those requirements I am not sure you are considering everything.

        When the hatch is closed and the rear seats are up, there isnt much room back there for a large dog. The actual opening where the parcel tray goes is fairly narrow, and even my little Pug cant “stand up” on the back of the seat. Your 75lb Lab will not be happy. We cant even fit a medium sized dog grate back there without folding the seats down. Which, isnt a problem, except the rubber mat kit doesnt cover the backs of the seats when you fold it down, only the regular cargo area. So your wet dog isnt going to stay on the rubber parts, unless your dog is a lot smarter than most! On top of that, VW interiors are notoriously delicate, all that nice soft touch plastic scratches very easily, things break easily, etc. I dont even like my kids in mine, your dogs could really do some damage. FInally, the gas mileage sucks… I have 2 coworkers who both drive a G35 and they get the same mileage as me.

        Like I said, I love my GTI, but it sounds like you need something tougher and more wagon-like. And you can get rubber mat kits for any car! :)

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Rough ride, small space, high price, and aging style. What’s not to like?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a good point. It’s a little old. Probably the next one (they’re all Coopers?) will be close to the new 128 (which I love)… should be better.

      I like the new Beetle a lot also.

    • 0 avatar
      sjb

      mnm4ever,

      Not sure I follow in regards to room. I currently own a 2-dr GTI and my lab fits back there comfortably with the back seats in the normal postion. She gets the whole rear seat area. She can sit up and lie down comfortably even on long trips. It held up pretty well although it’s cloth and I always have covers on the seats.

      Mileage the same for GTI and Ininiti G35? (Besides the G35 doesn’t come in stick unless you go up to the sports trim ( at 47k) right?

      • 0 avatar
        sjb

        Correction. Meant the Infiniti G37 coupe, of course.

        As to the rubber mats, my dog doesn’t sit on the floor but she uses the mats to jump in and out of the back and the carpet mats are a pain to clean. I know I can rubber mats for any car, it’s just the fact the VW offers them (probably at too high of a price, I’m sure) and the Infiniti doesn’t kind of speaks to the demographic of the buyer, the outdoors-y type, etc. I also thought of the Audi A5 but crossed it off because it’s probably “too nice” inside and it’s supposed to be very sluggish with acceleraton. It has bascically the same engine as the GTI, it’s justa lot heavier, correct?

        BTW – we do have a wagon for family excursions that include the other, bigger dog but he can fit in my GTI albeit for very brief rides.

        So, I’m basically still at the GTI but will look again at the Volvo C30 and Infiniti G37, maybe the new Audi A5 which I hear is a little quicker. Price isn’t too much of an issue and I might rethink my “manual only” regarding the Infiniti.

        When you’re in the market for a 2-dr, manual trans, good EPA rating, decent cargo room, yet still have some spunk in acceleration and good, solid handling, it’s what left on a very short list, it seems. (The Honda si or whatever the “sporty” civic is called is is just flat out fugly and boring, imho.)

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Well, do you mean that the dog sits on the rear seat?? Or in the cargo area, behind the rear seat? I assumed since you were talking about the rubber cargo mat, that you meant to put the dog in the cargo area. The back seats are roomy, if you cover them with one of those “dog covers”, there is plenty of room. Or, if you fold the rear seats down, its cavernous, especially for dogs. Just that the rubber mats dont help much in either of the scenarios. Oh, and surprisingly, the VW rubber mats and floormats and stuff are not much more expensive than aftermarket! But if you already have a wagon-ish car for most of the dog duty, I suppose it really doesnt matter.

        My impressions of the A5 were the same… a little sluggish and heavy with the 2.0T. The only people I know who have them bought the S5. To me, it competes with the G37 coupe more than the GTI, and I agree with you, the demographics arent really the same as the hatches. And yes, as surprising as it is, they average 21mpg, and I average 22mpg. They are both older G35 stick shifts which might make a difference from new, but its close enough for me to consider them the same. Now on the highway I think I do better as long as I dont get crazy, but we all mostly drive around town.

        You are right though, that market is very tight. What you are basically looking for is the “hot hatch” market, and it shrunk. When you throw in the 2-door requirement, you lose a lot of options too… The Mazdaspeed3, Juke, A3, WRX (which I think would be perfect for you) are all 4-dr only.

        If you definitely like the VW, my personal recommendation is to skip the GTI and go for a Golf TDI. The 2011 TDI I just looked at has the MK5 GTI rims, seats, interior trim, exterior appearance, and supposedly the same suspension tuning as well, they essentially look like a GTI, esp in red, except they are rated at 30/42, and from what I have heard, you can top that pretty easily. They also are supposed to feel fast with gobs of torque, and I hear they can be chipped up quite a bit as well. Sticker was around $24k, but I dont know what happens when you add leather and other options.

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      @gslippy:

      >Rough ride, small space, high price, and aging style. What’s not to like?<

      1) Rough ride – It does ride stiff, but it's much, much better than the first generation, which may have been the only car I've ever driven that rode worse than the original C4 Vette.

      2) Small space – Another valid point. But if you're buying a Cooper for utility, I have acres of swampland to sell you in West Texas.

      3) High price – My number one complaint about the Cooper. Sorry guys, but $27-30,000 is way too much for a Cooper S, seeing as you have limited space for people and cargo. That and the fact that you can get a fully loaded Sonata SE Turbo for right around $27,000, which is just as fast and can actually carry people of normal size.

      4) Aging style – Well, the Cooper is kinda like a Porsche 911…an icon of its time – especially in its home country. And like a 911, I wouldn't expect any major changes in its basic shape.

      And people buy Coopers for the same reasons as people buy Apple computers. Because they want to be seen as hip at all costs, even if they have to pay out of the nose to get that hipness.

  • avatar
    classicnigel

    MINIs are, in my view, amazingly fun to drive. Their problem, however, is the fact that they’re about as reliable as a heroin addict giving you his word about going cold turkey. I remember my parents having an ’03 S for several years and it kept having what seemed like a never-ending conga line of problems. I’m not entirely sure if that’s just a Mk1 problem or if it’s continued into the current ones, but it’s what eventually got them to a) sell it, and b) never go back.

    Overall, it’s a fun car that just so happens to be total bull$#!^

  • avatar
    horseflesh

    The Mini Bluetooth implementation leaves something to be desired. I had to help someone find a BT phone that worked with her Mini, and the official compatibility list is pretty dismal. Of course, lots of unlisted phones DO work.

    But some don’t, and in really awful ways. While I was doing research I found a story on a Mini forum about a guy who paired his non-approved phone with the car, and it actually killed the car’s BT module. The dealer replaced it under warranty but warned him not to do it again.

    Yeah, sounds a bit far fetched… Can anyone verify the truth of that tale? But I don’t have an overlay hard time believing a Bluetooth implementation can be so bad that it bricks itself if it talks to the wrong phone. The world’s full of crappy products with buggy software, and some of them are even hiding inside expensive cars.

    Seems like there should be a way to wipe out whatever memory the BT system has so you can get a totally fresh start… but maybe not. That would probably add three cents to the cost of the car.

    There are worse things than BT that may kill itself; the iPod interface in the Mini’s 2-line radio display makes you want to kill yourself.

    Nice car otherwise though. Fun to drive, and the Clubman’s few extra inches make a world of difference in cargo space and rear seating.

    • 0 avatar
      fvfvsix

      I can give you an answer on that… A “bricking” may be possible, but there is usually no way to physically kill the hardware with bad software… Thus, replacement is only necessary if it is manufacturer policy.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I love seeing these cars on the road but could never own one. Amazing how a car that looks so good from the outside can be so hideous on the inside.

  • avatar
    Joss

    MINI lease new with warranty over chancing used and abused.

  • avatar
    mongoose221

    Very good review sir. I also was shopping for a cooperS back in Jan of 2010, when I purchased a civic SI coupe over it (a little more harsh and volatile, but I found it much more fun to drive). I wound up trading that SI in a year later (for a profit no less, got a GREAT deal when I bought the year before) on a 2011 WRX. I again had looked at the mini (I just LOVE the syling) but again, I could not get past the price:performance ratio, as well as the idiotic gigantic speedo. (I actually asked the dealer how difficult it would be to remove that, and he scoffed at me)
    I wonder why you only go with the GTI, MS3, and Juke in this as other options? Is it because of the FWD vs AWD ?
    Also, I liked what the above poster stated on the c30, another car I enjoyed, but just didn’t “feel that fast” when I drove it.
    Anyway, I definitely think the WRX hatch is a great alternative to this vehicle, obviously why I purchased one.
    Interesting curveball being thrown our way soon though is the upcoming Focus ST hatch, which I personally think is going to give all but diehard GTI/MS3 loyalists a serious run for their money

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The WRX is a great alternative too, the only reason I personally didn’t include it is the large performance gap between them, although price is about the same. I liked them too when I was shopping, that’s another car I found nearly impossible to find used in Tampa! Strangely though, there were tons of STI sedans to be found, just out of my price range.

      I’d have to disagree on the Si being more fun to drive than the Mini. Maybe after some suspension tuning, but stock to stock, its not as sharp. I also prefer the low end torque of the turbo engine to winding out the Honda engine. I think those two things go a long way in the perception of the Mini being so fun.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Oh yea, and I completely agree about the Focus ST, I think it could be a game changer if Ford pulls it off. I have been drooling over the the Focus RS-500 since I first saw one… hopefully the ST will be a suitable substitute!

    • 0 avatar
      sjb

      But the Focus ST hatch comes only in auto, right?

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “Even my tenth-percentile eight-year-old son complained that it was tight back there.”

    Wassat? According to my charts a 10th percentile eight year old is 3ft 11 3/4 inches tall. The Mini’s rear seat must be small indeed!

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      It may be that the boy’s thigh bones are too short for his legs to bend at the edge of the seat, so his shins stick straight out and hit the back of the seat in front.

  • avatar

    I just test drove the Mini Cooper S this weekend. Along with the GTI 2-door, and a used G37 coupe. All were six speed manuals.

    The Mini was my favorite of the bunch, but the GTI was a really, really, close second. The mini was about the same price as the GTI, but I liked it’s small size better.

    In the end, I kept my ’06 TSX. The Mini dealer wanted to give me $12,000 for it when KBB is $16,500. You know, I may take a look at that GTI again, I loved those plaid seats.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This is a nice car and for a retro design, it seems to be hanging in there well. Because that is what sells it. Just like the Beetle, the Mini sells because of retro nostalgia. Both are competent vehicles, and the Mini has a lot to offer, but you really have to have a Mini itch that needs to be scratched and a lot of folks in this market, prefer a car without the retro styling baggage.

    The car is limited by it’s own identity. What makes it a Mini? It is those styling weirdnesses you either love or don’t.

    I am definately not a Mini person, even though I love cars in this class. What makes it a Mini seems contrived and silly. It is a fashion, an auto babble. If you are into driving a fashion statement, then you will love it, but I don’t wear my car and have no interest in having my car make a fashion statement.

    It’s nice.

  • avatar
    SP

    The Mini seems like a cool car … I have actually priced one out on a couple of occasions.

    On the plus side, it comes in a good variety of interesting colors.

    Oe the down side, what is with the interior? Honestly … put the gauges in the right spot already.

  • avatar
    sjb

    Ok, now I’m going to look at the WRX and maybe rethink my 2-dr requirement. I’ve had to have the seat release latches repaired on my 2-dr GTI more times than I care to admit over the years…oh heck, what I probably need is a bed at the pysche ward with a nice thorazine drip. Just always liked the coupe look over the sedan, and having no kids (at least the 2-legged kind), I never saw a reason to look outside the box in that regard.

    Yeah, the dog is in the back seat. I mention the “mat kit” only for the floor mats. I’ve done a number on my driver’s side mat and they’re cumbersome to vacuum, slide around, etc. I don’t have much use for the “cargo kit” that also includes splash guards and a cargo cover. The trunk/cargo area in my car now is practically pristine.

    Will also look into the Golf TDI – certainly much better mileage than the WRX and a bit more refined in appearance. Bottom line: I don’t think the WRX is for me. For one thing, they’re all AWD, correct? I’m not exactly a girly-girl but I am a 51 yo female and just that spoiler thing alone sticking out back there, well, I think it’s a little over the top for me. I guess I just have a soft spot for the VW hatches. Hey, what about the Golf R that may be here by early ’12???

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Yes, WRX are all AWD, and wont get great mileage. The hatchbacks dont have the giant boyracer wings, only the sedans. But you are right, not very “refined”, although they seem to have hardy interiors.

      If you like 2-dr cars, the choices are limited, the market generally prefers 4-doors. I even bought a 4-dr GTI, because I have kids and I need to take people in my back seat often enough, but I also preferred the look over the 2-dr. To each his own, I say.

      The Golf R will be sweet, no doubt, but it will be much more expensive and no more practical than a regular GTI… even worse MPG too, they are AWD too.

      I guess I just cant imagine putting wet dirty dogs in the back seat of my GTI… If I did that twice a day like you do, I think I would be looking at Wranglers! LOL


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