MINI Cooper Review

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

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George Clooney is box office catnip AND the critics’ darling. And no wonder: he looks great and he acts better than he looks. But what if you’re a movie producer who can’t afford Clooney’s vig? You get Thomas Haden Church. You know: the guy in Sideways, the movie about chit-chatting wine guzzlers. Sideway's producer knew Church wasn’t nearly as high profile as Clooney, but he was a lot less expensive. See where I’m going with this? If the MINI Cooper S is beyond your reach, should you lower your grasp? Big savings yes, but do you still get something of substance? Well, Church is an Oscar nominee. As for the Cooper…

It’s a relief to see an automobile that wasn’t designed in anger. Unlike Japanese and German sporting machines’ menacing headlights and blood-drawing creases, the Cooper remains a four-wheeled cheeky chappie. Although the MINI was maximized for ’07, only OCD brand fans can make the call. In case you meet a MINI enthusiast, just remember that the front indicators now sit like laconic “floaters” inside the MINI’s eyes, and the rear window line rises 0.7” higher up at the B-pillar than previously.

Thanks to the Mother of All Option Lists, the Cooper’s cabin is as plain or ornate as you desire, covered in funky cloth or leather or mother of pearl or space shuttle tiles. Most of the first gen’s retro touches (e.g. chromed toggle switches and unrelenting ovality) remain in situ. While these design-lead differentiators may continue to lure buyers who are comfortable deploying the term “post-modern irony” in polite conversation, the Cooper’s cabin is beginning to look increasingly whacked-out.

Equally disappointing, there’s no British-ness to the MINI Cooper. Cocked eyebrow whimsy has been replaced with weird for the sake of weird. The big central speedo of MINI Mk1 has morphed into a dinner plate-sized gauge that could easily double as the weigh-in scale for The Biggest Loser. Still, the ergonomics are bloodied but unbowed, and the fit and finish overall is impressive; part and parcel of Mini’s premium-puny philosophy.

So you stick the fob in the dash, press the “START/STOP” affectation, and fire up the engine. Hang on; can you “fire up” an engine with less displacement than a bottle of Diet Coke? In fact, it’s amazing to us buy-by-the-pound Americans that BMW would dare offer the 118 horse Cooper for sale on this side of the pond. That’s less poke underfoot than offered by a lowly a Kia Spectra. But unlike the original MINI's base (in the precise sense of the word) engine, which was made from rusted toaster ovens in a Brazilian Chrysler factory, the new 1.6 liter four-pot is a peach.

This PSA Peugeot-Citroen sourced mill doesn’t rev like one of Honda’s methamphetamine motors, but there’s plenty of space between zero revs and the 6500 rpm redline. The manual shifter is as slick as Clooney’s hair in O, Brother Where Art Thou? Whatever oomph there is is there for the taking. Metrosexuals and their mates will be delighted to discover that MINI has finally replaced the Continuously Vile Transmission with a proper six-speed autobox. Punch the pedal or row your boat; the best case is still naught to 60 in 8.5 seconds. Not too long ago you would have been impressed.

In day to day driving, the Cooper has plenty of zip. No, it’s not a Cooper S, but it’s still a car that could get you arrested… eventually. That’s because the suspension rewards any and all efforts to build the big Mo. Once you get a lick of speed and get into the game, the MINI’s handling becomes seriously addictive. Snap into a corner. More! Push into an S-curve. Is that really all you’ve got? Surge around a highway on-ramp at 73 mph. Down shift because damn it Scotty, we need more power! I dare you to drive the Cooper a few miles without cackling like a cocaine-crazed craps player.

Come to think of it, the Cooper is a smug little bastard of a car. I don’t have to brake for that turn. I can carve through traffic. I can fit into that parking space. I get 40 mpg highway. Unlike that psychotic dust-buster Civic, I've got completely customizable character. And I have to pay for home delivery because I can’t haul a damn thing. Err, never mind that last one.

No pistonhead worth his TTAC Tic Tacs would pass up a chance to buy a MINI Cooper S instead of a Cooper. Used S instead of new Cooper. Sorted. But let’s face it: there are plenty of people for whom $18k is already a stretch. And no other box fresh sub-$20k car has half the MINI Cooper’s flair and panache. Clooney’s cool, but sometimes you gotta go to Church.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • Blowfish Blowfish on Apr 24, 2010

    I was told by an ex mini owner, she had to sell her car cheap, because the CVT died, Mini does not repair them but sock up 12 grand for a new one! Thats kind of suck as when a car is 3-4 yrs old the residual is about 12 k & u need another 12G to fix her. I guess many folks will be jumping up & down to have the tranny fix! This is in Vancouver bc, not sure other places fix them?

  • Gtomoose Gtomoose on Oct 25, 2013

    avatar GBG April 15th, 2008 at 4:09 pm I’ve had my base MINI for 2 months, and it is fantastic! I didnt want the S because: 1. I kept reading terrible things about the run flat tires wearing fast and being expensive to replace 2. I kept hearing about the S riding even rougher than the base model. I like a firm ride, but I didnt want to feel the very texture of the road surface. 3. The cost. Instead, I splurged on a few options on the interior, where I spend more of my time… And I am having a blast every time I get in. GBG GBG - Just one question...... did you buy automatic or standard tranny?

  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.
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