By on August 22, 2009

The giant panda has been largely unchanged for millions of years. Evolution made some nips and tucks, but mostly let the species be. Perhaps because the design is right. Strong, capable, cute as . . . well . . . as a Mini Cooper, also largely unchanged since last we looked. So, is no news good news or has the Mini been left behind?

My Mini was Toy Fire Truck red. They call it something else in the brochure and they’re wrong. The rolling curves, contrasting tones, Bambi eyes and Cheshire Cat smile make you not so much want to drive this car as play with it.

The inside amps up that feeling: Radar screen gauges, rocker switches sourced from a Spitfire—you feel like you’re in Thunder Bird 6. All of the controls move smoothly. Most are supple plastic with only a hint of cheapness in the hard-to-reach places. It’s not intuitive, or even logical sometimes—window lifts sit where ashtrays used to hang. Love it or hate it, the interior is distinctive.

It is also practical. Two ‘growns’ fit just fine up front. Two half-growns fit OK in back. Seats up gives you 5.7 sq. feet of cargo space—less than a sidecar. Seats down and you’ve got 24 sq. feet behind a wide hatch. The aquarium design results in visibility bested only by a convertible. As goofy as the whole design seems, it’s not sacrificing utility.

The car is actually not big on sacrifice. 28, 37, 32 are great measurements . . . for mileage (city, highway, combo). That’s what you get with 118 horsepower. Just when you think you’re giving up fun for the sake of fuel savings, the real charm of the Mini shows.

The dual layshaft Getrag six-speed (a four speed with two output shafts) and snappy clutch let you juice the motor as much as you like. The throws are short, so you can keep the little engine in the biggest part of its power-band. The whole drivetrain has a puppy-waiting-by-the-door attitude.

The electronic steering lets you maximize the engine output. It tightens up nicely at speed and relaxes to park. It’s also one of the elements affected by the Sport button on the shifter boot. Pressing it warns the various on-board computers that mileage is not your primary concern. The steering firms up more quickly and the throttle response hastens. As these things happen anyway after the Mini’s processors have judged you, the button is more affectation than innovation. Still, pushing it helps warn your passengers, too.

Which they will thank you for once you start tossing this thing around. Yes, the car is style-conscious and gitchy [Ed. kitschy?]. The chassis, suspension and brakes give the style substance. The Mini is a fully flauntable sports car, even in base form. The normally aspirated engine doesn’t have the punch of the S model’s power-plant. That also means you can drive flat out loony and never get into trouble. Mini Legal would never let Mini Marketing say this, but I can: Minis can’t be rolled. You will never tip, spin or punch this car beyond your control. Go on. Try.

In whipping your Mini the worst that will happen is tire wear. And that’s great. The sooner you slip out of the run-flats and into something less comfortable the better. I have no complaints with the grip of the stock all seasons; it’s that they so efficiently convert comfort into noise.

Which can be mitigated by any number of the 7.2 million options available for the vehicle. The car is customizable from the dealer in ways previously found only in the truck center. Mine had Bluetooth phone integration and an iPod dock, allowing me to control the MP3 player from the stereo or, even better, right from the steering wheel, correcting the tire noise.

The way most of us use our cars most of the time the Mini is superb. No bragging rights. No smoked Trans Ams at the stoplight. Certainly no crossing the Rubicon. It’s nimble, athletic and supports your life, rather than add a new burden. That’s probably one of the best things you can say about any purchase.

It’s also, I believe, the way the car buying public is headed. As we wake up from the current recession and feel the pressure of pent-up demand, I think an increasing number of consumers are going to be looking a car that does more with less. There will always be a market for a bike ramp with 500 pound feet of torque or a gentleman’s club on 19″ rims. The trend, for the meat of the market, will bend towards usable fun. It already shows in the steadily growing list of Mini competitors. None of which are putting it on the endangered species list.

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85 Comments on “Review: 2009 MINI Cooper...”

  • avatar

    Every time I see one of these I think “Chick car”. Maybe it’s because my wife and most of the females I know want one. I just don’t see the appeal. We looked at one and after adjusting the driver seat for my long legs the back seat was a package shelf. If I remember correctly the back of the front seat was nearly in contact with the rear seat. Even without a long legged driver I can’t see how “Two half-growns fit OK in back” unless the half-gowns have no legs. I did not like the dash or any of the controls, the radio controls were the worst offender. The wife still wants one.

  • avatar

    My wife has an ’05 Cooper S and loves it. It doesn’t do much for me but she gets a lot of attention in it. It’s quite practical and fun at urban speeds but then quickly shows it limitations. While the suspension is firm, there is an unpleasant float over undulations that does not inspire me with confidence. But I don’t think that track performance is the point if this vehicle. It’s more about personalization and buying into the individualism of the Mini brand. In that way it’s more like automotive jewelery and, judging by the resale values, it does that pretty well.

  • avatar

    “Minis can’t be rolled.” Oh yeah? Any damn thing can be rolled. I wouldn’t have thought you could roll a second generation Camaro, low and wide as they are, but I saw one on its top in the ditch.

    Narrow, short cars like the Mini are much used in rollover contests at demolition derbies in my area.

  • avatar

    Nice car but too expensive for what you get. From day one, BMW has kept a tight rein on maintaining a low supply so demand (and price) remains high.

    There is no one (and I mean, no one) that can market cars in the United States like the Germans.

  • avatar

    Thanks…nicely done.

    I WANT to like this car.
    It’s the sports car with the ability to carry groceries or even a friend or kids in back if needed.
    Unlike two seaters, it allows for stuff.

    But why, Oh Why! is the speedometer in the center!?
    This really, really bothers me.
    If anybody has driven one in the city can assure me that over time this will not wear on them, please tell me so.

    And road noise.
    Is this bothersome as well on a 50 55 plus highway?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, the pie-plate speedo is just plain silly.  Fortunately, there’s a digital speedo in the tach, which is where it should be, front and center to the driver.  I’ve never cared for digitals, but I have to say the tach/digi speedo combo works a lot better than I expected.  I never look at the huge speedometer except to check my fuel gauge.
      The road noise doesn’t bother me, but my other car is a Honda Element, so maybe I’m just used to it.  I have a Clubman, more rear seat room and more cargo space.  Still gets awesome mileage and is a kick in the pants to drive.

  • avatar

    Well written review, Mr. Martineck, but I drove one of these, and the only thing I was impressed with was the styling.

    Otherwise, what you have is a $23,000 toy car that you can’t bring your family along in, has absolutely atrocious ergonomics (they even included the God-awful radio display from the 3-series BMW), and gets embarassed at stoplights by my Focus.

    The handling was indeed entertaining, but this car’s darty dynamics would get old after a while.

    For $23 large, a Mazdaspeed 3 offers a true high-performance envelope, plus an actual back seat.

    But the Mini does function well as a rolling fashion statement.

  • avatar

    Nice review. Highly readable.

    As for the car, not so much. In my condo’s parking structure I walk past a Mini Clubman every day and while the exterior is fine, I just think the interior is overdone, gimmicky. The Germans can afford to build a proper dashboard with the speedo in front of the driver as God intended, so do it already.

    I think what makes a Mini distinctive is the abundance of exterior choices available. I don’t know that I’ve seen two identical Minis.

    Whatever. If I wanted a really small car I think I would get the new Fiesta (although its cabin is a little overwrought, as well).

  • avatar

    The speedometer in the center kills it for me. I can’t stand that.

  • avatar

    “Tire ware“? = New line of auto enthusiast dinnerware from Anchor Hocking?

  • avatar

    I will repeat my suggestion to TTAC (last made in the context of the Ford Flex review) to have cars reviewed by writers who have not bought those same cars. It’s much easier being impartial if it’s not your own car you’re reviewing …

  • avatar

    Car is very fun, I nearly bought one, but got a GTI instead.

    I hate the car’s ergos, tho they are easy to get over. The size isn’t too bad a killer, but the road noise and suspension stiffness were the part I didn’t like. They’re a blast in the corners, but ona 60 mile daily commute, with potholes and such, they can kinda beat you up.

    The torque steer in the S was pretty bad, but the steering feel, clutch and shifter are top notch.

    When I put the GTI in the corners, I wish I had my Miata back or maybe got the MINI, but most of the rest of the time, the GTI does almost everything better than the MINI in my opinion.

    I do envy the MINI resale though…

  • avatar

    Regarding the speedometer in the center: The reason it’s there is because that’s where it was in the original Mini.

    At least that’s what I was told a few years ago, and it’s the only answer that makes any sense.

  • avatar

    Hello all!
    Well… I know it’s comparing apples and oranges, but…
    Ive driven a few Mini Ss, and have to say that in no way is this car as much fun, as much of a driver’s car as my ’99 Mazda Miata. We are talking fun, arent we?
    The center speedo turns me off, and the gearing feels all wrong to me.
    To go back to my 1st statement, maybe nothing does compare to the Mini. Which may be its appeal.
    I’ll stay with the Miata.

  • avatar

    Mini is irresistible if you cannot abide with Miata’s cloth roof and Benz SLK is out of your price range. It’s very friendly to tall drivers, despite its size (way better headroom than many more expensive cars: Acura RSX, Infi G37, and Lexus IS250 specifically). I came very close to getting it, but small things ruined the deal.

    – Navigation system is a dumbed-down iDrive

    – Mini S has no spare (its exhaust runs where the spare is on the basic Mini)

    – I’m fine on the center instruments of Scion, but Mini’s idea of it is not anywhere as easy to read.

    – Cannot have the real LSD with the auto tranny (why?!)

    Finally, Mini nickel-and-dimes you. If you ask for navigation, you must get steering wheel with buttons, and some other options that I forgot.

  • avatar

    The MINI is one of those cars, like the Miata, that many people want to poo poo because of its cuteness, but deep down it’s a real sports car. I offer autocross domination as proof.

  • avatar

    There’s plenty that I should like about the Mini:

    It’s built in the UK and supports a LOT of UK jobs.

    It’s cute.

    It’s quick.

    It’s fun to drive.

    However, there’s only one thing which stops me from considering one….

    the interior.

    I REALLY hate the interior. The plastics look cheap and the dash & dials look “toy-ish”.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but an interior can make or break a car, for me. And in this case, it’s didn’t just break the car… smashed it.

  • avatar

    Re: the center speedometer –

    I really like this feature on my 05 xB. As a tall driver, I have been cursed with only being able to view 0-30 and 90-120 on most speedometers most of my life. A center-mounted speedometer solves that problem, and viewing it is actually easier since your eyes don’t have to travel as far to do so. I’d consider it a safety enhancement.

    It also helps my driving habits remain more accountable with my (young) passengers. :)

    Re: the Cooper – I drove a friend’s Cooper this year, and it seemed pretty loose for a 4-year-old car – several squeaks and rattles, particularly in the dashboard area. Do these cars age poorly, or was my experience unique?

  • avatar
    Lug Nuts

    I have an ’09 base Mini Cooper. Love it. A hoot to drive. I shopped it back to back against the Miata and the Mini came out on top in most regard. The Miata is the truer sports car, but the Cooper manages to offer razor sharp handling and steering while still providing a decent back seat, a hatchback, and a gigantic sunroof. The sunroof quickly makes you forget about a convertible.

    @paulie: The tach above the steering column has an amber digital display to show speed. It’s perfectly placed and easy to see while driving. I never even look at the center analog speedo. The road noise is due to the run-flat tires, although the noise doesn’t bother me, even on the interstate. Since the base model car comes with a compact spare tire, there’s no worry about switching to regular tires.

  • avatar

    Building on zaitcev –

    It’s VERY easy to price yourself a $40K Mini Cooper. Start with the “S,” add some JCW parts or package, throw in navigation and some other odds and ends and feel your heart stop from shock.

    I look at that the same as buying a 30K Miata. You just won’t get that back at resale time.

    Anyway, how does that go – it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than driving a fast car slow. Go easy on the options and the Mini can be a lot of fun.

  • avatar

    BDB: “The speedometer in the center kills it for me. I can’t stand that.”For those who really don’t like the speedo in the middle of the dash, there’s a remedy, but it will cost you: a MINI equipped with the Nav option relocates the speedo in front of the driver.

  • avatar

    At least in America, Navigation DOES NOT relocate the speedometer. The speedometer changes shape, but it goes around the navigation package in a huge circle, and the whole deal is mounted where the speedometer was on non-navi MINI.

  • avatar

    I am more bitter that we won’t get the 135 5 door because of the Mini.

  • avatar

    To me Mini is an interesting diversion. I have driven a few, both base Coopers and S versions, and while I didn’t dislike them, I wasn’t won over either. The center speedo is a major issue for me as well, the speedo belongs in the center of the driver’s side gauge pack, nowhere else.

    Also, I driven plenty of Mazdas that offer just as nice handling, with better ergonomics, and more interior space, for less money. I realize Mini isn’t about practicality, but at a premium price it doesn’t have class leading power, handling, or luxury.

    It does have style, but when combined with all the drawbacks, I’ll settle for admiring them from inside of my own car instead of inside of my garage. Mini is a lot like Apple, selling style and image over facts and figures. There’s nothing wrong with that, as Apple and Mini sales with attest, and every so often such a company comes out with a product that anyone can like (I just bought my first iPhone recently and have to say it is the best cell phone I have ever had, period) so maybe I’ll like a Clubman if I ever drive one. For now though, while Minis are sort of neat, the pragmatic side of me keeps me away.

  • avatar

    +1 NulloModo. I like admiring these from my car, they are cute and look like a lot of fun. I’ve ridden in one and it’s a fun ride. But the dashboard and IP ergonomics are completely unacceptable. I could not live with the cartoonish, cheap look in front of my face if I owned one.

  • avatar

    I would and I assume at some point will consider the Mini, but for the same reason as the Miata. Cute little well handling car that will return great gas mileage. If I ever buy one or the other it will be my primary commuter, something to make the drive back and forth to work a little more entertaining.

    But if I do it will have to be one of three vehicles in the family. Something large enough for the wife to haul the kids around in, a truck for true truck jobs and stone basic in its features, and then the commuter car for maximum mileage and fun for the sprint back and forth to work.

  • avatar

    Chick car

    Gay car

    regardless what I think when I see one, one thing is certain.

    If my S550 hits one of these – the driver of the Cooper will DIE and I’ll be in for $20,000 worth of body work.

  • avatar

    I have driven the MINI S a few years back, but was unimpressed. It really didn’t handle as well as I thought it would – no, I’m not going to say the go-cart word – oops.

    I do like the mileage and the exterior looks to an extent – interior is gimmicky though. I agree with the crap flung at that center speedo.

    Marketing has been a model of excellence from inception. It is fairly practical (mileage, headroom, compact size), but I’d take a Honda Fit over it in those areas. The MINI is just too small overall for my tastes. And a bit too chickish (can’t be a real word if it’s underlined in red I guess) and, of course, metrosexual.

    The MAZDASPEED3 (God, I hate the marketers – what’s with the caps?) would be my choice in a heartbeat over the MINI (damn it, caps again). Or a GTI. Hell, I’d take the regular versions of each (3 and Golf) over the MINI if you get right down to it.

  • avatar

    I had an 05 Cooper S until Feb this year. Imminent expiration of warranty combined with too many gremlins and the difficulty of installing my son in his child seat back there, led to it being replaced by an 09 Mazdaspeed3.

    The Mazda is much quicker, but the Mini was funner – I like the Mazda, but it doesn’t put a sh!t eating grin on my face like the Mini could. I occasionally autocrossed the little thing (I’m far from an expert autocrosser), as far as I was concerned, it was an absolute weapon on the autocross circuit.

    To dismiss the Mini as a chick/gay car in favour of an S550’s advanced safety features is to so completely and spectacularly miss the point as to render pointless any attempt to explain.

    The central speedo – my 1980 original Mini had it there, it was the way they were made then. What no-one tells you is that, on the new ones, there’s a digital readout of your speed on the tachometer in front of you, you barely ever consult the central speedo (but you do need to keep half an eye on the fuel guage there)

  • avatar

    I really wanted to like this car. I configured the MINI online for a year. I like the spirited acceleration of the turbo, the handling and manual transmission. What killed it for me was the Fisher Price style speedometer set up. I didn’t even care that it was in the middle of the dash. It’s look was disproportionate to the car. Its presence would have bothered me to the point that I wouldn’t want to keep the MINI more than a year or two.

    If I can’t see myself keeping a vehicle for ten years, I don’t buy it. I ended up with an 09 TDI VW. I can honestly see myself keeping this car for a decade. That’s how long I kept my first TDI. I despise VW service, but I love the turbo diesel. (I avoid VeeDub stealerships and have my work done by diesel affectionados.)

  • avatar

    We’re 42,000 miles into our 2006 MINI Cooper S. It’s mostly my wife’s daily commuter, but I drive it occasionally and just did a one-day 400+ mile trip in it two days ago. It’s a reasonable highway car as long as you keep the stereo volume up above the noisy tires. The car has always been a blast to drive (manual transmission and a supercharger), and they handle much better on the lighter 16″ wheels than the 17″ wheels which weigh over 50 lbs apiece with the run flats mounted.

    Our MINI is garaged next to our 2002 Honda (also bought new), and I can honestly that the build quality of MINI is nowhere near that of Honda. I am terrified of when our MINI goes out of warranty because, well, they’re not that reliable, not that well made, and you encounter BMW hourly rates and attitude at the service department.

    And, yeah, I’ve forgotten about the center speedometer and never look at it. The digital display at the bottom of the tachometer is in the right place. For what it’s worth, the center-mounted speedometer in the “original” Minis meant they could use the same dashboard for both RHD and LHD cars to keep the cost down.

  • avatar

    Flashpoint – Assuming it wasn’t an 80+ mph head on collision, the likely result (assuming both drivers were wearing safety belts) is that everyone would walk away with at most minor scrapes and bruises.

    Every new car, regardless of make, is designed to crumple and suck up force upon impact, and passenger car bumper regulations mean that car to car pretty much any collision will allow lots of force to be absorbed by crumple zones. Add to that the now standard front, side, and head curtain airbags of almost every model sold, and the old myth that the only safe car is a big car has really fallen by the wayside.

  • avatar

    NulloModo: Every new car, regardless of make, is designed to crumple and suck up force upon impact, and passenger car bumper regulations mean that car to car pretty much any collision will allow lots of force to be absorbed by crumple zones.

    Almost — every passenger car is designed to do this. Trucks may or may not have crumple zones.

    Ford made a big deal in their advertising about adding crumple zones to the F-150. They conveniently forgot to mention that passenger cars have had them for the better part of four decades.

  • avatar

    As an owner of a Cooper S, I have to say its an incredible package. Yes, you can jack up the price to an absurd level. Yes, the ergonomics are shoddy at best. But if you’re like me, and use your car not as a rolling restaurant, but as a means of going from point A to point B with as much fun as possible, its hard to do better for 20k. I came from a WRX and I’m having far more fun. You get used to the idiosyncrasies of the interior in about an hour. The difference between the MINI and WRX/MS3 is that it just feels polished and designed from the ground up to be a great handling vehicle, vs the other two which are souped up econoboxes. Perhaps the miata may be a more apt comparison but 2 seats and no storage wouldn’t work for me, a father of 2.

  • avatar

    Nicely written article.
    As an owner of a 05 MINI Cooper S, and a car fanatic in general, I’m glad I bought my car before all the critics came out so I would’t have to read and discount all the bad reviews.
    Ergonomics, not so great, but you get over it. If every car had absolutely perfect ergonomics, we would all be complaining about bland interiors…oh…we already do. My 6’2″ friend finds driving my car fine. If you’re much taller than that, you probably really do need a bigger car. I’m under 6′ tall, so the car fits me fine.
    Reliability…I really don’t know what folks complaining about bad reliability of a MINI is really talking about. Any even minor issue has been taken care of by my dealer. Even those I didn’t notice, and I’ve never had to go back and get the same problem fixed. My local MINI dealer fixes it right the first time. My MINI has actually been very reliable.
    Tire noise. Yeah…it’s noisy. 17″ or bigger wheels on a MINI, or any other car, for that matter with runflat tires at 45 series can do that. Go for the 16″ wheels with non RF tires.
    One of my buddies that drives a mildly tuned Honda Civic said my MINI sounds like I’m driving with racing slicks on. When I have my 15″ wheels with 650 series snowtires on, the car is much more comfortable and quieter.
    So in the end, I don’t think a MINI is for everybody, but those that get one, like the balance of what they’ve bought. Those that don’t buy a MINI certainly don’t need to look for excuses for why they don’t like it. They just have a different balance in priorities on what they need in a car. MINI seems to have a balance that does meet the needs of enough people.

  • avatar

    A friend has a new generation Cooper S, and as said already, that huge center speedometer is really offputting…so large it’s actually kind of hard to read, the scale is just all wrong. As they did in the 1st gen, I wish they offered the option of having 2 smaller guages (speedo/tach) mounted over the steering wheel, with accessory guages (fuel, oil, etc) housed in the center big dial…it cost extra, but definitely improved the interior.

    This car should be on my ‘short list’, but that goofy, cheap looking instrument panel is a deal breaker.

    Other than that though, it’s a pretty sweet ride for a city dweller who can deal with the interior. Easy to park, good MPG’s and good acceleration, cool looks. 2 years old and 30K miles, and it’s been reliable for my friend so far.

  • avatar

    I had a chance to rent a base model in Victoria BC. Great enviroment for this car. It so much reminded me of an old 85 Honda CRX I owned in my youth but much more refined.

    As for all the strange inside bits? I got used to it. It was a short time with the car 4 days. The runflats turned out to be an even BIGGER dissapointment due to the noise and the rental shop had me replace one…ONE $250!!

    I’m sure there is a “mark up” being a small rental company but I beleave that it was not far off. I would never want to ride on these things or pay for them.

    It handled great and would be on my short list as a commuter car but I am thinking of spending a little more next summer. A Boxer S would be much more fun.

  • avatar

    zaitcev: “At least in America, Navigation DOES NOT relocate the speedometer.”Navigation relocated the speedometer on the 1st Gen MINI in the US. There may have been a ‘Chrono’ Package that would do the same thing on some models without Nav, too.

  • avatar

    Flashpoint : Chick car Gay car. regardless what I think when I see one, one thing is certain. If my S550 hits one of these – the driver of the Cooper will DIE and I’ll be in for $20,000 worth of body work.

    And a truck driver might say: “Rich old fat guy car. Regardless of what I think, if my Freightliner hits one of these, the driver of the Merc will DIE…”

    Get real. Posting a comment like that is irrelevant in the context of a review like this. If all you are so concerned about is whether you will die when you get hit, then stay off the road since driving is inherently dangerous. Besides, you could say that about any small car, to include something that would make your 550 look like a slum machine, such as a Porsche GT 2.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    I am European and prefer Metric, but cargo space is not measured in sq. ft. normally…

  • avatar

    Any Mini Clubman owners here? I told the wife we’d look at the Clubman in hopes it had a useful back seat. She doesn’t think the Clubman is as “cute” but she’s willing to check them out. Nearest dealer is over an hour away.

  • avatar
    Detroit Todd

    This past Spring, I picked up a three-door Saturn XR for commuter duty. Six months and 6,000 miles later, I’m pleased as punch. It’s a great car for the money (just over $20k), and it’s doing exactly what I wanted it to do – provide cheap commuting with a little bit of style and some fun-to-drive peppered in.

    I looked at the Mini, as my boss’s wife has one. I saw the interior, and laughed. If Dora the Explorer had a car, this is what the interior would look like. Then I looked at the Mini’s sticker, and laughed even harder.

    I checked out a Mazda 3. Nice car for the money (although a bit more than the Astra). Certainly, it’s best-in-class in many respects. But, there is no 3-door option on the Mazda 3, and red instrumentation irritates me. I keep my commuter cars “until the wheels fall off”, and I just couldn’t put up with the harsh, red read-outs for 10-years plus.

    I also looked at a Golf/Rabbit whatever the hell they’re calling them now. I had a GTI in the mid-80s and loved it. But the money wasn’t right, and encountering VW service is like strapping a rat cage to your face.

    So, for me, the Saturn Astra XR was the right choice. I’m averaging just over 30 mpg in mixed driving, and there is a long, curved on-ramp on my commute that makes me smile every morning. Just an oil change so far (knock on wood), which came with the legendary, friendly, nearly overly-indulgent Saturn customer service. (This is my second Saturn. I swear, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered me a ‘happy ending’ on a service visit. They are that good.)

    But if you want something hip/goofy that makes you look “unique” when you go to Trader Joe’s to pick up some arugula, then maybe the overpriced Mini is for you.

  • avatar

    as someone who still drives older F series trucks I have always thought of crumple zones as a euphemism for the other guys car.

  • avatar

    Pickup drivers dismiss crumple zones right until the moment they meet a highway overpass and die. Heck a dude in a pickup burned alive in next town over after grazing a divider on I-680.

  • avatar

    Here’s a review of used challenger we were ragging on yesterday. I’m still dissapointed with our burnout.

  • avatar

    “Pickup drivers dismiss crumple zones right until the moment they meet a highway overpass and die. Heck a dude in a pickup burned alive in next town over after grazing a divider on I-680.”

    I guess the humor in my post was lost on you. Your story sounds tragic. Do you posit that crumple zones would have saved the occupant? Do you think automakers should have to make all vehicles impervious to high speed collisions with highway dividers? That sounds simple and cost effective. (note, that last sentence is supposed to be sarcastic)

  • avatar

    kcflyer: as someone who still drives older F series trucks I have always thought of crumple zones as a euphemism for the other guys car.

    Like an 18-wheeler?

    Of course if you’d like to pretend that there is nothing heavier or more immovable on the highway than your F-150, you can always become part of evolution in action.

  • avatar

    I will repeat my suggestion to TTAC (last made in the context of the Ford Flex review) to have cars reviewed by writers who have not bought those same cars. It’s much easier being impartial if it’s not your own car you’re reviewing

    TTAC used to have this very policy.

    Indirect reference:

    I can not find the review where Robert states this policy.

  • avatar

    I keep hearing (here from some of the readers/pundits) that VW won’t be able to sell the full-house European drivers’ models…it has to be plain vanilla.
    So tell me…how is the Mini any different from a Polo? How is an amped up Mini any different from an amped up Polo?
    I am still confounded that while the Mini has been a barn-buring success, none of the major Euro import players have imported the great stuff they have over there, over here.
    What gives? Other than the usually tone-deaf, stone-blind, rear-view mirror product line planning from the idiots in the Whatever-of-America corporate suite…
    Just asking….
    (from someone who owns an ’98 original Mini)

  • avatar

    2,600 lbs. + 118HP = no fun. Big surprise, coming from ‘Onerareviper’. But as someone else put it best, “I will not be a HP apologist”. The Mini is a dynamic car, but it NEEDS the turbo motor. This may not be true in other parts of the world, but in the U.S. you need (require) a little ‘kick in the pants’ in many driving situations. Keep in mind I’m not saying 500HP is manditory, as the 172-208HP Turbo models will to just fine. But 118HP tiny 4-banger? No. No. No.

  • avatar

    For all of you comparing the mini to a miata for driving thrills, what about a used boxster? I picked one up for 20K, low miles. Miles of style over miata, not quite the chick car a mini is, a better all rounder than both. Especially on the highway, I would not want a mini, with its engine strung out and darty steering.

    noreserve: the way i read your comment, it seems you are actually taking the talent of the marketers hired by auto companies into account in your purchasing decisions. erm, postmodern

  • avatar

    People who´s complaining about the cuteness of the mini and says it´s a chick or gay car is insecure people.
    If you buy a big car or a truck instead of a mini just for telling people: “I´m not gay”, you have some serious psychological problems.
    Also, why some people complain about the size of the backseat is beyond me.
    It´s not a frickin family car.

  • avatar

    I live in Boston and drive a 2006 Cooper (non-S, with manual), and I don’t think there’s another car that would work better for me.

    I fit it into parking spaces I’d have to pass by in any other car on the road (except a Smart).

    It gets great mileage.

    The darty handling is ideal for the darty driving you have to do to get around in Boston. Actually, the darty handling makes me enjoy weaving through traffic and around potholes.

    115 bhp means I get to see the redline on a regular basis without seeing flashing lights in my rearview.

    I’m 6’1″, and for short trips, an adult human can fit in the back seat behind me.

    With the back seats flipped down, my wife and I can do Home Depot or IKEA trips (OK, OK, so I wish that the back seats didn’t flip down).

  • avatar

    I like Mini Coopers the only car out there with no competition. cute,little, fast and british tradition in it’s own class.

    Mini Cooper reminds of the Mitsubishi Minica of the 70s.

  • avatar

    I like Mini Coopers the only car out there with no competition. cute,little, fast and british tradition in it’s own class.

    Mini Cooper reminds of the Mitsubishi Minica of the 70s.

  • avatar

    amcadoo: For all of you comparing the mini to a miata for driving thrills, what about a used boxster? I picked one up for 20K, low miles. Miles of style over miata, not quite the chick car a mini is, a better all rounder than both.

    All rounder, assuming you don’t need a substantial trunk. For me personally, the Boxster (or Cayman or 911 for that matter) simply won’t work as a primary car as I can’t fit my hockey gear in it.

  • avatar

    Like many others my wife wanted a Mini something fierce until she sat inside and saw the interior. If any car has a “Playskool” interior the Mini is it. Sorry no sale.

  • avatar

    I have an 09 Std (non-S) 6-speed Mini Cabrio.

    1. Yes, the interior really is embarrassing for a grown up to drive – big deal. Could be worse – could be almost any Chrysler.

    2. The interior is just too small – I am 6″ 3″ and while there is plenty of room for me as the driver the rear seat is in fact a package shelf. Just as well as the wind deflector I always have in the car covers it anyhow.

    3. The center speedometer really sucks – True, but there is an easy fix. Push the standard equipment little button on the end of the directional signal I think three times and it will display a nice sufficiently large digital speed in the center of the tach. It will “stick” to that setting, so you will never again have to actually look at the huge speedometer. Maybe have your wife hang a curtain over it or something if it really bothers you that much.

    4. You don’t drive a Mini, you fling it. More than enough reason to completely ignore numbers 1, 2, and 3 above. For under $25k this has to be the most fun convertible you can buy. Sorry Miata, but I need the “extra” package shelf.

  • avatar

    Honda please bring back the CRX!!!

  • avatar

    As a Miata driver, I get a lot of the same comments: too small, too darty, not enough power.

    Now on the Internet, it’s not rude to leave these comments wherever you like, whether you are invited to or not. But in person I am surprised at how many strangers will vocalize their distaste for my car (to me!) as I am in the parking lot.

    “That car is too small”, or “you’re going to die in that thing.”

    At first I wanted to reply, “WOW who asked you??” but now I realize they are secretly jealous and just expressing sour grapes. “That car looks like a blast, but I bet it really sucks.”

  • avatar

    I wish they offered the option of having 2 smaller guages (speedo/tach) mounted over the steering wheel

    I’ve driven both generations of the new Mini and they both had a tach with integrated digital speedo located above the steering wheel. I don’t get what everyone’s complaining about. Just click the selector to display the speed in the middle of the tach.

  • avatar

    I love this car and would buy it, if it weren’t for the low ground clearance. This car is meant only as a summer car. In snow countries this car is useless for winter. I wish they would jack it up by two inches while maintaining the good handling.

  • avatar

    Micheal Blue – I had a ’03 MCS, and never had any problems driving in Ohio or to Canada (mt Tremblant and such) on my snowboarding trips. Actually I remember it did much better in a few really bad snow storms than some more jacked up cars, sitting on the sides of the road in the ditch.
    It has better traction in the snow it seems than my current AWD mazdaspeed6 (which I hate for it’s huge size)

  • avatar

    CuoreSprtv, thanks. Did you actually drive it on an unploughed snow-covered road? How much snow was on the road?

  • avatar

    Like KatiePuckrik I just cannot get over the awful, tacky interior of this car. BMW, please leave some room for the crew cut rap blasting oversized tshirt beat-up Honda Civic with a fart can, LED string lights and low hanging skirt “customizers” to express themselves. Don’t do everything for them.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    The giant panda has been largely unchanged for millions of years. Evolution made some nips and tucks, but mostly let the species be. Perhaps because the design is right.

    Unfortunately the panda is in danger of extinction because evolution has nipped and tucked away at the male panda’s penis and libido. Equipment shortages, as it were, make it difficult for the poor creatures to propagate their species, if they could ever muster up the desire to do so.

    What any of this might suggest about the MINI, I dare not guess.

  • avatar
    Jim Cherry

    Yes, the central speedo was a feature of the original Minis–like everything on this car, designed for economy as it could be switched to left hand drive easier. Read all about Mini history:

  • avatar

    Why do I have the feeling that if a trucker posted how his 18 wheeler would crush a MINI and an F-150, some other poster (probably a compact owner) would just reply how a train would crush the 18 wheeler?
    Meanwhile, a motorcycle owner is probably laughing at all three of them.

  • avatar

    I was over with my buddy last evening (a body man who also does light body work in his home shop for extra cash on the side). He was working on an ’06 Mini Cooper S.

    Entertaining, and very BMW-like in many build details (little wonder…. BMW own the Mini brand). Knowing BRITISH cars’ VIN numbers are supposed to start with “S” for the UK, I was shocked to find the VIN started with “W” for GERMANY.

    I could have sworn this car was built in England. Wikipedia says it is.

    Why the GERMAN beginning to the VIN #?

  • avatar

    You pickup truck drives think you’re invicible and that “I always thought of other people’s cars as my crumple zone” (which I bet was tongue in cheek but not necessarily, the way some pickemup truck drivers drive where I reside…. RUDE tailgating pushy obnoxious…)

    Have a peek here. Volvos are invicible, right? Especially against some little “sh!tbox” car, eh?


  • avatar
    Frayed Knot

    I’m the owner of an ’03 Cooper. It was originally my wife’s daily driver but after the birth of my son, it became my driver.

    After 6+ years of ownership, my wife and I still both love the car. It has its flaws, but it’s still a great car.

    A few points, not all of which are applicable to the ’09 reviewed here:

    1. The center placement of the Speedo isn’t a big deal. It’s become second nature to glance over to the center when I want to check my speed. The size of the speedo is large enough that it’s easy to read with a simple glance.

    2. I, for one, enjoy the quirky (or gimicky) interior. It’s unique and even after 6 years it doesn’t look dated. I’m not sure I like the 2nd generation quite as much, however.

    3. It’s by no means a family car, but it can carry a surprising amount of people and/or stuff. For short trips, I’m able to easily fit my wife, my son, an umbrella stroller and some shopping bags without a problem. If you don’t need to carry any rear passenger, fold down the rear seat, and you’ve got good deal of volume to accommodate your needs.

    4. It’s been a solid performer in winter. I live in the Boston metro area and have never gotten stuck even on unplowed side streets – and I run on all-seasons.

    5. The engine is underpowered (although the 2nd generation has improved this) and it does get disappointing city mileage. If you’re really concerned with hp, get the Cooper S. Problem solved.

    6. It does not have the quietest interior in the world, but it’s not bad.

    7. It is a bit pricey for what you get, but if you look at the resale values of the Minis, it’s not as expensive as you might think.

    Obviously it’s not a car for everyone, and there are some strong alternatives out there as people have mentioned. But I’ve been happy so far, and I hope to keep the car for a long time.

  • avatar

    Properly setup, theres isn’t a better handling car available, this side of a Porsche, than a Mini Cooper S.

  • avatar
    Jim Cherry

    All opinions on the MINI are about to be forced to consider revisions–the new COUPE will feature JCW gear in a lighter weight, two seater version:

  • avatar

    Huh, I’m surprised there is such a negative view of the Mini. I had an ’06 Cooper S for a couple of years and absolutely loved it. Great handling car, convenient size for the city and had no problems with it at all. It is relatively expensive but has a solid feel to it, even at speed, that you don’t get with most small cars.

    Re. snow, have driven the car extensively in snowy conditions and it handles perfectly well.

  • avatar
    Jim Cherry

    Curious what the author thinks of the new MINI Cooper Coupe concept, said to be near identical with production version? Check it out:

  • avatar

    Wow…I am really surprised to see so much negativity about *any* car from people who have never even owned one.

    I am not all that high on MINIs, really. I enjoyed my Chrysler 300C but was looking for a better commuter car when that lease ran out. For a combo of great mpg, a little pep, a few comforts (can’t live w/out my heated seats) and a sharp price, I ended up buying a Mini. Frankly — I always thought the OUTSIDE was hokey! After visiting both France & England this spring and seeing the droves of perfectly normal grown-ups driving them I had to take a look. Beats driving something totally vanilla.

    My biggest grips are the lack of any usable storage space in the passenger compartment and the fact that the rear windows don’t roll down (hey – went to the dealership and bought one…didn’t notice it till I wanted to take the dog somewhere). I am particularly surprised at all of the road noise comments. Are you all perhaps commenting on the convertible? I have the hardtop, and my Cooper S is much quieter than many cars I’ve driven. And yes, I’m on the run-flats. I have a 60 mile commute to work and use my phone A LOT while driving so love the integrated bluetooth and the relatively quiet interior! The cargo space is awesome (never would have dreamed how much would fit) and I am thrilled with the 32/38 mpg I am getting (S 6-spd).

    I *still* think it looks goofy, and it never occurred to me to use the speedo. The damn speedo isn’t accurate anyway; called the dealer 4 days after getting the car and asked if I could have it calibrated. You all must already know that this is “BMW/European technology” and they do it on PURPOSE! (setting the speedo to read higher than one’s actual speed). I think this is completely absurd and paternalistic and irritates me more than any clownish center-placed gauge ever could. So frankly, I use my tomtom GPS for my speedo, and enjoy the other benefits of MINI driving. On the whole, I expect to drive this car into the ground. Today is my 3-month anniversary and I have over 5500 miles on it already. Gonna see if I can top 300,000. All this “fun” “happy motoring” “go-cart handling” crap is just marketing anyway. As someone else mentioned, this car is very well-marketed. I didn’t buy it for a race car or to haul the fam around. It is perfect…for what it is. Happy Motoring:)

  • avatar

    I am glad I didn’t pass over this car after all of the negative reviews. This car is a hoot to drive! I became a member of the Zipcar service just so I could drive lots of different cars, Cooper, Mazda3, Volvo S40, Scion Tc, Honda Civic, etc from 1000 to 40,000 miles. The Mini is a only car that has felt really tight and still handles as good as new. I recently drove a Mini Cooper that has not been treated kindly, due to lots of urban use on rough roads and I was surprised that it actually had 33,000 miles on the odometer. Both the Mazda and Honda didn’t feel as solid and they had 28,000 and 30,000 miles respectively. The Mazda3 handles nicely but the steering was too loose at speed and it just wandered too much. The Civic steering is just too numb. The Mini was solid and buttoned down, even at 85mph!
    This car is probably for somebody who has another car but wants a fun car for zipping around town. A friend of mine has a BMW 745 and really wants to get the Mini as a second car.
    It is also probably meant for young people that really want a BMW or similar car but can’t afford the total cost of ownership. I fall into the latter camp.
    Recently, I have been a very cautious driver (too many tickets from years back), but the Mini turned me into a motoring maniac again. I was zipping around other cars just for the hell of it and sliding into parking lots at ridiculous speeds. None of the other cars even hinted at that level of lunacy.
    This is coming from the maniac who ripped apart his new Acura Integra GSR and replaced almost every engine and suspension component with Comptech and Mugen parts back in the late 90’s. What a hoot that car was to drive. I never thought I’d have as much fun in another car until I drove the Mini.
    This one is definitely not a chick car. Most of the chicks I know drive Corollas, Accords, Civics or those Lexus crossover things.
    My wife loves the car but she’s the kind of chick that doesn’t mind getting engine grease underneath her fingernails.
    The comical Flavor Flav speedo and frameless windows do bug me a lot. I had a bad experience with the leaky frameless windows on my Integra.

  • avatar

    My observations:
    1. The majority of people who “poo poo” the new Mini do not actually own one. For I have never come across a dissatisfied Mini owner – and there are many amongst my friends and collegues.
    2. I have yet to see a mini being driven by someone who looks sad, angry or depressed. I have seen more smiling Mini drivers than drivers of any cars.
    3. If you drive Merc, BMW, Acura, Audi, Lexus, etc, like a maniac, and weave in and out of traffic, cut people off, others will think you are rude, a show off, a jerk and an As… (well, I have never used that word in full in public). If a Mini driver does the same, we are likely to approve of the driver’s right to have a good time and smile at him or her! I should know – I drive an A4 and envy Mini drivers.

  • avatar

    Yep, they all seem to be having fun – except the guy that passed me on I-75 on N.GA. last weekend doing about 80 mph. I was in my 12 yr old VW Cabrio and seriously thought about following his pace but didn’t. A few mins later he was stopped on the shoulder getting a ticket.. GA State Troopers everywhere that morn. Saw six people getting tickets in 40 miles.

    Mini remains on my very short list… Right size, right dynamics, GREAT style, and fun to drive.

  • avatar

    Most of the negative comments on here seem to unfortunately be from non-owners. I traded in a 2006 Acura TL for my 09 MINI cooper S and I am still amazed that this car, 11 months later still puts a smile on my face every morning.
    I consider myself a “performance” oriented driver and while I loved the TL, at the end of the day it was just a quick yet refined sedan…nothing more. I happened to stop by a local BMW dealer a last year and tried both the base Coop and the S on a lark. A mile after getting into the S I knew what I needed to do. A week later I had my personalized order put in and a month later took delivery of my 09 S. I have never looked back.
    While I understand that the MINI is NOT for everyone, the dynamics of the turbocharged S as well as the base cooper are superb. I have done the “Tail of the Dragon” in NC and the car handled beautifully, with just the right amount of feel and kick. Sure, the ergonomics are quirky, sure the back seat is for midgets but at the end of the day this car is very much in the MX5 zone. Both are cult cars and enjoy a fanatical following amongst owners. Sure, we buy into the marketing from MINI but it is nice to know that you have a group of enthusiasts out there to play with on a track or just on a normal road.
    I had to opt for the AT because of my wife’s inability to learn stick but I am thankful that the AT is actually the quicker though not a “purist” option. The paddle shifters are a bit of a gimmick but the sport button is just thrilling. Revs go up..steering tightens and the car is ultra sensitive to throttle input.
    Again, this is not a car for everyone…unlike a lot of mass market offerings the MINI is still pretty niche…but I have to reiterate that from a drivers perspective it is beautiful.
    The suspension in the S is harsh naturally and the tires are utter crap but apart from that reliability so far has been excellent. The one problem I had was with some windshield rubber lining that was not glued in completely but apart from that there are no complaints. I actually enjoy the polarizing opinions and comments it car generates. For some it is utterly ludicrous…with the strage cockpit and small size. However that is missing the whole point…the car is NOT a run of the mill, boring if reliable family car. It is meant to be different yet very pleasurable to drive. The S is more than adequate for most sport driving but the JCW options make it unbelievably quick and expensive….this is where MINI makes most of the profit..the options. Try one sometime……you might even like it

  • avatar

    I had an ’06 base Mini which I recently replaced with a ’10. The main reason I got the new is to get cruise control which the ’06 didn’t have, but the new one is a much better car. The engine sounds and feels better, the steering feels better, and, even with the run-flat tires, the new one rides better without any compromise in handling that I can tell. Also, the new one gets better gas mileage and has more “relaxed” highway cruising with the tallish 6th. geer.

    The one thing that is worse in the new Mini is the controls. You have to read way too much of the owner’s manual to figure everything out. As others have mentioned, the silliness of the center speedometer is no big deal because there is a digital speed readout in the tach housing in front of the driver.

    To me, the way to buy this car is “zero option” which stickers at just under $20K. My car has only one option, 16 inch wheels with run flat tires which I’d rather not have, but the dealer orders all of their cars that way. In summary, it is a fun, practical car, as long as you don’t need much room except for two people.

  • avatar

    Having owned my 2008 mini I can say this is the worst car ever. I thought my 81 renault 18 i would have this distinction until the end of life as i know it but this s= i t box takes the cake. Every time i hit a water puddle most of the body work leaves the car. After several call to mini and dealship i was told to go stuff myself and given a happy face button. The tires and brakes were shot after one year. so the cost of ownership is roughly 2000.00 a year. Had I not been suffer from alcholism and drug abuse i woud have never bought a car with a french engine japanese tranny put together by brits out of bmw spares. I have one year clean and sober and im loseing this albatross asap. Im putting the two grand into a 73 pinto i found on ebay. Its bone simple and still a nice little car. You cant beat a ford with a german tractor engine.36 years and still going. Read my alfa spyder review also.

  • avatar

    Its a pleasurable experience to drive a Mini Cooper, the configuration of the machine is simply astounding and must be giving drivers an added edge to the technological device he may be driving.
    I wish to have this car some day :)

    Used Mack Trucks

  • avatar

    I have an ’11 Mini Cooper, non-S with the premium, cold weather, and Sport packages. Love the car. The central speedo isn’t hard to use, but as was mentioned, you have a digital readout directly in front of you on the tach anyhow. But it’s no harder to use than the central mirror, and no farther out of your line of sight. I have the chrome package that adds chrome trim to the gauges, speakers, and vents and makes the interior look much more upscale than the base ones do (drove a base ’11 with the automatic and yeah, not impressed):

    There’s more than enough storage space in the car to use it as a primary car, with both a glovebox that is fairly deep and a “secret compartment” above it in the dash. I don’t find anything offensive or deal breaking in the interior, and it’s a great place to be.

    The base engine with the manual transmission has enough power to be fun, while keeping you out of trouble mostly, and has no problem getting out of it’s own way, merging with traffic, or passing. Ability to find parking for it in town is outstanding, and handling is well above most of it’s class competitors (though I’d like to try a Fiat 500 Sport back to back).

    It makes a great companion to my Mustang GT and BMW 740iL.

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