2011 Mini Cooper

When the Mini Cooper came to the U.S. a few years ago, it caused as much commotion and excitement as Volkswagen’s Beetle did with its return. The British-born Cooper has been revered since its rally car racing days back in the 1960s. Now built by BMW, the hip and stylish Mini was relaunched worldwide in 2001 with modern underpinnings, and has since amassed a significant, though somewhat cultish following. In 2007, BMW introduced the second generation of the Cooper. And though there were key improvements made, the automaker proved its guile and smarts by barely changing the car’s exterior aesthetics.

For the 2011 model year, fresh exterior styling touches include new front and rear bumpers, larger foglights and new taillights. There are minor cosmetic changes to the interior while underhood, the 1.6-liter four cylinder gets a slight boost in both output and fuel economy. The city mileage was bumped up from 28 to 29 mpg.

Compare the Mini!

If you’re thinking about buying a Mini Cooper, you might also consider a Smart ForTwo or Nissan Versa. Compare these vehicles.

The Mini has several model offerings. The hatchback is available in a base and an ‘S’ model plus, a John Cooper Works edition. All three are available as convertibles. Additionally, in 2008 Mini stretched the hatchback nine inches and called it the Clubman, with ‘S’ and John Cooper Works models offered.

Though the Mini Cooper is known for its looks, its place in automotive history, and its now German engineering, it is still ultimately defined by another one of its important characteristics: its teacup-sized dimensions. The Cooper aptly lives up to its Mini name, and is definitively a sub-compact automobile. But this small car came into existence for entirely different reasons than the rest of the sub-compact class. (Unlike the original, it’s not here because rising fuel prices dictated the need for smaller, more efficient cars.) Regardless, it still enjoys many of the same fuel-friendly benefits found with the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris, among others.

The EPA numbers speak for themselves. The Cooper, with a six-speed manual transmission, achieves 29 city/37 highway, while the more athletic Cooper S rates at a still impressive 27 city/35 highway. Opt for the six-speed automatic and the standard hatchback serves up 28 city/36 highway, the S delivers 26/34. The John Cooper Works—manual transmission only—is the least fuel efficient with an EPA rating of 28 city/36 highway. But it’s important to know that many Cooper owners will admit that their car’s fuel economy in real world driving leans more heavily in favor of the City Rating, and premium-grade fuel is recommended.

The Mini Cooper is not a hybrid (although there are rumors of a hybrid version in the works). Nonetheless, the 2011 model ranked No. 10 in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s list of greenest cars. Only three hybrids, a CNG car, an electric car, and four small gas-powered cars received higher rankings in ACEEE’s rigorous evaluation of environmental impacts.

Exterior

The Mini Cooper’s quirky styling and British charm are attention grabbers. It is neither a retro nor a heritage design. It’s the new Mini, that’s all. After all, the original was in production for 41 years, and this is just the latest version. The result is a car that barely resembles the Mini Cooper of the 1960s, but it is true to the spirit and look of the original while being fully modern in its execution. In short, it’s the cutest shoebox with four wheels on the planet.

Mini Cooper

The diminutive size was born out of necessity in the late 1950s when a fuel crisis in Europe created a demand for a small, economical, yet practical car. The brainchild of British car designer Sir Alec Issigonis, the Morris Mini-Minor went on sale in 1959 and established a design blueprint that stands to this day; engine mounted sideways in the front, driving the front wheels that are pushed to the corners.

The front-drive layout provided maximum interior room in a tiny package. With no driveshaft from the engine to the rear wheels, the cabin floor could be flat. Pushing the wheels to the extreme corners made the most of the small dimensions.

From the standpoint of structure and engineering, the Mini Cooper is 100 percent BMW. This little car is built for quality. Just the muted sound produced by shutting the vehicle’s door (usually heard in higher-priced autos) indicates the Cooper’s tight construction and top-notch craftsmanship.

Interior

The cabin is nicely detailed with touches reminiscent of the first Minis. A big round speedometer sets squarely in the middle of the dashboard flanked by other gauges, and a large tachometer is mounted on the steering column, easily seen by the driver. That’s a carry over from the original Mini, suggestive of rally cars where the navigator needs to see most of the instruments from the passenger seat, while the driver monitors the tach so not to blow the engine while going fast. The dash layout declares that engine speed is paramount, road speed is subordinate.

Mini Cooper

Surprisingly, space is generous for the driver and front seat passenger, thanks in large measure to an abundance of headroom and a wide stance. Standard equipped seats are reasonably comfortable, but optional sport seats provide excellent lateral support for spirited driving.

As for rear seating, it’s possible to shoehorn two adults into this space, but not without cooperation from those up front. Room behind the rear seats is fairly sparse; the 5.4 cubic feet can accommodate four grocery bags. Fold the seats down and there are about 24 cubic feet, more than enough room for luggage for two for a weeklong vacation.

Under The Hood

When the second generation Mini arrived in 2007, a major change was a new 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder engine with output of 118 horsepower and 114 pounds-feet of torque in the base hatchback, and 172 horsepower with 177 lbs.-ft. in the turbocharged S. For 2011, all models—hatchback, convertible and Clubman—it’s the same engine with a slight boost in horsepower, 121 hp and 181 respectively. Torque remains the same. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a six-speed automatic is optional.

For those addicted to a-need-for-speed, John Cooper Works models are powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 208 hp at 6,000 rpm and 192 lbs.-ft. of torque from 1,850 to 6,600 rpm. Mini says the engine can briefly raise boost-pressure when accelerating to achieve 207 pounds-feet of torque from 2,000 to 5,100 rpm. A six-speed manual shifter is the only transmission offered.

On The Road

With its quirky, one-of-a-kind looks, nobody should take the Mini too seriously. However, anything it lacks in raw power it makes up in raw fun. Downshift from third to second when entering a tight curve and you’ll be yelling “Whoopee” until the exit. Even with the standard 15-inch tire and wheel package, the grip is tenacious, the cornering limits are high and the body stays almost flat.

Mini Cooper

Steering is on the heavy side, but delightfully quick. The steering wheel makes just 2.4 turns from extreme right to extreme left, which adds to the car’s athletic handling and feel.

Like all BMWs, the throttle pedal is hinged at the bottom, making first attempts at heel-and-toe downshifts or full-throttle applications slightly cumbersome. But the clutch action is smooth and the shift lever is light and direct, which makes running through the gears a simple task.

Engaging a clutch and shifting gears not your style? The six-speed automatic with manual shifting capability is pretty slick.

Panic braking is accomplished without panicking driver or passengers. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, coupled with BMW’s Cornering Brake Control and Electronic Braking Distribution, halt the 2,500-pound Mini quickly with only the slightest amount of front nosedive.

You can’t have superb handling without a stiff body and a sport-tuned suspension setup. But with that comes a ride that’s bumpy and rough, sometimes harsh. Ironic that what people like about the Mini are characteristics they dislike in other cars.

If you think the 121 horsepower from the standard 1.6-liter engine just isn’t enough, an additional $3,600 will get you the Cooper S model with the turbocharged output of 181 ponies. Or, you can go all out for the John Cooper Works edition for an additional $6,100. Yes, the need-for-speed is expensive, and you’ll probably not see the EPA estimated 25 city/33 highway fuel mileage.

With the regular Mini’s 29 mpg around town and 37 mpg on the highway, scampering over hill and dale is one of the few remaining sources of politically correct automotive fun.

Economics

From a fuel-efficiency standpoint, the sub-compact Mini Cooper is absolutely an economically sound choice. It is very much on par with all of the “econo” sub-compact cars (Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Chevy Cruze, etc.), and even superior to some of them.

But price-wise there is a significant premium—to the tune of anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 more in cost. The bottom line for the base Cooper is $19,400, while the Cooper S starts at $23,000. But the Mini is, after all, a higher-end vehicle than all the other sub-compacts. There really is no direct competition for this vehicle, and probably won’t be until Audi brings its small A1 to the U.S.

The first Mini was the inspiration behind the naming of the famed mini skirt by Sixties fashion designer Mary Quant. BMW has done a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the original car. The current Mini is more about fashion and fun than anything else. Especially fun.

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.

 


Pros
  • Great combo of performance and efficiency
  • Loads of style
  • BMW Engineering
Cons
  • Gauges are more fashionable than functional
  • Expensive for a sub-compact
  • Tight squeeze in the back

Price quote for Mini Cooper

2011 Mini Cooper
Base MSRP: $19,400
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  • av

    “There really is no direct competition for this vehicle, and probably won’t be until Audi brings its small A1 to the U.S.”

    *cough*Fiat 500*cough*

  • Anonymous

    Fiat 500′s EPA rating:

    1.4L engine 101 hp, 98 lb-ft – premium fuel recommended
    M5 30/38/33 (city/hwy/combined) $1,725 *Annual fuel cost based on $3.81 prem. gas
    A6 27/34/30 (city/hwy/combined) $1,921

    On the other hand, MINI Cooper EPA rating:
    1.6L 121 hp 114 lb-ft – premium fuel recommended
    M6 29/37/32 $1,789 (from fueleconomy.gov)
    A6 28/36/31 $1,846 (same)

    Emission rating: Tier 2 bin 5; California & N.E. states: ULEV II

    I think another alternative not mentioned is Honda CR-Z:
    1.5L hybrid engine 122 hp up to 128 lb-ft – regular fuel
    M6 31/37/34 $1,574 (from fueleconomy.gov)
    CVT 35/39/37 $1,446 (same)

    A saving of $400 (CVT vs. MINI Cooper A6), or $215 (M6)
    Furthermore, it is a AT-PZEV, ie. Advanced Tech Partial Zero Emission Vehicle, the most cleanest internal combustion vehicle on this continent.

    * estimate only. Info for 2012 model year is still not available on fueleconomy.gov

  • Anonymous

    Hey, BMW, it’s about time to introduce to America your start-stop technology that has been standard on MINI in the U.K. since 2007.

  • Dom

    They also have a Mini-D (diesel) version that would be nice to see here…

    Still, if I had some spare cash I wouldn’t mind have a Mini with a manual tranny… looks like a fun car!

    Thanks for the review!

  • GarsigsAbols

    Life’s Too Short Not To Own Mini Cooper! :)

    http://minicoopersale.wordpress.com/

  • GarsigsAbols

    Life’s Too Short Not To Own Mini Cooper! :)

  • kittkat349

    It’s a shame that Mini has not brought the diesel model to the states.

    1.6l diesel 90PS

    Average fuel consumption is 4,4 l/100 km or 54MPG.

    Top speed 105MPH

    Max torque / rpm: 215/1750-2500 Nm/1/min

    It is classified as a “clean diesel”.

    Eat that Hybrids…..

  • F8L

    Kittkat, did you bother to convert UK or imperial gallons to U.S gallons when you you compared the 54mpg Mini to the 74 mpg rating for the Prius? Was this a combined city and highway rating or just highway like the TDI fan boys like to quote?

  • treck

    But price-wise there is a significant premium—to the tune of anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 more in cost. The bottom

  • Anonymous

    Mini rocks!!!!!

  • Monthly Car Lease

    Fiat Leasing deals have stolen some of the thunder of the mini. I think it has a ways to go in refinement. Mini’s have been around in the U.S a while and have some really good technology.

  • Mini Fun

    Just another Mini Cooper site:

    http://minicooperlife.wordpress.com/

  • Mini Fan

    Just another Mini Cooper site:

    http://minicooperlife.wordpress.com/

  • new vegas roadster

    Roadster is unbeatable!!!!! Go Mini Cooper S!!!!

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  • tapra1

    a CNG car, an electric car, and four small gas-powered cars received higher rankings in ACEEE’s rigorous evaluation of environmental impacts.CWDev

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  • Matt W.

    What makes the Mini-Cooper unique is the superior quality of construction, design, performance, and ride compared to other subcompact. Other subcompacts, including the Fiat 500, are econo-boxes with performance that match the very low price you pay for them.

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