The Mini Cooper name represents a range of a front-wheel-drive compacts that deliver individual styling along with great handling that makes them fun to drive
The 2017 Mini Cooper lineup includes the classic Hardtop 2 Door, the Hardtop 4 Door, the soft-top Convertible, and the four-door Clubman with all-wheel drive and barn doors at the rear. They vary in length. The three-door hardtop, or hatch, is 150.4 inches long. The four-door is 156.8 inches, and the Clubman is 168.3 inches long.
Base engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder making 124 horsepower. The Cooper S engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 189 horsepower. There’s also a John Cooper Works version of that engine making 228 horsepower. Each uses either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, we prefer the former.
The standard Mini Cooper with manual transmission gets an EPA-estimated 28/38 miles per gallon City/Highway, or and 32 mpg Combined city and highway. Cooper S is rated 23/32/26 mpg with the manual. The powerful John Cooper Works gets 23/31/26 mpg. The Convertible S gets the same, but with automatic is rated higher. All Mini Coopers require Premium gasoline.
Our preference is for the Hardtop 2 Door, as it is the classic Mini Cooper and a delight to drive.
During our test drives, we got about 25 miles per gallon in both the Mini Cooper and Cooper S, including a lot of spirited driving through canyon twisties. Out on the interstate, we got up to 40 mpg.
Mini Coopers are smaller and less practical than many hatchbacks that cost far less (the Clubman is the exception to this). The latest model, redesigned for 2014 (when it gained several hundred pounds), is built on the same platform as the BMW X1, and will eventually underpin up to 10 Mini models as well as a BMW sedan.
The Mini Cooper got the best safety rating from the insurance industry (IIHS) in 2016, with a Top Safety Pick+. However the federal government’s NHTSA doesn’t agree, giving the Mini only four stars overall.
The 2017 Mini Cooper Hardtop 2 Door ($20,950) comes with the 124-hp 1.5-liter engine; the Mini Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door ($24,400) gets the 189-hp 2.0-liter engine. The Mini Hardtop 4 Door ($21,950) is similarly equipped. Also available: the Mini Convertible ( $25,950) and the Mini Clubman ($24,100).
Standard equipment includes a 6.5-inch center screen, Bluetooth, 15-inch wheels (16-inch on Cooper S), faux leather, and eight airbags. Options are ganged into packages. The sport package ($1750) features adjustable dampers that sharpen the ride.
Much customization is available and adds to the fun. You could get a Union Jack convertible top. Eight choices in upholstery, and trims with Mini Yours finishes, like Fiber Alloy or the Off-White that’s like porcelain.
When the Mini Cooper was redesigned for 2014 it got bigger and longer, forward of the windshield, to meet new European crash-test standards for crush space. But it was barely noticeable. It grew 4.5 inches longer and 1.7 inches wider, while being a mere 0.3 inches taller. The result is charming and exceptional.
Traditional Mini design endures. Oval lights in the top corners of the front fenders, oblong grille in a chrome frame, upright windshield, almost-square taillghts, black pillars under a long roof, available in white. Mini says it’s the most popular option.
The Convertible is handsome, with its rear flip-down tailgate it looks like a roadster.
Changes in the interior of the 2017 Mini Cooper are largely for the better. It’s still a bit quirky but not as quirky as it used to be; the good quirks remain and most of the bad ones are gone. At least the instruments are where you expect them to be. A big tach with smaller speedo are mounted behind the steering wheel. The design of the interior is relatively useful and meaningful.
The big round center of the dash is exclusively a display screen, its size depending on trim. There are two rectangular air vents and two large round eyeball vents at the outer edges of the dash. There’s still a horizontal row of switches in the central lower dash, under three dials for climate control.
Switchgear gremlins live in the Convertible; if it heats up in the direct sun, the roof won’t raise for shade. Presumably until it cools down.
The interior is relatively good for front passengers, but not so much for rear passengers or cargo. Passengers sit deep, surrounded by quite a lot of black trim and upholstery.
The four-door Mini can shuttle four adults in a pinch, but only the Clubman model, about the same size of four-door Volkswagen Golf, is much of a people mover.
The Convertible is realistically a two-seater.
From the driver’s seat, the Mini is close to perfect. There’s head room for persons as much as 6 feet, 3 inches tall.
There’s a nice amount of engine noise in the cabin. The Cooper S pipes it in. The three-cylinder has an uneven idle we found endearing, strangely. It sounds like a Freightliner at cold start. Character.
With the rear seat up there’s 8.7 cubic feet of cargo space in the back, expanding to 38 cubic feet with the seat down. The Clubman raises it to 17.5 and 47.9 cubic feet.
Visibility isn’t great. The roof pillars are thick, and the roof is 18 or 20 inches forward, in order to reach the upright windshield pillars. With the top down and folded in the Convertible, rear visibility is nearly non-existent.
The standard engine in the Mini Cooper and Clubman is the turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that produces 124 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque (169 lb-ft for a few seconds during overboost). It can accelerate from zero to sixty in 7.4 seconds, and hit 130 mph. A three-cylinder that will go 130 miles per hour sounds like fun.
The handling and braking is superlative. The base Mini Cooper is our favorite, because it has all of the good handling while the three-cylinder engine is so squirty, and it’s much cheaper than the Cooper S. The little engine’s maximum torque comes at just 1250 rpm, and it peaks out at 4000 so it’s not a high-revver. We think the 6-speed manual works best with the three-cylinder, but at least the automatic is programmed to use the torque (though in Eco mode it’s downright dead).
The Cooper S is wildly fun but expensive. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine scoots it from zero to sixty in 6.4 seconds, one second quicker than the Cooper. It makes 189 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque (221 lb-ft during overboost).
You can get either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. We think the manual is a must in the Mini Cooper, although the linkage doesn’t inspire confidence and the rev-matching is aggressive. In the Cooper S, the optional paddle shifters are a must, to make the automatic more usable and enjoyable.
The JCW edition balloons the horsepower to 228 hp and torque to 236 lb-ft of torque, which makes it challenging to handle.
Driving modes are Sport, Mid, or Green, with red, blue, or green rings around the center display screen reminding you what mode you’re in. Sport mode holds the transmission gears longer, and stiffens the steering if you have the package with the firmer adaptive dampers that help keep the ride smooth. The base suspension is pretty firm as it is, while not crashing over the worst bumps.
There are a lot of wheel size and tire combinations available. As a good compromise, we like the 17-inch wheels with all-season tires on either the Cooper or Cooper S. The steering is quick, with a 14.0:1 ratio, making it twitchy on a bumpy straight freeway, but you’ll love it in the twisties.
Despite being heavier by more than 250 pounds, the Convertible keeps up the eager responsiveness. In Sport mode with the top down, its engine song is intoxicating.
Despite being longer than the base Mini Cooper by nearly 18 inches, the Clubman doesn’t feel stretched. It’s relatively easy to place all four wheels where you want them. The automatic does its best to keep the engine in its sweet spot, which is fairly low in the rev range.
You can beat the cargo space but you can’t beat the fun, with safety. The Mini Cooper is responsive in all the right places. The good news is the lowest-cost base model with 1.5-liter three-cylinder is the best value, the bad news is upgrades get costly fast. The good news is it’ll get up to 40 mpg on the freeway, the bad news is that premium fuel is required.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with driving impressions by The Car Connection staff.