June 19, 2013
Written by Sally Sanders
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 09:42
The Mini Cooper isn’t the most versatile car, or the fastest, roomiest or even the most fuel-efficient. But it may be the cutest. Spend a few moments looking at one and you may find an old Traveling Wilburys lyric going through your mind: “Baby, you’re adorable.”
Even the tune played by the car’s alarm bell is cute and catchy. Indeed, the Mini Cooper embodies what students of literature call artistic integrity. Everything fits perfectly with everything else — every sound, every curve, every gauge and switch. And it all adds up to cute.
Start with the speedometer. One of the smallest cars on the road has the biggest speedometer, a dinner-plate-sized gauge planted smack in the middle of the dashboard. And then there’s the optional Openometer. It tells you exactly how long you’ve been driving with the top down, just in case you need to know. And the vertically mounted trunk lid that’s hinged at the bottom.
The Mini Cooper delivers performance as well. It looks tiny — it is tiny, with zero inches of rear knee room when the front seat is tracked as far back as it will go — but it doesn’t drive tiny. On the road, it inspires confidence thanks to its exquisite handling qualities, cruising comfortably at 80 mph even in the company of tractor-trailers and tankers.
In a number of important respects, the Mini Cooper is true to its British predecessors from the 1960s. The base model has modest power, lots of glass and a manageable ($18,550) sticker price, coming up short of its utilitarian ancestors only in rear accommodations.
Our Mini was a red convertible with a black canvas top. The ragtop can be furled halfway back, as if it were a sunroof; then rolled the rest of the way down. The roof opens and closes by use of a switch mounted on the windshield crossbar.
If we were inclined to buy a Mini, we’d opt for the hardtop or the Clubman. When the convertible top is up, the fabric forms large blind spots in the rear quarter, and reflections in the chromed roll bar are a distraction. The hardtop is quieter, too. With the top down, tall drivers may wish for more protection from the wind at highway speeds.
Moreover, the convertible costs thousands more than the hardtop. Ours listed for $27,800 with options.
The early Minis were dogged by transmission and cooling-system problems, but these were alleviated in later models, and Consumer Reports magazine surveys show reliability has improved to average. Mini Coopers are unexpectedly safe, considering their small size, with a Good rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. IIHS says the bumpers are prone to costly damage in low-impact collisions, however.
Cute, fun, fuel-efficient, reliable … and it holds its value, too. No wonder the Mini Cooper has been one of the most successful and enduring “retro” models.
Engine: 1.6-liter inline Four, 118 horsepower, 114 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Steptronic 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,560 lb.
Suspension: McPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 16x6.5-inch alloy
Tires: 195/55R16 performance
Seating capacity: 4
Luggage capacity: 6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 23.1 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular
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