Fans of the British-built Mini hadn’t seen one officially imported to the United States since 1967. In March 2002, a brand-new front-wheel-drive Mini arrived in America that capitalized on Mini’s heritage and also created a new brand, under BMW auspices.
At the 2003 New York International Auto Show, Mini announced the John Cooper Works tuning kit. Priced at $4,500, plus an installation charge, the kit includes a higher-speed supercharger compressor with coated rotors for greater efficiency. A revised exhaust system produces suitably sporty sounds. With the kit installed, engine output rises from the usual 163 horsepower to a burly 200 hp. A Mini Cooper S Convertible will go on sale in September 2004 as a 2005 model.
Designers selected the 1967 Mini Cooper as their starting point. Despite its increased dimensions and more contemporary appearance, the modern Mini has somewhat of the square shape that characterized the original. All four wheels are positioned at the far outside corners, and short overhangs yield a wheelbase that’s only about 4 feet shorter than the entire length of the vehicle. Minis are the shortest cars sold in America.
Measuring an inch longer overall than the regular Mini Cooper, the Cooper S comes with standard 16-inch run-flat tires or optional 17-inchers. A sunroof is optional, and many Minis come with a contrasting-color roof.
Four occupants fit inside the Cooper S, which provides more interior space than its exterior dimensions suggest. Leatherette upholstery is standard, and cloth or leather is optional. A center-mounted speedometer is also reminiscent of the one used in the original Mini, and the tachometer sits atop the steering column.
Options include a navigation system, xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights and heated seats. Cargo space is 5.6 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
The supercharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine in the Cooper S delivers 163 hp and 155 pounds-feet of torque and works with a Getrag six-speed-manual gearbox. Mini claims the Cooper S can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. With the John Cooper Works tuning kit, engine output grows to 200 hp.
Six airbags, including an Advance Head Protection System, are installed. All-disc antilock brakes are standard, and Dynamic Stability Control is optional.
Fast-moving fun describes the Cooper S. In addition to sizzling performance, you get tight, quick maneuverability. These little hatchbacks cling to the pavement as if they’re magnetized. Ride quality is less appealing, though the Cooper S actually seems to ride less harshly than a base Cooper with run-flat tires.
Only enthusiasts need to consider the higher-powered Cooper S; its impact is most noticeable at relatively high engine speeds. The Getrag six-speed gearbox in the Cooper S is even sweeter than the Cooper’s five-speed manual. Performance with the 200-hp John Cooper Works edition isn’t enormously stronger than that of a regular Cooper S, but the extra energy comes with little penalty in ride comfort.
Despite very short bottoms, the sport seats are comfortable and supportive. The backseat may look uninviting, but it’s actually quite comfortable and offers abundant headroom. However, legroom is minimal when the front seats are positioned rearward.