Fans of the British-built Mini hadn’t seen one officially imported into the United States since 1967. In March 2002, a brand-new model arrived in America that capitalized on the Mini’s heritage but created a new brand, under BMW stewardship.
Even though the regular Mini Cooper performs energetically with its 115-horsepower engine, avid enthusiasts inevitably crave more power. For them, the company also offers the Mini Cooper S, which comes equipped with a supercharged 163-hp engine. With a six-speed-manual transmission, the high-performance Cooper S can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds.Late in the 2003 model year, Mini upped the ante with a John Cooper Works Tuning Kit, which boosts output to 200 hp. The 2004 models get only minor enhancements. BMW is noted for rear-wheel-drive automobiles, but the Cooper and Cooper S are front-wheel-drive cars. A Mini Cooper Convertible will go on sale in September 2004 as a 2005 model.
Despite its increased dimensions and a more contemporary appearance overall, the modern Mini has a square shape that’s similar to the original version. All four wheels are positioned at the far outside corners. Short overhangs yield a wheelbase that’s only 4 feet shorter than the entire length of the vehicle.
Standard tires measure 15 inches in diameter, and 16-inch run-flat tires are optional. The Cooper S comes with 16-inch run-flat tires or optional 17-inchers. The Cooper may be equipped with a “signature” contrasting-color roof or a sunroof.
Four people fit inside the Cooper, which provides more interior space than its exterior dimensions suggest. A center-mounted speedometer is reminiscent of the one used in original Minis, and the tachometer sits atop the steering column. Options include a navigation system, xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, Sirius Satellite Radio and heated seats. Cargo space is 5.3 cubic feet, and that expands to 23.7 when the rear seat is folded down.
Under the Hood
The Cooper’s 115-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine teams with either a five-speed-manual gearbox or a Steptronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The supercharged Cooper S uses a Getrag six-speed-manual transmission and a 163-hp engine.
Six airbags and BMW’s Head Protection System are installed in the Cooper. Dynamic Stability Control and all-disc brakes are standard.
Fun takes center stage with the Mini Cooper. Tight, quick maneuverability is its No. 1 attribute. This little hatchback clings to the pavement as if it were magnetized. But ride quality is another story, especially when equipped with run-flat tires because the Cooper can get pretty bouncy on uneven pavement.
Defying its 115-hp output, the Cooper’s engine delivers plenty of zest, but response in the middle gears at low speeds occasionally falters. Only the most ardent enthusiasts need to consider the higher-powered Cooper S, whose impact is most noticeable at relatively high engine speeds. The Cooper S delivers its extra vigor with no significant penalty in ride comfort. The five-speed-manual transmission and clutch make a great team, and the Getrag six-speed in the Cooper S is even sweeter.Despite very short bottoms, the available sport seats are comfortable and supportive. The huge center speedometer is easy to read at a glance. The mirrors are a bit small, and the front seat lacks grab handles.