The modern MINI Cooper, brilliantly designed to recapture the look and flavor of British Minis of old, is a German-designed/engineered British-built product of the BMW Group. And its better-than-predicted success is proving that Americans will buy little cars in reasonable quantities if their looks, personality and price/value equation make sense.
The current MINI Cooper and supercharged Cooper S debuted in the U.S. in 2002, and the line expands for 2005 with addition of slick convertible versions of both. The convertible top is fully automatic and includes a unique integrated sliding sunroof and an “easy loading system” to maximize access to the trunk. The top’s compact folding mechanism stacks it neatly behind the rear seats in just 15 seconds with no manual latches and no need for a tonneau cover. It can even be lowered from a distance with the remote locking system fob.
The MINI boasts surprisingly spacious room for four despite its diminutive size, but rear-seat room comes at the expense of cargo capacity — just 5.8 cu. ft. top up and 4.2 top down. That expands to 21.3 cu. ft. with both halves of the 50/50 rear seatback folded flat, and the easy load feature (top up) allows the top’s lower rear edge to be swung up 35 degrees to enlarge the rear opening for bulky items. There’s even a pair of supports to hold the bottom-hinged trunk lid in a horizontal position as a tray for tailgating or use as a seat, up to 175 lb.
The MINI’s 1.6L DOHC 4-valve four, in both 115-hp standard and 168-hp supercharged Cooper S form, is a product of a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler called Tritec. The optional CVT — driven by a fixed-length steel drive belt and lighter, more compact and more fuel efficient than a conventional automatic, features Steptronic control allowing the driver to choose normal or sport driving mode and manually select among six specific ratios.
Chassis and Safety
Much of the MINI’s appeal derives from its agile, go-kart-like handling, a happy result of its small size, (relatively) light weight, low center of gravity, wide track with wheels at the corners, stiff body, multi-arm rear axle, direct, quick-ratio steering and anti-roll bars front and rear. The steering (a fast 2.5 turns lock-to-lock) — features electro-hydraulic assist and — despite the transverse fwd configuration (the original Mini was first with this clever design) — an extra bearing allows equal length drive axles to minimize torque steer in aggressive driving.
MINI’s comprehensive safety package is dubbed FIRST for Fully Integrated Road Safety Technology. Crash protection measures include “intelligent” front air bags, head/thorax side air bags, seatbelt latch tensioners and force limiters, reinforced door beams and A-pillars and high-strength aluminum roll hoops behind the rear seats. Mishap prevention systems include large anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and run-flat tires with an ABS sensor-based tire monitoring system.
|MINI Cooper Convertible At a Glance|
|What it is:||Small retro-style premium fwd convertible|
|Who it’s for:||Enthusiasts interested in fun to drive, image and lifestyle over practicality|
|Where it’s built:||Oxford, England|
|Parent company:||BMW Group|
|Competitors:||Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible, VW Cabriolet|
|Engine:||1.6L DOHC 4-valve 4-cyl.|
|Horsepower:||115 at 6,000 rpm Cooper; 168 at 4,000 rpm (supercharged) Cooper S|
|Torque:||111 at 4,500 rpm Cooper; 162 at 4,000 rpm (supercharged) Cooper S|
|Transmission:||Getrag 5-speed manual, optional ZF CVT Cooper; Getrag 6-speed manual Cooper S|
|Curb Weight:||2,700 lb. Cooper; 2,844 lb. Cooper S|
|EPA Economy:||27/35/30 Cooper; 26/33/29 Cooper CVT; 25/32/27 Cooper S City/Highway/Combined|
|Base Price:||$21,500 Cooper, $24,950 Cooper S|
|What we think:||tiny German-designed, British-built retro 4-seater with go-kart ride and handling and big-time heart, soul and sense of humor.|
|Bumpers and exterior trim:||Decoma|
|Exhaust system:||Arvin Meritor, Teneco Walker|
|Brake disks and knuckles:||Fagor Ederlan|
|ABS and Calipers:||Continental Teves|
|HVAC and Clutch system:||Valeo|
|Electro-hydraulic power steering:||ZF|
|Front and rear strut assembles:||Delphi|
|Navigation and audio:||Alpine, Siemens VDO, Harman/Kardon|