By David Colman
Hypes: 420 Miles on a Tank, Motorcycle Base Price
Gripes: Hard To Reach Seatbelts, Pinchy Door Handles
Manufacturers usually load press fleet vehicles with every expensive option available, so it was quite unusual to spend a week with a Mini Cooper virtually bereft of extras. With a base price of just $19,700, the Cooper hardtop is good value for the money. Its fun-to-drive quotient places it in the top echelon of sub $20,000 sedans. What extras it did have were well chosen. Instead of the standard 175/65 R15 tires and wheels, ours was equipped with the very reasonably priced ($1,250) Sport Package which upped wheels to 16 inch, 6 star-spoked alloys shod with 195/55R16 Bridgestone Turanza ER300II run-flat rubber. The Sport Package, which brings the as-delivered price to $21,650, also includes traction control, sport seats, and rear spoiler. For the driving enthusiast on a budget, this Mini represents a stellar bargain.
The sports seats are more supportive and better looking than those of any car in this price range. Finished in ballistic nylon weave, they afford more latitudinal support than the tires can generate. Their center sections contain black-on-gray Op Art swirls reminiscent of checker flags. The seats are emblematic of the whimsical character of the interior, which looks like it was designed by Disney Imagineers in Toontown. Circles and ovals cover every square inch of the dash. The circular air vents echo the shape of the free standing 8,000rpm tachometer. The door handles, speaker grills, even the keyfob are perfect circles. Oval shapes dominate the pedals, mirrors, dash face and overhead console. Square edges hardly exist. Mini eschews cheap materials in favor of quality finishes. The pebble grained dash top and door panels are finished with a matte sheen that eliminates window reflections. The aluminum trim across the face of the dash matches the subdued finish of the dash. The Mini looks and feels like a BMW inside because BMW own Mini.
The Mini is rewarding to drive because its steering is so precise. It reacts to directional change like a go-kart. Although ride quality is choppy over pavement imperfections, the stiff springing pays dividends on twisty roads. When you feed lock into the fat rimmed steering wheel, the Mini instantly acknowledges your input. This 2,712 lb. hardtop is one of the lightest cars on the market, and its telepathic dexterity is a product of that minimal curb weight. The engine in the base model Mini is adequate, but not impressive. With just 121hp available, you’ll find yourself using the 6-speed manual gearbox like a jockey resorting to the whip. The anemic torque output of 114 lb.-ft. occurs at 4,250rpm, so you’ll work hard for your quotient of zip in the base Mini. A better option might be the 181hp, turbocharged Mini Cooper S, which turns this racing striped little box into a raging pit bull. Of course, you’ll pay substantially more for the privilege (Cooper S base price: $24,750), and you’ll forego the base Cooper’s excellent fuel economy of 32 MPG overall, for 27 MPG with the S model.
The Cooper has been a sales sensation for more than 10 years now. Customization is a large part of its attraction. You can order your Mini 10 million different ways. No other car comes close to matching this virtually unlimited differentiation. The Mini is very much the Swatch Watch of the car world. It’s high quality appearance belies its cheap price. Just when you think you’ve seen every Mini available, along comes a new combo that makes you marvel at this company’s endless design savvy. But the best part of the Mini experience comes from the maxi enjoyment you get out of driving one. Mini represents a throwback to an age of car design that depended on resourcefulness and imagination rather than tunnel vision. In that way, Mini puts the fun back in motoring.
2013 Mini Cooper Hardtop
- Engine: 1.6 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 Cylinder
- Horsepower: 121 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 114 lb.-ft. @ 4,250 rpm
- Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/37 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $21,650
- Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars