What does the Mini Cooper have that the VW Beetle lacked?
The question arises because the Mini is still here while the Beetle isn’t. The resurrected icon was initially very popular when VW brought it back in the late ’90s but became less so after it was significantly restyled in 2010 — made to look sleeker and more aggressive.
VW cancelled it in 2019.
Lesson: Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
Mini didn’t make that mistake, which probably explains why it’s still around.
What It Is
The BMW Mini Cooper is the resurrected, modernized version of the iconic British Mini Cooper of the ’60s. Like its ancestor, it is small and pugnacious while managing to maintain a friendly, approachable demeanor.
Almost everyone seems to like them.
It is also currently the smallest new car you can buy. The hardtop coupe is only 152.2 inches long end to end. For some sense of scale, a subcompact sedan such as the Hyundai Accent is 172.6 inches long.
It also has the smallest standard engine put into a new car — just three cylinders and 1.5 liters. And it is also one of the very small handful of new cars still available with a manual transmission.
The standard two-door hardtop stickers for $22,900 to start; it comes with the above-mentioned 1.5-liter engine and a six-speed manual transmission.
An S trim, which comes with a more powerful 2.0-liter engine, is also paired with the six-speed manual — stickers for $26,900.
At the pinnacle of power and performance is the John Cooper Works version, which has the same size 2.0-liter engine but with modifications that amp up the power from 192 (in the S) to 231, plus a complementary host of performance and visual upgrades. It stickers for $32,900 to start with the six-speed manual transmission.
There are also four-door versions of the same thing and convertible versions of the same thing, topping out at $44,900 for a JCW convertible with an eight-speed automatic and the Iconic trim package.
Plus, an electric version — the Cooper SE. It stickers for $29,900.
All Minis get a subtle exterior and interior refresh, the most obvious change being inside, where a new tablet-style flatscreen main gauge cluster is perched on the steering column, replacing traditional gauges built into the dash.
It’s as iconic as ever.
An upright posture and roofline gives this small car big car headroom – including in the back seat.
There’s two or four doors; hard or soft top; manual or automatic transmission.
What’s Not So Good
All engines want premium unleaded fuel.
Convertible JCW is automatic-only.
Convertible top costs cargo space, which is reduced to almost none.
Under the Hood
The Mini comes standard with a turbocharged 1.5-liter, three cylinder engine that makes 136 horsepower and is available with your pick of two versions of a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine (also turbocharged). The first — in the S — makes 192 horsepower.
The second – in the JCW – makes 231.
All three of these engines are available with a six-speed manual transmission or (optionally) an eight-speed automatic unless you want a convertible JCW, in which case the automatic is standard.
There is also the option to skip the engine — and transmission — altogether. The Mini SE has a battery-powered 184 hp electric motor that drives the wheels directly.
On The Road
Being tiny has its advantages, especially when almost everything else is huge. The Mini can Frogger in between the lumbering behemoths, taking advantage of briefly opening gaps in traffic closed to the super-sized SUVs and crossovers that populate the landscape.
You’ll have room in your garage for more than just your car, too.
The short wheel-based ride can, however, be a little choppy (it’s more noticeably so in the S and JCW versions, which have firmer suspensions and more aggressive, shorter-sidewall tires, which enhance the effect) and being tiny amid a herd of behemoths means it’s more likely one of them may not see you.
Be careful not to get trampled.
At The Curb
You can go two or four doors. Metal or cloth top.
And you might be surprised to discover how big the Mini is inside. Even the two-door version, which has 30.8 inches of backseat legroom and an almost unbelievable 34 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
The Mini’s available convertible top is another hard-to-find-feature in new cars generally. Particularly in relatively practical cars such as the Mini with usable rear seats (sports cars such as the Mazda Miata have soft tops that don’t have back seats at all, and you can’t get a four-door Mustang or Camaro convertible).
There is a downside, though. In a car this tiny, there is not much room for the top — when it’s down, especially. But even with the top up, there is very little “trunk” — just 7.6 cubic feet, tucked behind a fold-out trunk-tray in the back.
The ’21 gets a few minor stylistic tweaks, such as a slightly different grille shape, but the iconic face and shape remain the same as ever. As cute as ever, without crossing over into too cute or too butch. That is the secret recipe here.
The Mini is a car that a young woman or a middle-aged man can drive and not feel or look mismatched driving.
The Bottom Line
Never fix what isn’t broken.
(SET IMAGE) epe100521adAP.jpg (END IMAGE) (SET CAPTION) View the Mini Cooper this week. (END CAPTION)
Eric’s latest book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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Last Updated: Monday, Oct 04, 2021 17:18:20 -0700