2011 MINI COOPER REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Fuel Economy (claimed): 5.7 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 6.7 l/100km
It may be the lowest-spec model, but the MINI Cooper hatch still has much to recommend it.
It is still one of the best looking small cars on the planet and still one of the most entertaining drives. In the Cooper, both style and substance abound, but - a warning - they come at the expense of practicality and space.
Quality: All interior fittings are finished to a high standard and are made of quality materials. The Cooper is certainly one of the better-built light cars in the segment.
Comfort: Front seat passengers are well catered for with good leg, head and shoulder room. Our car was fitted with optional cloth upholstered sports seats, which offer good lateral and back support.
The back seats however, are cramped and difficult to get into, with very little legroom.
The steering wheel and gear lever are positioned close to hand, but other ergonomic aspects of the Cooper’s cabin leave something to be desired: the heating/ventilation/air-con and window controls are mounted too low on the centre stack, the centrally-placed speedometer is unnecessarily massive and the cupholders are too close to the gear lever.
The stereo controls are also fiddly, but at least those can be bypassed by the steering-wheel mounted buttons.
Equipment: Standard features include cruise control, air conditioning, auto-on wipers and headlights, fog lamps, Bluetooth phone integration, a six-speaker CD tuner with auxilliary input, trip computer and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Storage: There’s only 160 litres of space with the rear seats up, expanding to 680 litres with the backrests folded. It’s enough room for a couple’s weekly shopping, but don’t count on being able to squeeze a pram in there.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The 1.6 litre naturally-aspirated four needs a lot of revs if you’re looking to extract performance, but with 90kW and 160Nm it’s got enough grunt for the 1075kg Cooper.
The standard transmission is a six-speed manual. With a slick shifter, smooth engagement and a light clutch, the manual box is a delight to use.
Refinement: Engine noise is quite noticeable from inside, and so is tyre noise from the standard run-flat rubber. That aside, there were no trim rattles nor other mechanical noises intruding.
Suspension: Superb handling has long been a MINI hallmark, from the original BMC Mini right through to the brand’s current BMW-owned incarnation.
The Cooper is a very sharp drive; it corners flatly and has an impressively high threshold of grip. Understeer eventually rears its head, but, with such tenacious grip, few drivers will be prepared to push the Cooper to its limits.
Ride comfort is generally good although some may find it overly firm on broken bitumen and secondary roads - the Cooper is fairly firmly sprung.
Braking: Weighing just over a tonne, the Cooper sheds speed quickly and easily thanks to its all-disc brake hardware.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars
Safety features: Front, front side, and full-length curtain airbags. Three-point seatbelts on all seats. Stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and EBD.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Two years, unlimited kilometre warranty for the entire vehicle with three years paintwork warranty and 12 years body corrosion warranty.
Service costs: There are no set service intervals, and maintenance costs vary according to vehicle usage.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Volvo C30 T5 S ($36,950) - A much more expensive option, the C30 T5 nevertheless packs a mighty punch thanks to its 169kW/320Nm turbocharged in-line five.
Interior quality is better than the MINI too, however both are impractically small. (see C30 reviews)
Audi A1 Attraction ($29,900) - The A1 produces the same power as the MINI but more torque (200Nm in total) from its 1.4 litre turbocharged engine.
It’s a solid drive, but suffers from polarising aesthetics and expensive options.
Volkswagen Polo GTI 3 Door ($27,790) - Not as prestigious as the others, but a brilliant drive and exceptional value.
A DSG automatic is the only transmission paired with its 132kW/250Nm turbo/supercharged 1.4 litre engine, which is either a good or bad thing depending on how you drive. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
As one of the more expensive light cars on the market, there are high expectations of the MINI Cooper. It delivers on most of those - on handling, quality and design - but comes with some compromises and ergonomic sacrifices.
Its sharp good looks however can’t be denied, nor its smile-inducing handling. Once MINI rectifies that dashboard layout, the Cooper will be near perfect (it will always be squeezy in the back, but).