MINI Cooper

In 1959, a groundbreaking new subcompact coupe emerged in England using a transverse-mounted engine and an efficient, boxy front-wheel-drive layout. It achieved truly mini-compact exterior dimensions along with a surprising amount of usable space inside. Because it was affordable, stylish, fun to drive and easy to park anywhere, the British Mini and Mini Cooper quickly achieved icon status around the world -- including the U.S., where it sold as a brief counter-culture favorite during the 1960s.
After a lengthy break, the Mini Cooper returned to our shores in 2002 under BMW's direction to resurrect the legend. As before, the current Mini Cooper hatchback coupe and convertible appeal to a diverse audience. Its high style is embraced by pop stars and celebrities, while an affordable bottom line enables middle-class commoners to easily scrape together the entry-level price of admission. It's a uniquely sporting blend of classic British mini-car heritage and charm combined with precise German engineering and construction underneath.
The born-again Mini Cooper and supercharged (later turbocharged) Mini Cooper S are stylish, affordable go-karts for adults. As such, whether new or used, our editors prefer to option the Mini Cooper sparingly. Though available with loads of premium -- and premium-priced -- upgrades and packages, Minis are an even better value and more true to their roots with just a few options. Equipped thusly, you won't find a more satisfying subcompact hatchback or convertible for the price.
Current Mini Cooper
The current Mini Cooper was redesigned for the 2007 model year. The goal was an evolutionary one, as befitting an icon. Though scarcely different looking, the Mini Cooper's mechanicals were updated, most shortcomings were addressed and other changes were made to accommodate regulations that have changed since the last generation debuted. The front end was reshaped to be more pedestrian-friendly in the event of a collision and the car is almost 3 inches longer than its predecessor, but the width and height carry over. Its wheelbase is also unchanged, but despite similar appearances, no body panels are shared between these two generations. For now, this version is offered as a hatchback only.
That new front end also provides more underhood space for two new, more fuel-efficient 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines. The base version develops 118 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, while the turbocharged, direct-injected engine in the Cooper S (which replaces last year's supercharged engine) turns out 172 hp and 177 lb-ft of twist. Power is directed through six forward gears, with your choice of manual or automatic control.
Inside, the interior adds a bit more function to the Mini's already well-sculpted form. There's an even larger central speedo pod that now houses the audio system controls, a tilt wheel that now telescopes and cupholders that really hold cups. Best of all, the cabin is more spacious and refined with upgraded materials, more comfortable seating and easier-to-use controls.
Although slightly bigger, stronger, faster and demonstrably improved over its predecessor for most drivers, there does appear to be a trade-off for hard-core enthusiasts: The new Mini Cooper seems to have lost something dynamically at the edge. It feels a little heavier and more buttoned-down when driven with gusto, perhaps a little less eager to be tossed into corners than the last-generation Cooper.
Past Mini Cooper Models
In 2002 the legendary Mini Cooper returned with a modern, space-efficient interior, a chassis by BMW and a generous list of standard features for under 17 grand. The standard Cooper had just 115 hp, but the supercharged Cooper S weighed in with a more forceful 163 ponies. Detail improvements and color changes carried the Mini Cooper through its first few years, so even early examples look up to date and can make particularly fine used car values. Expect lively handling from either model, but be aware that the suspension setup of the Cooper S -- though enthusiasts will love it -- might be overly stiff for some.
Previous generation Mini Coopers from 2002-'06 tend to retain their value and outshine the competition in many ways, so they're highly sought after among used car shoppers. To keep things fresh and perky in 2005, Mini updated the Cooper's front and rear fascias and introduced a convertible version, whose canvas top could be lowered in just 15 seconds. The Mini Cooper convertible combined the enjoyment of open-air driving with the expressive, hip Euro attitude and carefree agility that made its hatchback coupe sibling so famous. For those who wanted their hatchback served up extra-hot, there was a special John Cooper Works option that upped the power to 207 horses and fortified the chassis with larger brakes.

MINI Cooper Clubman

A bigger Mini may sound like an oxymoron, but the Mini Cooper Clubman succeeds in offering slightly more passenger and cargo room while remaining compact and nimble.
This elongated Cooper is a spiritual revival of the Morris Mini Traveller, a station wagon version of the original Mini produced during the 1960s with double swing-out rear doors. Although the concept version that first appeared at the 2005 Frankfurt Auto Show initially bore its predecessor's namesake, the car was later renamed the Clubman after another Mini model that was made throughout the late '60s and 70s.
The modern-day Clubman is a four-seat, two-door hatchback that's a bump up in size and price from the iconic Mini Cooper. Its body is 10 inches longer and features a third, passenger-side rear-hinged door to allow easier access to the backseat. On the inside, the Clubman has 2.5 inches more rear legroom and 3.5 more cubic feet of cargo space than its more diminutive sibling. While these additions don't exactly make the Clubman roomy, the car might just be the answer for those who crave the classic styling and handling of a Mini along with a little extra breathing room.
Current Mini Cooper Clubman
The Mini Cooper Clubman made its official debut in the 2008 model year. It comes in both base and S versions. The base model uses a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 118 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. The S employs a turbocharged version of the same engine -- power shoots up to 172 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, yielding a 0-60-mph time of about 7 seconds. Both engines come standard with a six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional. The base model makes an adequate day-to-day commuting vehicle, while the S model's added power makes it better suited for both increased cargo loads and spirited driving. The Clubman is available as a coupe only, and no plans have been announced at this time for a convertible.
The Clubman comes standard with a decent collection of standard convenience features, including antilock disc brakes and stability control. Customization is a cornerstone of the Mini philosophy, and consequently the Clubman offers a broad range of packages and options. Even the various color schemes can be mixed and matched.
The Clubman's interior takes many of its cues from the regular Cooper hatchback. It features the same large center-set speedometer and stylishly arranged climate and audio controls -- this latter trait is ergonomically unfortunate, however, as these controls will befuddle those used to a more traditional dash layout. The multifunction steering wheel option makes using the entertainment features a little more intuitive. Front seating is roomy and comfortable, with enough room even for people taller than 6 feet. The backseat isn't huge, but there's adequate room for two full-size adults -- something that definitely can't be said for the regular Mini. The Clubman's roomiest configuration is with the rear seats down, which opens up 32.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity versus 24.0 in its smaller sibling.
In our initial reviews, we found the Mini Cooper Clubman generally retains the "go-kart" handling of the regular Cooper. The car's steering delivers plenty of feedback, and the handling response is nimble and athletic. The Clubman gives up very little to the regular model in terms of driving enjoyment, though it does suffer from similar dynamic quirks. Some people will find the car's ride quality overly stiff, and the S trim level's increased power causes pronounced torque steer.
Overall, the Mini Cooper Clubman's slightly increased size and interior space don't affect the car's signature look and feel. This is a car that delicately balances fun and practicality -- with the emphasis on fun.

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