I like to think of the MINI Cooper as a dorm room on wheels. It’s cute, stylish, and fun and can be customized to fit your personality. It’s also got energetic handling and user-friendly tech but comes with a higher price tag, fewer standard features and less cargo space than other subcompact cars.
Base Price: $26,400
As Tested: $35,850
Mileage: 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27 mpg combined
The MINI was re-introduced to the U.S. market in 2001. While many think of the MINI as a British car from the years it was made by the British Motor Corporation, it’s actually been made by BMW since the German automaker purchased the brand in 2000.
The MINI Cooper Hardtop 2 Door and Convertible styles can fit a maximum of four passengers, while the 4 Door models have room for five.
Choosing the MINI you want can be a little confusing but in the end you get the car with all of the options you want. The MINI comes in two- and four-door hardtop model as well as a convertible. Starting prices range from $22,400 to $44,900.
Choose the body style you want first, then select from three trims: Classic, Signature and Iconic. Then there are different names for the powertrain options: Cooper, Cooper S, and John Cooper Works.
And finally, there are some specialty models: the more budget-friendly Oxford Edition, the high-performance John Cooper Works GP, and the fashionable Sidewalk Edition convertible. There’s also an EV version called the MINI Electric Hardtop with a starting price of $29,900.
There are three engines in the gas-powered models. The base is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The MINI Cooper S gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 189 horses and 206 pound-feet. The John Cooper Works MINI has the same engine but cranks out 228 hp and 235 pound-feet. The John Cooper Works GP MINI has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that generates 301 horses and 331 pound-feet.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all models except the John Cooper Works GP which comes standard with an eight-speed automatic. A seven-speed automatic is available on the Cooper and Cooper S models. Front-wheel-drive is standard; all-wheel-drive is not available.
No matter which engine you choose, the MINI Cooper is fun to drive. On paper, some of the horsepower and torque numbers may look underwhelming. But all of the powertrains provide spirited handling. The models with the four-cylinder engines are quicker but all provide enough power and acceleration for everyday driving. My tester with the six-speed manual is quick off the line and hustles to get up to speed for merging and passing at freeway speeds. The manual transmission is easy to shift. Steering is responsive and there’s not much body lean when cornering. The MINI’s small size makes it easy to zip around in tight spaces. The suspension is firm so you will notice bumps and rough roads.
Fuel efficiency is below average for a subcompact car. EPA ratings for my tester are 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with a combined rating of 27. I got 27 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving.
The interior is cute and stylish and unique to the MINI Cooper. Most materials are upscale. A round screen with toggle switches is the focal point of the center stack. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Passengers in the front row have decent leg- and headroom, but the backrow is tight. The cabin isn’t very quiet—road and wind noise is noticeable.
The MINI Cooper does not come with a lot of standard features. They include a rearview camera, synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 6.5-inch infotainment display, six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, and one USB port.
Available features include proximity keyless entry, real leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control,8.8-inch touchscreen, navigation, 12-speaker harmon/kardon audio system, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, wireless device charging, and a panoramic sunroof.
Standard driver assistance technologies include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and rear parking sensors.
Available driver assistance technologies include adaptive cruise control, front parking sensors, and parallel park assist.
The infotainment system is intuitive. My tester has the 8.8-inch touchscreen and you can also use physical controls for many functions. However, the cabin is so small that it’s easy to bump the parking brake or armrest when reaching for the touchscreen.
The MINI has less cargo space than other subcompact cars. My tester has just 8.7 cubic feet with both rows of seating in place and 34 cubes with the second row folded.
Several engine choices
All have peppy handling
Stylish and cute inside and out with unique MINI styling touches
Manual transmission is standard
Apple CarPlay is available
High sticker price for the class
Price escalates quickly with add-ons
Below average fuel efficiency
Less cargo capacity than rivals
Not particularly well-equipped with standard features
Android Auto is not available
My tester starts at $26,400. The Iconic trim is $8,500 and adds JCW leather steering wheel, power-folding mirrors, comfort access keyless entry, Chrome line exterior trim, panoramic moonroof, auto-dimming mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, storage package, heated front seats, automatic climate control, LED fog lights, LED headlights with cornering, Sirius XM Radio with one-year subscription, harman/kardon premium audio system, MINI head-up display and manual transmission, 8.8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, media display, MINI Connected, MINI Connected XL, wireless charging, navigation and Dynamic Digital Cluster. White bonnet stripes are $100. Destination charge is $850 bringing the grand total to $35,850.
If you want a small car that’s cute, fun and stylish with peppy handling, the 2021 MINI Cooper is sure worth a look. But it costs a lot more and isn’t as well-equipped as other subcompacts, and its fuel economy and cabin space are below average for the class. Still, the MINI Cooper appeals to buyers for its iconic style and fun-to-drive personality.