2012 MINI Cooper Hatchback - FROM $19,500
Thanks to British character and German engineering, the 2012 Mini Cooper is a great pick for a small coupe or convertible.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Mini Cooper offers the "Mini Yours" series of high-end customization options. A leather-covered dashboard, unique wheels and leather upholstery with contrasting striping and piping are among those optional highlights. A few more standard features, such as an aero kit for JCW versions and floor mats for all Coopers, round out the changes.
It doesn't come around very often, but driving an eco-friendly car and enjoying the experience needn't be mutually exclusive. The 2012 Mini Cooper is a prime example. It offers up an engaging drive and plenty of charm, all the while returning fuel mileage similar to what you'd get from a boring economy car. As such, it's no surprise the modern Mini Cooper has remained so popular since its debut about a decade ago.
Pleasingly, you needn't step up to the sportiest trim levels to get lively performance. Thanks to the Cooper's light weight, even the base model's 121-horsepower inline-4 provides enough of a kick for most folks. Then again, the turbocharged Cooper S's more spirited acceleration doesn't exact much of a fuel penalty either. Should you want the maximum in Mini performance, you could opt for the fired-up John Cooper Works edition, which provides 208 hp while still maintaining a measure of frugality with fuel.
In addition to making it easy to place on a tight, winding road, the Mini Cooper's small size makes it a breeze to park on crowded city streets, enabling it to snag a curbside spot that most every other car would have to pass up. Yet inside, the Cooper is surprisingly spacious for two people. Adding to its cheeky appeal, Mini offers plenty of factory personalization options and dealer-installed accessories to make your Mini "mine."
But despite this Mini's fun-loving nature, it's not without a few faults. The trade-off for the Cooper's nimble handing is a rather firm ride that may strike some as too stiff. And that backseat? It's barely big enough for kids, as its lack of legroom is almost comical. That said, you can always check out the longer-wheelbase Cooper Clubman or four-door Countryman should you need true four-seat capacity.
Still, should you find the compromises in comfort outweighing the fun factor, you may want to check out the similarly small (though not quite as sprightly) Fiat 500. Another intriguing choice this year is the new Hyundai Veloster; this innovative hatchback is roomier and cheaper than the Cooper. For alternative drop tops, there are the 500 convertible, BMW's more refined 1 Series and Volkswagen's comfortable Eos. But overall, none of these cars can quite match the Cooper's unique blend of personality, performance and frugalness. If those are priorities for you, the 2012 Mini Cooper is hard to beat.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mini Cooper is available in two-door hatchback and convertible body styles. Each is available in three trim levels: Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW).
The base Cooper comes standard with 15-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, floor mats, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, multicolor ambient lighting and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, HD radio, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Cooper convertible models add 16-inch alloy wheels and a full power convertible top that includes a sunroof feature. The Cooper's Sport package adds 16-inch wheels on the hatchback and 17-inch wheels on the convertible, foglamps, traction control, a rear spoiler, sport seats and hood stripes.
The Cooper S adds 16-inch wheels, a turbocharged engine, firmer suspension tuning, foglamps, sport seats and alloy pedals. The Cooper S Sport package adds 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, traction control and hood stripes. The John Cooper Works includes a more powerful turbo engine, upgraded Brembo brakes, an aerodynamic body kit and cloth upholstery. A limited-slip differential and a firmer suspension can be fitted to both the S and the John Cooper Works.
Major optional features (some of which are grouped in packages) include adaptive xenon headlights, a dual-pane sunroof, automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless ignition/entry, a 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, Bluetooth and an iPod interface. Others include different wheels, parking sensors, cloth or leather upholstery, a navigation system and a multitude of different interior trims and materials. Furthermore, a multitude of dealer-installed features are additionally available.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Mini Cooper comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine good for 121 hp and 114 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual with hill-start assist is standard, and a six-speed automatic is optional. Mini estimates a manual-equipped hatchback will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds (9.7 seconds with the automatic). EPA-estimated fuel economy is 29 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined with the manual (27/35/31 convertible) and 28/36/31 with the automatic.
The Cooper S has a turbocharged version of the same engine good for 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque (192 lb-ft at full throttle thanks to an overboost function). Mini estimates 0-60-mph acceleration in 6.6 seconds for the manual and 6.8 seconds for the automatic. EPA estimated fuel economy is 27/36/30 with the manual and 26/34/29 with the auto.
The John Cooper Works cranks up the turbo boost to produce 208 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only available transmission. Mini estimates a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds for the hatchback and 6.6 for the convertible. Fuel economy is 25/33/28.
All 2012 Mini Coopers come standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control and front-seat side airbags. Side curtain airbags are standard on the hatchback, while the convertible features pop-up rollover bars and larger front side airbags that extend to head height. Traction control is optional. In Edmunds braking, various Mini Cooper S models with 17-inch wheels stopped from 60 mph between 112 and 115 feet -- excellent results.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the hatchback its best rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset test, and its second-best score of "Average" in the side-impact and roof-crush tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Of all the ways to describe the Mini Cooper's interior, we doubt anyone would call it boring. The massive center-mounted speedometer is a nod to the original Mini, but in terms of practicality, it comes off as a bit gimmicky. Despite the Mini Cooper's small size, the front seats are surprisingly spacious. There is no shortage of headroom or legroom and the cabin feels extraordinarily airy. The rear seats, by comparison, are much less accommodating, with a notable lack of legroom. Cargo space is also restrictive, at a very meager 5.7 cubic feet, but folding the rear seats flat increases that to a very usable 24 cubes.
The convertible features a sunroof function in which you can retract the forward portion of the soft top as opposed to lowering it completely. The convertible's tailgate-style trunk opening has an upper package tray that can be raised to allow larger items to fit in the tiny 6-cubic-foot trunk. Unlike with most convertibles, the Mini's rear seats can be folded flat to accommodate larger items, but the rollover hoops and soft-top mechanism prevent the loading of bulkier objects. Rear visibility for the convertible is poor with the top down (as it stacks rather high) and even worse with the top up.
No matter which flavor of 2012 Mini Cooper you might be interested in, you can expect thrilling handling and quick responses to driver inputs. On the downside, the Mini's ride is on the stiff side, and can be rather loud as well. Opting for the Cooper S or John Cooper Works models further stiffens the ride, leading us to recommend that mainstream buyers forego the sport suspension and larger wheels.
The base Cooper will likely satisfy most drivers, while the S adds quite a bit of excitement and the JCW turns the fun dial up to 11. The six-speed manual transmission is notable for its precise shifter and compliant clutch. The automatic isn't the smoothest-shifting unit in the world, but in Manual mode it responds quickly to the driver's inputs to the shift paddles on the steering wheel.