Test Drive Notes Library
- Fun. There are very few cars that are truly fun to drive. Mini is absolutely one of them. It’s been a while since we’ve driven a Mini Cooper, and we were immediately reminded of why we liked it so much. It’s just more fun to drive than most other cars, including those costing tens of thousands more.
- A funny looking sports car. If you’re someone who once enjoyed driving a sports car, but gave it up because, A) you got tired of driving with your butt an inch from the asphalt, B) you got tired of having to keep your elbows against your sides because there was no room to move them, C) you got tired of a flimsy convertible top flapping in the 60 mph wind and a four inch diameter rear window giving you zero visibility, or D) all of the above, you might find the Cooper S to be a revelation. It really drives like a sports car, without all those downsides. It’s relatively light weight, the handling and cornering are sharp, and the engine is just powerful and responsive enough to make driving fun. Inside, you sit high enough off the ground that a middle aged person won’t embarrass herself getting in and out, and there’s enough head and shoulder room to make it feel civilized.
- Transmission. This is one of the best dual clutch automatic transmissions we’ve driven in recent years. It exhibited none of the weird, low speed engagement issues that are typical of the genre. Shifts are crisp and smooth. Mini is also one of the few remaining brands to still offer a stick shift option. Get ‘em while they last.
- Exterior. We still love the way the Mini looks. It’s an updated classic. And for individualists, Mini offers an almost limitless palate of options to customize the look of your car; different colored roofs, racing stripes, wheels of all styles, and special appearance packages.
- Interior. It’s unique. OK, they overdo it a bit, exaggerating everything that can be exaggerated. There’s a silly LED ring around the center screen that changes colors and seems to have a social life of its own. But it does feel special inside, and when you’re inside one, you know it’s not "generic 2020s car interior.” We like it.
- Take any spot. One of the pleasures of driving a Mini Cooper in an urban environment is never having to say no to a parking spot, no matter how small. You’ll take extra pleasure in waiting for a Tahoe to try three times to fit in a spot before giving up in huff, allowing you to pull right in. If you don’t need to carry kids or lots of gear, the Mini is also practical. It gets good mileage (we got 28 combined, the EPA says 31), you can park it anywhere, and the cargo area is perfect for lining up five supermarket bags across. Fold down the rear seat, and you can carry a bunch of suitcases or a decent sized dog. Though not both.
Test Drive Notes Library
- Showing its age. The driving dynamics of the Cooper are great, and are not showing their age at all. But the technology is. Mini's parent company, BMW, has not done a major update of the Cooper in ages. So it lacks some things that everybody wants in 2022. It has no blind spot monitoring. It has no rear cross traffic alert. These features are essential, in our opinion, and are now standard on most cars. Even cheap cars. So the lack of them is a deal breaker for a lot of people buying a car in 2022.
- Clunky head up. They’ve retrofitted the Cooper with an optional head up display, but it’s not a good one. It looks like one you’d buy from the JC Whitney catalog It’s got a cheap looking plastic screen that rises out of the dashboard and blocks precious windshield space. It’s in the way, and we simply left it off and stored it. This is also a result of having to work with an aging platform that really should have been updated years ago.
- Playing with colors. While it’s great that Mini offers so many appearance and customization options, they’re just playing the hand they’ve been dealt. With few updates of substance to sell, Mini is trying to maintain interest in the car by offering special editions and packages.
- 18 is too much. Our test car came with optional 18 inch wheels, the largest available. Looking at the wheel and tire combination from the side, there appears to be a half inch of tire sidewall. The 18s made the handling even sharper, but we’d recommend the 17s or 16s. The benefit in ride comfort and bent-wheel-avoidance is worth it.
- Wish it was fully up to date. The Cooper S is a terrific, fun, and, for those who don’t need a ton of room, even practical car. The lack of a full suite of modern safety equipment is a major ding, however. We look forward to Mini remedying this.
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