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#21

in 2012 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $15,918 - $26,228
Original MSRP: $19,500 - $35,100
MPG: 29 City / 37 Hwy
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2012 Mini Cooper Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

If you’re considering the Mini Cooper, you’ve probably checked out the FIAT 500. After comparing the two, reviewers say the Mini Cooper is the best choice performance-wise because its base model has more power and better cornering abilities than the 500. And when you upgrade to the Cooper S or John Cooper Works models, it only gets better.

  • "With a slightly larger four-banger than the one found in the Fiat, the Mini's 1.6-liter makes just 20 more horsepower than the 500's, but when that makes it 20 percent more powerful, the result is dramatic." -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

Test drivers have always liked the Mini Cooper’s performance capabilities, and if you’re really into performance but can’t spend a lot of money, they say the Mini Cooper S and the John Cooper Works models easily challenge sports cars that cost thousands more.

But most shoppers will probably go for the base Cooper, which has a 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Reviewers like the energy this engine provides, especially compared with the FIAT 500, which only has 101 horsepower. The base Cooper’s fuel economy ratings are also hard to top. It gets 29/37 mpg city/highway with a standard six-speed manual transmission, and 28/36 mpg city/highway with a six-speed automatic, according to the EPA. The convertible gets 27/35 mpg, regardless of the transmission you choose.

Aside from the 1.6-liter that comes with the base Cooper, there are two more engines available. The Cooper S offers a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that boasts 181 horsepower. Finally, the John Cooper Works edition has a 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder, twin-scroll turbocharged engine that punches a full 208 horsepower. The John Cooper Works is only available with a six-speed manual transmission, while the Cooper and Cooper S models offer a standard six-speed manual transmission and an optional six-speed automatic.

The Cooper S and John Cooper Works models don’t get as good gas mileage as the base model. The Cooper S averages up to 27/35 mpg with the manual transmission, while the Cooper Works averages 25/33 mpg.

  • "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." -- Edmunds
  • "Base models with manual transmission are lively enough around town, but hills and highway passing demand a downshift--and some patience. Base models with automatic are a bit sleepy from a stop, but build power quickly for adequate acceleration, and the transmission kicks down promptly for more passing power." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Both engines are smooth and flexible, providing decent low-end torque. Naturally, the S zips off the line with more tenacity and it doesn't struggle to pass on the highway. The base feels a bit like it is towing an anchor, compared to the S, but the power-to-weight ratio is still acceptable given the car's 2,855 lb. curb weight." -- Left Lane News

Handling and Braking

The Mini Cooper boasts excellent handling dynamics that become even more engaging if you upgrade to the Cooper S and John Cooper Works models. But these models are expensive, and test drivers say the base Mini Cooper doesn’t disappoint. It has good cornering abilities and doesn’t suffer from a lot of body lean.

For some, the Mini Cooper may be a bit stiff and its ride may be too harsh. To make the Cooper more comfortable, reviewers suggest replacing the run-flat tires that are standard with the Cooper S.

  • "Steering response is instant, with good feedback and weight tuned in. This car is easy to sling around and simply to enjoy." -- AutoWeek
  • "The Cooper's suspension keeps the car plumb while bombing back roads, which is where the Mini really stomps the Fiat." -- Car and Driver
  • "All Coopers suffer from a firm, choppy ride over anything but glass-smooth pavement, due in large part to their run-flat tires. Cooper S and JCW models equipped with 17-inch tires are occasionally harsh over bumps. Convertibles suffer from some minor body flex and cowl shake over bumps." -- Consumer Guide

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