When the original reborn MINI hatchback debuted for the 2002 model year, no one could have envisioned that its range would one day stretch to include some six models (eight if you count the upcoming Paceman and Clubvan Wagon), all bearing the now-familiar and beloved family resemblance.
From the 2002 MINI Cooper, the brand’s product line has expanded to include everything from a Coupe (and corresponding Roadster) to a crossover, the Countryman, which is MINI’s first model to offer up an all-wheel drive option. All versions come in standard-performance Cooper models, higher-performance Cooper S trim and highest-performance John Cooper Works variants, giving buyers a truly impressive range of vehicles to choose from.
What’s perhaps most impressive about MINI is that each of its retro-modern cars manages to have a unique feel, and the same can be said about the differences between Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works trims. Despite the commonality in design both inside and out, each model manages to stand on its own. That said, we do appreciate the cohesive look of the cars’ exaggerated headlights, wrap-around beltline, floating roof and short nose. Inside, we like the funky centralized speedometer and retro toggle switches, too, since they help add to the MINI’s character.
Core to any MINI model is the driving experience, and the brand builds one of the best-handling front-wheel drive cars on the market today. Even base Cooper models, with their 121-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines, manage to accelerate in a convincing manner thanks in part to the cars’ light weight. Enthusiasts, however, will still prefer the turbocharged Cooper S models, which squeeze 181-horsepower out of the same 1.6-liter four. Those with higher expectations (and larger budgets) will likely be drawn to the turbocharged John Cooper Works models, which produce 208-horsepower from the same base engine. MINI believes in choice when it comes to gearboxes, too, and each model is available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. As you’d expect, fuel economy across the range is impressive, with Cooper models delivering up to 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.
Despite MINI’s penchant for carving up twisty roads, the ride quality across the model lineup is impressive. John Cooper Works variants will be on the stiff side for some, but that’s the trade-off for their sharper handling, and road noise in all models is noticeable but not pronounced. If anything, it’s a reminder that the MINI Cooper models are aimed more at fun than at luxury, despite that fact that options quickly escalate the price. We’d like to see better interior materials as well, since most others in the segment have gotten away from MINI’s abundant hard plastic.
As for safety, MINI models include six airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and hill-start assist. Optional extras include things like HID headlights and parking sensors, which may be necessary for those who can’t adapt to the MINI’s high-beltline-impaired outward visibility.
For 2013, all MINI models now include Bluetooth phone integration and a USB/iPod interface. As with previous years, personalization options are limited primarily by the buyer’s budget, and option packages abound. In fact, it’s easy to take any of MINI’s models and price them out of the affordable range by loading them up with option packages and accessories, so buyers are advised to determine what features are needed (versus just wanted) before heading down to a MINI dealer.
For complete details on the range of 2013 MINI Cooper models, see our comprehensive review on The Car Connection