“The 2018 Mini Cooper is an icon made better by nimble handling and infinite customization.”
The Mini Cooper is offered as a two- or four-door hatchback, a soft-top convertible, or as an awkwardly cool four-door wagon with swinging doors at its tail called the Clubman. Regardless of body style, any Mini is instantly recognizable on the road. Mini is far removed from its days as a diminutive British automaker, it’s owned by BMW and shares some of the Bavarian behemoth’s engines and architecture.
The Cooper is powered by a chunky turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that makes just 124 horsepower. Those cars rely on eager steering and the Cooper’s relative light weight to supplement shortcomings of that engine.
Cooper S cars are powered by a turbo-4 that makes 189 hp that outkicks its own coverage. It’s uproariously fun and nimble, but also overpowered—Coopers are fun in the corners, not necessarily straight-line speed.
At the top of the heap is a John Cooper Works edition that’s available on two-door hardtop, convertible, and Clubman models. It uses an uprated turbo-4 to make 228 hp that’s delivered in a savage, hugely entertaining way.
Those engines can be mated to a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission, with standard front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, which is optional on Clubman models.
Beyond power, the Mini’s practicality comes into view. The two-door hardtop models do their best impression as versatile hatchbacks with a split-folding rear seat that transforms 8.7 cubic feet of cargo space into 37 cubes. Four-door versions are more capacious: 13.1 cubic feet with second row in place, or 40.7 with the seats folded. Clubman models do the best: 17.5 cubic feet and 47.9 cubic feet respectively.
“The 2018 Mini Cooper looks the part, made better by an endless supply of customization options.”
Style is in the 2018 Mini Cooper’s wheelhouse. Just the name alone evokes images of the small hatchback—that’s recall that money just can’t buy.
Available as a two- or four-door hatchback, two-door convertible, or four-door wagon-ish model, the Mini Cooper looks better than good, it looks great. We give another point for its fun—but somewhat quirky—interior. Overall, it earns an 8 out of 10 for style.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking this car from the same version released 15 years ago. Although its roots trace
back to the retro-modern fad that’s now faded, the Mini Cooper manages to look fresh thanks to its high degree of customization. Owners
can mix and match paint schemes and unique features to ensure that no two Minis leaving the factory will look alike. The Mini Cooper was most recently redesigned three years ago, with the most noticeable change being a longer nose. The taillights are a little more squared, but the traditional Mini cues are still in place: oval lights on the front fenders, upright windshield, and an oblong grille. Convertible and Clubman models are nearly identical from the front fenders forward, but the two diverge in wheelbases, cargo space, and obviously their roofs.
They converge in interior presentation, which is mostly universal across the Mini lineup. The Mini is less “alien techno” this time around, and focused more on comfort—with flourishes. Instruments are where you’d expect them, and for the most part, the switches are easy to understand. (The optional head-up display switch has been mercifully moved to the other side of the steering wheel, out of the center stack.) Round, eyeball vents build toward a large round center display that houses the infotainment screen and kitschy “mood ring” that changes color depending on drive mode—or something. It’s a lot to take in initially, but deeper analysis reveals that all of those shiny buttons and switches help distract from a lot of black trim and upholstery pieces. For the most part, it’s a welcome distraction.
“Straight-line speed isn’t the 2018 Mini Cooper’s best attribute. Find a corner and you’ll see what we mean.”
The 2018 Mini Cooper hasn’t changed from last year—that’s a good thing.
The base engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder that makes 124 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. It’s responsible for coaxing the Cooper up to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, but in reality it feels faster thanks to its cornering speed and tossability.
That’s due to its braking and handling, and those reasons are enough to give it a 7 out of 10 on our scale. Cooper S models boast a bigger 2.0-liter turbo-4.
That turbo-4 shaves a second off the base engine’s 0-60 mph time thanks to 189 hp and 206 lb-ft. It’s the only engine we’d recommend if you’re planning on an automatic transmission, and it’s redeemed further by available paddle-shifters.
For the unconvinced, a John Cooper Works edition is available in all but the four-door hardtop, and boasts an uprated turbo-4 that makes 228 hp and 236 lb-ft. Its power surges in unpredictable ways that are always fun—are you ready to scare yourself?
Mini uses customizable drive modes to control throttle and transmission behavior (and damper settings if equipped) accessed via a toggle at the base of the shift knob. Sport modes predictably firm things up, Green slows everything down. Regardless of setting, the Mini rides firmly, but it doesn’t crash over bumps. Several wheel choices are available up to 18 inches, but we recommend 17s with their forgivable sidewalls and good looks.
The Mini’s charms are in how it tackles curvy stuff.
Most Mini Cooper models will have a relatively quick 14.2:1 steering ratio (the convertible’s is slightly slower at 14.0:1) that means tracking down a pencil-straight interstate isn’t really maximizing your opportunities.
The 6-speed manual is a willing accomplice, but we’ve noticed that its linkage didn’t feel all that confident. Good news: The clutch takeup is relatively light and its rev-matching downshifting feature can make even mundane drives fun. The manual is mandatory on base models, but we wouldn’t begrudge many for opting for the 8-speed. It’s good on Cooper S and higher trims.
Clubman models feel just as bright as Cooper models, despite having a longer wheelbase by 7 inches.
All Minis use a single-joint spring strut front axle that can trace its roots back to the original 3-Series from BMW. The design makes for a lighter-weight front axle that’s more compact and direct, but ultimately limits the size of the brake rotors—not a huge concern in a lightweight Mini. The rear setup is a multilink rear axle that prioritizes stiffness with a cocked leg around corners.
The net: All Mini Coopers handle tighter than a drum. And it’s standard on every car.