The 2011 MINI Cooper has a Total Car Score that's close to the top of the segment.
The Cooper -- now in its second generation -- takes the name "Hardtop" to differentiate it among a growing range of variants. There's also a convertible version with a power top that stows in just 15 seconds.
Considering it's made by BMW a certain amount of driving enjoyment is expected. And the car never disappoints. This is one of the finest-handling front-drivers available. It's fun, fun, fun all the way -- coming in greater quantities as the trim levels (and price) escalate. It also means a stiffer ride quality as wheel size and engine power increase.
The cabin's design has a distinct personality, with a large speedo dial in the center of the dash and a series of retro aircraft-style switches running underneath. The actual quality of details like these have come under fire for not being in keeping with Mini's premium branding, while the rear quarters have come under even more fire for being cramped.
The 2011 model year brings a little more horsepower, revised steering to mitigate torque steer (where one front wheel grips more than the other and influences the car's direction under heavy acceleration), adaptive headlights, extra sound insulation (earlier models received criticism for having noisy cabins), HD and satellite radio and subtle cosmetic tweaks.
The 2011 MINI Cooper is sold as a two-door compact hatchback and convertible in base and S trims (the Cooper JCW John Cooper Works model is covered separately).
All Coopers leave the factory with ABS, stability control and six airbags. The Base has 15-inch alloy wheels, a steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach, keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows and mirrors. The S brings a more powerful engine, 16-inch wheels, fog lights and sports seats.
Extra features, of which there are many, can be chosen on a pick-and-mix basis or bundled into packages. These include an upgraded stereo, Bluetooth, iPod integration, navigation, parking sensors and a whole array of exterior/appearance options (e.g. white roof and side mirrors). MINI Connected is an available smartphone-based infotainment system that can stream internet radio and allow Facebook updates.
The base Mini Cooper is powered by a 1.6-liter four that produces 121 horsepower, 114 pound-feet of torque and consumes gas at a frugal 29 mpg in the city, 37 on the highway and an average of 32, thanks in part to a six-speed manual transmission (with hill-start assistance). Take one mile per gallon from each figure when using the optional six-speed automatic transmission.
The S version deploys a turbocharger that brings power levels up to 181 hp and 177 lb-ft and mileage down to 27/36/30 (26/34/29 with the auto).
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