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Average User Score
4.6 ⁄ 5 stars
Based on 44 reviews
2008 MINI Cooper Overview
Overall User Score
Based on 44 reviews
The MINI Cooper confirms that size does matter! Its diminutive size has proven attractive to all age and gender groups. Young couples look upon it as an ecologically friendly urban transport (Road and Track magazine agreed, picking it as one of its ten best urban vehicles); retired/empty nester couples view it as economical, reliable transportation for fixed-income living; women tend to love its looks; and racer boyz are having a hoot with its performance, as are some autocross folks.
Back in 1959, when the original Mini was unleashed on the public by the brilliant Sir Alec Issigonis, it was a huge and revolutionary hit, rivaling the VW Beetle as the premier economy car. (Interestingly enough, while the Brits placed the engine transversely into a front-wheel-drive configuration and attached it to a box-like interior, the Germans set the engine in the rear with a rear-wheel-drive configuration and attached it to a "beetle-like" interior.) John Cooper and the racers of those days got their hands on the Mini, and it became a Monte Carlo Rally champ. It was so good that Rally authorities had to finesse the rules so as to eliminate it from competition!
The 2008 base MINI is a true heir to that glorious lineage, and while it delivers 28/37 mpg overall with the manual (the automatic gets 26/34 mpg), it will also delight the average driver with its tractability and comfort. A major "evolutionary" makeover was brilliantly executed by BMW in 2007. Although every body panel was changed, you'd have to park the first-generation (2003 through 2006) MINI next to the second gen in order to pick out all the differences. And by all reviews, BMW succeeded in taking the great risk of improving a car that was already a runaway success.
Faced with stricter European emissions and safety regulations, BMW went ahead and attended to the future. Thus the second-gen MINI, although two inches longer, not only increases interior cabin space, but also houses a completely new engine. The BMW-designed 1.6-liter all-alloy inline four cylinder was a joint venture with Peugeot-Citroen. It features BMW's variable valve timing and lift technology, twin cams, and four valves per cylinder. In base form, it produces 118 hp with 114 lb-ft of torque, and although this represents only a minimal power increase - 3 hp - over the first-generation BMW/Chrysler engine, it is a more sophisticated, more fuel efficient, and more accommodating power plant with a broader torque curve. And the second-generation MINI, according to some accounts, is 36 pounds lighter.
This year, the new engine sends power through a new 6-speed manual Getrag gearbox with dual cone synchronizers, making shifting the old hot-knife-through-butter routine. Most reviewers loved rowing through the six-speed, enthusing over its "light, positive action connected to well-chosen ratios." The MINI's apt pedal placement makes heel-and-toe downshifting even sweeter. With the manual transmission, MINI says the base model does 0-60 in 8.5 seconds. However, the quick-shifting reviewers at Car and Driver managed to do it in 7.7 seconds.
Of course, with the new six-speed Aisin automatic you need to be concerned with only one foot, but with the optional steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, both hands will be busy, although BMW trusts your shifting selections to only 6,000 rpm. Beyond that threshold, the computer will make the choice for you. Interestingly enough, in a RoadFly video on YouTube, road-test drag races between 2008 Cooper S models proved the automatic the victor, with a best quarter-mile time of 14.77 seconds vs. 14.9 for the manual.
The new MINIs have become favorites among the racing crowd. Keeping the original "bulldog" stance, BMW produced an ultra-rigid body structure - a foundation for good handling - and used MacPherson struts and front and rear anti-roll bars with a multilink setup in the rear that features aluminum longitudinal arms, shaving 13 pounds off the car's weight. One review claims that the rear suspension is adapted from BMW's Z4 sports car. An optional Sport Suspension stiffens things up and provides a tenacious grip.
Adding to the "natural" tossability of this car is BMW's wonderful new (for the second-generation MINI) electronic power steering. It uses an electric motor to alter and enhance driver steering input by changing the steering ratio and the force necessary to steer the car according to its speed. It's not a drive-by-wire system, since there is a mechanical connection between the steering and the front wheels, so the driver still has a feel for the road and the car's dynamics. Reviewers consistently praise the feedback and road feel from this system - no surprise here, since it came from the automotive manufacturer who engineers steering systems that set the standard for fluent communication between driver and road. The vented disc brakes are, like the rest of the car, clearly up to BMW standards. And they have all the electronic assistance imaginable - ABS, EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), and CBC (Cornering Brake Control) - for safe and secure braking.
As for safety, once again size does seem to matter, as the first-generation MINI received a four-star safety rating from the NHTSA and a "best Pick" designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. On-demand traction control, dynamic stability control, and Hill Assist (applies brakes automatically when you're starting on a hill with the manual transmission) are all options at any trim level. Six airbags are ready to deploy, set off by a sophisticated crash-sensing system. Two bags in front, one on each side of the front seats, and two side curtains deploy from the headliner, protecting front and rear occupants. All of this is set in an ultra-rigid body shell with side-impact door beams and built-in crumple zones designed to spread the impact of a crash.
According to most reviewers it's the interior of the second-generation MINI that represents the most radical change from the preceding generation. MINI has gone around the bend with their "oval to round theme." You will find ovals and circles everywhere in the beautifully fitted and trimmed interior - another example of BMW's goal to build a premium small car. Dominating the cabin is the "plate-sized" speedometer/info center that's big enough to house a screen for the optional nav system. BMW built the audio system controls into the speedometer dial near the HVAC controls.
There is also a "sport" button on the console in every trim that adds to the MINI's huge fun factor. Pressing it increases acceleration response, tightens the steering, and, if you have the automatic, adjusts the shift points for quicker gear changes.
Reviewers found the shortest car sold in America to have an amazingly spacious interior that can accommodate drivers as tall as 6'5". The Automotive.com reviewer spent 5,000 miles in 15 days in a 2006 MINI and writes that he "can attest to the surprising comfort of the seats and driving position." The second-generation car has enhanced the front bucket seats by improving the shape and positioning of the bolsters.
With the rear seats up, the MINI has 5.7 cubic feet of cargo space, and it has 24 cu.ft. when they're down. Kristin Varela, writing for Consumer Reviews, was so taken by the "surprising generosity of its interior dimensions" as she toted her two daughters around for two weeks that she found herself "practically ready to go out and buy one."
Add to all this the incredible customizability, or in MINI-speak, the "ultimate you-ification" of the car: You have a range of exterior colors to choose from, and inside your choices range from the "fast-and-furious interior look," with the appropriate mood lighting, to an "almost Rolls-Royce" appearance, with the appropriate leather seats, contrasting piping, and genuine wood trim - don't forget these little gems are built in England. The MINI website claims there are 10 million different permutations of the basic MINI available, so if you get creative, it's unlikely that you'll meet another MINI just like yours.
From its birth in 1959 through its various reincarnations, the Mini has been a hit. With this latest version, it continues its remarkable run of popularity with an amazingly broad spectrum of automotive buyers.
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