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2009 MINI Cooper ReviewThe Good
Fast, fun, and fuel-efficient, the '09 MINI Cooper looks cute as a button, but drives like a go-kart on steroids.The Bad
The '09 MINI Cooper has no truly usable back seat and an interior layout that favors retro styling over modern functionality.
The CarGurus View
If you don't need lots of backseat or trunk space and can afford its high pricetag, the '09 Cooper represents a good choice for city dwellers. It fits in any parking space and maneuvers easily around streets and highways. Despite its subcompact classification, the Cooper also stays true to its racing heritage, with sport-like handling and a powerful engine that make it quick and fun to drive.
At a Glance
The 2009 MINI Cooper seems to offer drivers the best of all worlds. It's a high-end subcompact (yes, they do exist) with outstanding engine performance and sports handling, coupled with superior fuel economy, letting drivers have plenty of fun without breaking the bank. The front-wheel-drive subcompact comes in both hatchback and soft-top convertible forms, although there will be no official 2009 convertible offered this year. The 2008 convertible carries over in anticipation of an overhaul sometime next spring.
The '09 Cooper hatchback returns in Base and sport-tuned S trims, and adds a new high-performance John Cooper Works trim. This builds on the S, beefing up its suspension, brakes, shocks, springs, and wheels. It also tweaks the turbocharged engine for even more power and superior race-car-like handling. The new John Cooper trim is available only in hatchback form. Other changes include a new top speed for the speedometer, now peaking at 160 mph. Stability and traction control get added to the Cooper's standard safety equipment.
The returning 2008 Base and S convertibles feature a power fabric top with heated glass rear window. Its top can be partially opened to create a sunroof effect, but doing so creates conversation-stopping wind and road noise. Many reviewers of the 2008 convertible pointed out the extremely poor rear visibility caused by both the rear roll bar and rear headrests, and the upcoming revamp will likely address this issue by increasing the size of the rear window and substituting a pop-up roll bar.
The '09 Cooper can be customized with a variety of exterior colors, stripes or no stripes, and a long list of options. This allows drivers to truly make their Cooper their own, perhaps accounting for its popularity. Hip retro looks draw people in, but the outstanding handling, responsive engine, and affordable fuel economy keep drivers in their seats. The Cooper serves city commuters well. Though its engine power works well on the highway, its small size and harsh ride make it less suitable for long trips.
Three versions of the same 16-valve, 1.6-liter DOHC inline-four engine exist for the different trims, each putting out its own horsepower and torque numbers. Base Coopers hit 118 hp, with 0-60 times around 8.5 seconds. Not bad for a subcompact hatch. Equipped with variable valve timing, and taking advantage of the Cooper's small size, its superior fuel efficiency ranks around 28/37 mpg. Horsepower dips to 115 in the Base convertible.
The sportier '09 Cooper S trim gets a turbocharged version of the 1.6 engine, boosting horsepower to 172 and torque to 177 at a low 1,600 RPM (S convertibles put out 168 hp). Tests clock its 0-60 time around 6.7 seconds, with a top speed of 139 mph. The extra turbo punch drops mileage numbers to 26/34 mpg. Both the Base and S feature a standard 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic with sport mode and paddle shifters.
The new John Cooper Works trim adds a bigger version of the S's Borg Warner turbocharger to the 1.6 and modifies the cylinders and exhaust tuning for an end output of 208 hp. Torque starts at 192 lb-ft in an 1,800-5,600 lb-ft range, but an overboost switch increases that number to 207. Think hyperdrive in the Millennium Falcon. With racing inspirations (go-kart racing, that is), this Cooper hits 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, with a top speed of 148 mph. Fortunately, fuel efficiency barely suffers, coming in at 25/33 mpg. The John Cooper Works comes only with a 6-speed short-throw manual, and why would you want anything else?
Though the turbos demonstrate some expected lag time, all engines, including that in the Base, deliver plenty of smooth, energetic punch. Test drivers and owners agree that the '09 Cooper is fast and fun, with great acceleration power, especially around town. Highway passing requires some serious downshifting, however, and one critic finds that off-the-line acceleration with the automatic transmission could use a power boost. All trims require premium gas.
Ride & Handling
Performing more like a race car than a compact hatchback, the 2009 Cooper receives overwhelming praise from critics and owners for its crisp handling (one reviewer labeled it as rambunctious) and precise maneuverability. Riding on a four-wheel independent Macpherson strut front and multilink rear suspension, the tossable Cooper offers quiet and seamless power, with many lead-foot drivers not realizing just how fast they're going until they look down at the speedometer.
Minimal body lean and tight cornering characterize the race-car-like maneuverability of the '09 Cooper. Critics find it amazingly stable in heavy winds despite its small size, thanks to its short height and wide stance. With excellent power and throttle response, many owners say the Cooper feels like a go-kart around town, zipping easily in and out of parking spots and around city blocks. These dynamics greatly improve in the sportier turbo S and John Cooper Works trims. The electronically assisted steering features Basic and Sport settings, nicely adjusting from a lighter to a weightier feel depending on the driving feedback desired.
Both the S and John Cooper Works trims get a sport-tuned suspension and rear spoiler for better aerodynamics. The S features stiffer shocks and springs and an anti-roll bar, with the John Cooper trim beefing these up even more and adding larger Brembo brakes. Test drives reveal responsive brakes that stop on a dime for all trims. While the Base rides on 16-inch wheels, the S and John Cooper utilize larger 17-inch wheels with run-flat performance tires, which one critic calls “superb.” Road grip and cornering feel confident. The John Cooper Works offers the most fun and exciting ride, as close to being in a commuter sports car as you can get. Reviewers have been universally awed by its racing dynamics and performance. In addition to the sport-tuned suspension and shocks, it sits one-third of an inch lower than the S, for a lower center of gravity. This results in more direct handling and road feel transmitted to the driver.
On the downside, owners and reviewers agree that the stiff suspension in the '09 Cooper translates into a somewhat harsh ride, even on the Base trim with the smaller tires and non-sport suspension. The 17-inch run-flat tires on the S and John Cooper trims allow road bumps and ruts to intrude on driver comfort.
Cabin & Comfort
Certainly no Cadillac Escalade, the 2009 MINI Cooper won't win any awards for interior space. Though it features two rows of seats, passengers in the back might find their knees jammed up into their jaws with less than 30 inches of rear legroom and almost non-existent footwells. Front passengers get 41 inches of legroom, but somewhat narrow seats hemmed in by the center console. Headroom averages around 38 inches and accommodates people under 6 feet tall comfortably. Front seats move fore and aft and feature manual height adjustment. Cooper S and John Cooper Works trims offer bolstered sport seats. The car's low ride height makes entry and exit into the low-slung front and rear seats a bit challenging.
Rear seats split-fold 50/50, but do not fold flat. With the seats up, the trunk volume measures 5.7 cubic feet (about the same as a convertible coupe), but expands to 24 cubic feet. There is little supplemental interior storage aside from map pockets and a two-tiered glove box with cooled storage for beverages.
Neither reviewers nor owners like the ergonomics of the '09 Cooper. Favoring style over function, the retro gauges and switches are both busy and dangerously inconvenient. The large central speedometer sits on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, forcing drivers to take their eyes off the road (however, it moves behind the wheel when the optional navigation system is installed). The tachometer hides behind the top of the steering wheel. The climate control dials and power switches sit too low on the dash, forcing the driver to lean away from the wheel in order to reach them. Drivers also find the climate knobs difficult to adjust. But hey, on the flip side, everything looks very cool.
All '09 Coopers come equipped with power windows, locks, and mirrors, remote entry, a trip computer and tachometer, leatherette upholstery and trim, and wheel-mounted audio controls for the 6-speaker CD/MP3 player. Both the Cooper S and John Cooper Works add more sporty touches to the exterior (foglights, hood scoop, spoiler), while the interior gets sport seats and alloy accents.
Part of the appeal of the MINI Cooper is its customizable character. It offers a long list of personalized options for drivers to put their unique stamp on their commuter racer. Ten exterior colors, ten types of graphics, and a choice of racing stripes decorate the exterior. Among some of the other options, you'll find heated seats, Bluetooth, an iPod jack, carbon fiber and chrome trim, a panoramic sunroof, cruise control, remote start, and a navigation system.
The '09 Cooper has yet to be rated for safety, but should earn the same four- and five-star and Good ratings of the 2008 model, particularly since it has added standard Dynamic Stability Control to its list of safety equipment. This system also incorporates Dynamic Traction Control, both of which automatically kick in during slippage or tricky turns. If turned off, the Cooper's electronic locking differential switches on, acting as a type of traction control by sending power to the wheels that need it.
All trims feature 4-wheel disc and ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and hill start assist. Dual front-side and side curtain airbags for both rows, anti-roll bars, a tire monitor, automatic headlights, and active front head restraints are also standard. By mounting the engine transversely, the '09 Cooper increases the front crumple zone, allowing for crash impact to dissipate over a wider area. It also automatically deploys hazard lights, unlocks the doors, and disables the fuel pumps in the event of an accident. Options add rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors.
What Owners Think
Drivers seem amazed and overjoyed that this subcompact delivers jaw-dropping power and acceleration combined with fun and sporty handling while still managing to achieve top-notch fuel economy ratings. One owner claims to get over 40 mpg on the highway in her '09 Cooper. Looking at reviews of the nearly identical 2008 model, drivers love its tight cornering, peppy engine, easy maneuverability, and the fact that its small size allows the Cooper to fit in the smallest of parking spaces (a bonus for city livers who have to parallel park).
However, the small size does come at a price, and owners do complain about the small back seat and minimal trunk space. Other negatives from 2008 owners include the inconvenient ergonomics and narrow front seats. Some drivers want more traditional-looking gauges. Overwhelmingly, the single biggest downside for drivers is the harsh and bumpy ride on all trims, courtesy of the stiff suspension.
CarGurus owners have yet to comment on the '09 Cooper, but 2008 owners heap lavish praise on its fuel efficiency, driving dynamics, instant acceleration response, and overall handling and braking. Hard pressed to come up with any negatives, several drivers cite the lack of cargo capacity.
by Ann Jackman
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