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2021 MINI Cooper Overview

Rejoice, rejoice, for the MINI Cooper is a manual again! After emissions certification troubles in 2020 kept all MINI Cooper trims automatic, the company announced the third pedal will return for 2021, virtually across the lineup. John Cooper Works convertible and GP trims are the exceptions here, but this is still huge news in a world where manual transmissions are becoming rarer than whitewall tires.

Additionally, the bargain-priced Oxford Edition is getting expanded availability this year, and can now be purchased at any dealer. That’s great news for those wanting to save some money, but the heart of MINI has always been performance. With that in mind there’s a new John Cooper Works GP performance edition for 2021 that’s looking to set tracks on fire as the fastest MINI ever produced. With more than 300 horsepower on tap, it should have no trouble doing that very thing, and it has already set a ‎Nürburgring lap time of 07:56:69, improving on the last JCW GP’s time by more than 30 seconds!

Of course, that’s a bit much for your average MINI buyer. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of options when you’re looking to get into a MINI. Starting with the base Cooper trim, you’ll get a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that’ll deliver a not unimpressive 134 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque through a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Cooper manages to get the job done with 3 cylinders, but to really experience everything the MINI Cooper has to offer, I’d suggest moving up to the Cooper S. With a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine, power jumps up to 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. That doesn’t sound like a huge jump, but the difference is noticeable, both in power and general smoothness, and the addition of some sport front seats and selectable drive modes only sweetens the deal further. This also comes with a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. The same engine powers the John Cooper Works trim, but here it offers 228 hp and 236 lb-ft, and while the hardtop version comes with a 6-speed manual, it can also be had with an 8-speed automatic that can handle the power better than the 7-speed. The convertible version of the JCW trim comes solely with the automatic, but both hardtop and convertible will get you LED headlights, a sport suspension and upgraded sport seats with Alcantara and cloth upholstery.

If only “the fastest MINI ever” will do, the JCW GP trim puts down an astonishing 301 hp and 331 lb-ft with the help of twin turbochargers strapped to the 2.0-liter engine. A mechanical differential will help deliver all the power to the front wheels via an 8-speed automatic, and it’ll hit 60mph in just 5.1 seconds. But with no sound or vibration dampening or insulation, no rear seat, and smaller versions of everything from the gauges to the shift paddles to the infotainment screen, it’s best left to the track.

Want something a little more efficient? Look to the SE for all-electric power with the same electric powertrain as the BMW i3. With a little over 100 miles of range and an 80% fast-charge time of just 30 mins on a 50kWh charger, it’s not exactly setting any records, and most of the competition bests it for less money. It might be the cutest electric option out there, but it’s certainly not the smartest.

Once you’ve picked your powertrain poison, it’s time to turn to trims levels. The base Classic well set you up with MINI’s Active Driving Assistant safety suite of adaptive cruise with forward-collision warning and auto high beams, but otherwise is quite spartan, with pleather upholstery and a 6.5-inch screen. Signature trims are a better bet with a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone auto climate controls and heated front seats. The top-tier Iconic trim delivers genuine leather, an 8.8-inch touchscreen with upgraded stereo, wireless charging, and blind-spot monitoring.

From here you can start customizing your MINI, whether that means adding some performance tires, native navigation, an automatic parking system, or additional performance or styling upgrades. It all depends on what’s important to you, and if rowing your own gears is on that list, MINI can again satisfy.

Updated

A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.

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