Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

The 60th Anniversary of the Mini Cooper

It boggles the mind that more Canadians aren’t buying small cars. Being easy at the pumps and easy to park just don’t seem to justify many non-SUV purchases.

Make the car legendary and easy on the eyes, though, and the product may have a fighting chance. That wasn’t the case for the Fiat 500 or the Volkswagen Beetle, neither of which were long (enough) for the Canadian market. On the bright side, the MINI Cooper S 60th Anniversary Edition shows what a devoted automaker can accomplish in this segment.

First impressions

British Racing Green adorned just about every surface on the car I drove. Notable exceptions include the roof, side mirror caps, black bonnet (hood for North Americans) stripes and the 60th anniversary badging on this Cooper S. The curves, bugeye headlights, unapologetically upright windows all around and taillights each sporting half a Union Jack make this a compelling automotive fashion accessory, immediately distinguishable from most other vehicles lumbering along around it.

Interior

This narrow vehicle is the size of a British roadster, with all the good and bad that goes with this design. While I got into and out of it with little difficulty, my head never lost contact with the ceiling, including the fabric cover under the panoramic moonroof, no matter how low I set the manually adjustable leather seat. Rear seats are little more than suggestions. The original MINI was even smaller, which makes me wonder how tiny (or patient) Brits must have been to fit themselves into the classic.

image courtesy BMW Group

That said, the tiny size makes this is a cute car on the outside. And the cabin comes with all sorts of rounded shapes, from the basic instrument cluster attached to the steering column to the big round enclosure for the infotainment screen. Levers serve as switches for a variety of controls, including the big red Engine On/Off switch just above the cupholders. A striped black-and-(British racing) green fascia runs across the dash wherever it doesn’t cede its place to obstacles like air vents.

image courtesy BMW Group

Hockey bag test

The hatch floor sits a few inches below the bottom of the hatch door, so I slid my bag into this depression behind the rear seats. Lo and behold, it fit, and I didn’t need to fold the rear seats down! I did anyway, to slide my sticks through the cabin. The sticks reached well into the front seats, which underscores the tiny proportions of this car.

In-cabin technology

This MINI Cooper S doesn’t scrimp on technology. BMW drivers will quickly recognize the screen interface even though designers put a distinctly MINI skin on it. Depending on the trim level, MINI offers different technologies and audio packages.

The ring that surrounds the screen is part of that skin. The embedded LED lighting signals things like acceleration, climate control adjustments and incoming phone calls. Form follows function here.

The centre control cluster also comes from MINI’s adoptive parent. However, the car’s limited interior space causes an ergonomic problem here. The centre armrest makes the forearm sit so high up that I needed to reach my hand down to manoeuver the dial/button/joystick/trackpad and the surrounding buttons. Pulling the emergency brake lever up makes this armrest rise. Perhaps designers could make the armrest a little shorter and otherwise rethink it so that drivers like me aren’t tempted to simply fold it up out of the way.

Unlike what you’ll find in offerings from Bavaria, the instrument cluster is, as mentioned, basic. A small screen with limited information sits inside a speedometer with a tachometer hanging from its left side and a fuel gauge on its right. The simplicity is part of the Cooper’s charm, and if you appreciate the drive, you won’t care much about the retro styling here.

Driving

A 4-cylinder Twin Power Turbo produces up to 189 ho and 207 ft/lb of torque. That might not seem like much until you realize how light this Cooper happens to be. Paired to a 7-speed double-clutch transmission, passing power is always on tap and highway on-ramps can be plenty of fun.

So can curves. With the wheels at the corners, this MINI handles like a street-legal go-kart. The only thing this MINI was missing was a manual transmission. No paddle shifters in my tester, though you can use the gearshift lever to manually choose gears.

I drove the MINI in varying conditions, from snowstorms to clear days, and it remained firmly planted. It would be tempting to take this car onto an autocross course.

Fuel economy is middling for a car this size, though drivers can choose MINImalism (green) drive mode to conserve some fuel. There’s also Sport mode, which is much more fun.

Is it odd to admit you love parking a car, especially parallel parking? The MINI slides into just about any spot, including a few that no other vehicle could manage.

Pricing

The 2019 Cooper S 3 Door 60 Years Edition retailed for $27,390. (Yes, I was late getting to my review of this model.) Price as tested, including the 60 Years Edition package and automatic transmission: $35,690.

It’s sad to think that the era of fun small cars seems to be passing us by. Kudos to BMW Group for keeping the MINI phenomenon alive.

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