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2016 Mini Cooper Hardtop: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader October 2015

At its core, the 2016 Mini Cooper a practical hatchback: a 2-door or 4-door 4-seater that manages to offer both great gas mileage and a surprisingly large cargo area with the back seats folded down. But the small hatchback is also so much more than that.

For one thing, it's tremendously fun to drive. No, the Cooper isn't rear-wheel drive, and it's not especially fast compared to purpose-built sports cars. But the folks at Mini have managed to tune the Cooper's suspension so it drives better than virtually any other similarly priced car, regardless of drive wheels. It's also easy to get over the lack of a huge engine because the Cooper is just so eager to have fun around the corners.

The Mini Cooper also offers a retro-themed design that appeals to drivers interested in standing out. And thanks to several small -- but noticeable -- styling updates two years ago, the Cooper boasts an iconic look that's not likely to get old any time soon.

What's New for 2016?

After a full redesign in 2014 and minor updates last year, the Cooper sees no major changes for the latest model year.

What We Like

Great styling; sporty driving dynamics; enjoyable powerplants; surprisingly practical

What We Don't

Gets pricey with options; looks a lot like last year's model; sport suspension means stiff ride

How Much?

$21,500 - $31,600

Fuel Economy

The Mini Cooper currently offers three engines. Base models (available in 2-door or 4-door guise) use a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder that makes 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. With a standard 6-speed manual, that engine returns 28 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway; drivers who choose an optional 6-speed automatic will see 27 mpg city/38 mpg hwy.

Next up is the Cooper S, also offered as a 2-door or 4-door, which uses a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 189 hp and 207 lb-ft. Once again available with a manual or an automatic, the Cooper S returns 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with three pedals, or 26 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the optional automatic.

At the top of the range is the John Cooper Works variant, which only comes as a 2-door. It uses the same powerplant as the standard Cooper S, but touts 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, along with fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the standard 6-speed manual, or 25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with the optional automatic.

Standard Features & Options

This year's Mini Cooper is offered in three trim levels: a base model dubbed Cooper, a sporty Cooper S and a high-performance John Cooper Works variant, which was added in the middle of the 2015 model year.

The Cooper ($21,500 for the 2-door; $22,500 for the 4-door) uses the car's 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. It also boasts 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, Bluetooth, power accessories, split-folding rear seats, a USB plug for music and HD Radio. The Cooper also offers driver-selectable driving modes thanks to an adjustable suspension system.

Step up to the Cooper S ($25,000 for the 2-door; $26,000 for the 4-door) and you'll get the more powerful 2.0-liter engine, along with larger wheels, sport seats and fog lights.

The sporty John Cooper Works ($31,600) is available only as a 2-door. It adds even more power, larger wheels, LED headlights, sport seats, a body kit, a sport steering wheel and upgraded front brakes.

You'll really be able to customize your Mini by taking advantage of the hatchback's options list. Available equipment is plentiful, and it includes features such as a backup camera, an automated parallel-parking system, leather upholstery, a navigation system, larger wheels, a huge panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, a Harmon Kardon sound system, automatic windshield wipers and park assist. You can also choose from a multitude of exterior colors and available interiors.

Safety

All 2016 Mini Cooper models include anti-lock disc brakes, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, traction control and knee airbags. While the Minidoesn't offer as many cutting-edge safety features as some competitors (forward-collision alert or blind spot monitoring, for example), it does include a few safety-related options, such as park assist and a backup camera.

In crash tests carried out by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Mini Cooper earned four stars overall out of a possible five stars. The latest Mini Cooper also earned strong ratings from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, including the firm's highest possible rating of Good in each of its crash tests.

Behind the Wheel

We're impressed with updates to the Mini Cooper's interior, which were largely designed to address customer feedback. For example: Though we liked the look of the car's center-mounted speedometer, as it's simply more convenient when it's located behind the steering wheel. We also prefer door-mounted window switches to last year's position in the center control stack.

Even though the base-level Cooper's new engine is just a 3-cylinder, we thought it felt surprisingly eager when driven hard. With that said, it can feel a bit sluggish in routine driving. Three-cylinder or 4-cylinder, base-level Cooper models have always needed a little coaxing to get them going quickly. Meanwhile, 4-cylinder Cooper S and John Cooper Works models are zippier and more eager to go fast, thanks to a broader power band and a smooth, quick-shifting 6-speed automatic.

Inside the cabin, all Cooper models offer improved ergonomics, better materials and our personal favorite feature: a novel ring of LED lights around the center display screen. The lights serve a number of different functions: They can act as a tachometer, show parking proximity and even display upcoming turns for the car's navigation system.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 FIAT 500 -- FIAT's subcompact 500 hatchback offers a lower base price than the Mini Cooper and similar head-turning looks. With the sporty Abarth model, it also boasts an enjoyable driving experience.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle -- The Beetle boasts unique styling, a wide range of engines and a larger interior than the Mini, but it doesn't offer the Mini's sports-car-like driving experience.

2016 Volkswagen GTI -- If an exciting driving experience is what you're looking for, you might want to consider the newly redesigned Volkswagen GTI. Based on the Golf, it offers a turbocharged engine and a choice between a slick-shifting manual or a dual-clutch automatic. It's also available with four doors for added practicality.

Used BMW 1 Series -- Although the Mini Cooper offers a lot of pizzazz for the money, it can't quite top a rear-wheel-drive car like the 1 Series from Mini's parent company, BMW. Although the 1 Series is recently out of production, a used model will be in the Mini's price range.

Autotrader's Advice

We really like the Mini Cooper, and we think recent updates only give us more reason to appreciate it. If we were choosing, it would be a 2-door or 4-door Cooper S with a few luxury options -- though we'd try to keep the price under $30,000. Going over that figure would be tempting, but we think it's easy to get all the Mini you need, and all the equipment, for $30,000 or less.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mini Cooper Hardtop: New Car Review - Autotrader