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The Mini Cooper line delivers agile handling, crisp performance and an interminably cute bulldog appearance in tidy, efficient packages, with plenty of space and comfort for front seat passengers. The Mini lineup has been thoroughly updated for 2011, including the introduction of the four-door Countryman (reviewed elsewhere). The 2011 Mini Cooper now comes in four body styles, all powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.
The 2011 Mini Cooper models benefit from revised engines and revised styling. The engines are more efficient and slightly more powerful for 2011. Standard equipment is more plentiful, with HD and satellite radio in all models. The 2011 Mini Coopers have new bumper designs and tail lights and new wheel designs. The front ends have been reshaped to meet new requirements for pedestrian safety.
The standard 121-horspower 1.6-liter engine works best with the standard manual transmission, in our opinion, but all Minis are available with an optional 6-speed automatic.
The turbocharged version in the Cooper S models generates 181 horsepower and a substantial 192 pound-feet of torque, making it one of the auto world’s most powerful engines for its size.
All the Minis are fun to drive, but in Cooper S trim they bring exhilarating performance and nimble handling that’s most easily appreciated through the experience. And they still return up to 27 mpg city, 36 highway, according to the EPA.
The standard Mini Cooper hardtop is very practical as a two-seat car, and large enough to accommodate all sizes of drivers and front passengers in very comfortable seats. With its hatchback and folding rear seats, the hardtop can haul reasonable amounts of gear. Its two-place rear seat is hard to climb into, and best left for small children or emergency roadside assistance.
The Mini Cooper convertible has less rear seat room and less rear cargo capacity than the hatchback, but its automatic soft top is easy to operate and well insulated for year-round use. We see the convertible as a two-seat car with the option of hauling another two passengers in a pinch.
Those who want more room might choose the Mini Cooper Clubman, which is something like a small station wagon. The Clubman is 9.4 inches longer overall than the hardtop, and 3.2 inches longer in wheelbase. The extra wheelbase converts to more rear legroom, and access to the rear seat is eased by a third, rear-hinged door on the passenger side. The Clubman also features side-hinged swing-out doors at the back, for easy access to the cargo area.
A huge range of styling options allows owners to personalize their cars, and it’s a major component of Mini’s appeal. The choices cover upholstery style, material and color, exterior graphics, trim pieces and ambient lighting. More functional options range up to high-end features like adaptive Xenon headlights, rear obstacle warning and a navigation system. The basic Minis are reasonably priced, starting just under $20,000. Check too many options, however, and the ticket approaches near-luxury territory, or beyond $40,000.
The most expensive Minis are the high-performance John Cooper Works models. These play on the brand’s heritage as a multiple rally and touring-car racing champion in the 1960s, with even more horsepower (208 hp) and ultra-firm suspension tuning.
The current Mini Coopers offer a truly unique combination of high style, driving fun, low operating costs and practicality. All Minis come standard with as much safety equipment as any small car available.