Model tested: 2008 Mini Cooper
Basics: two-door, four-passenger, front-wheel-drive hatchback
Price: $21,450, including options and destination charges
What's new: With the Mini having undergone major changes in 2007, the automaker made only minor upgrades to the 2008 model. Last year's improvements included interior alterations and two new engine designs.
The Mini comes as a hatchback, convertible or the recently introduced Clubman wagon. Buyers can choose between the standard Cooper and the turbocharged Cooper S, with both offering a lengthy list of color schemes and optional equipment.
The pint-size Mini is a most entertaining car to drive. The bonus comes at the gas pump, with the car's excellent mileage. For the first five months of 2008, the brand experienced a 36 percent increase in sales compared with the same period in 2007.
With destination charges, the Cooper begins at $18,700, while the Cooper S starts at $21,850.
Drivetrain: The base engine, a responsive 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, produces 118 horsepower and 114 ft-lbs. of torque. According to the manufacturer, the Cooper accelerates to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds.
The 1.6-liter engine in the Cooper S uses a turbocharger to deliver 172 horsepower, 192 ft-lbs. of torque and a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds.
The standard transmission in all models is a 6-speed manual. A 6-speed automatic is available.
The EPA gives the standard Cooper a mileage rating of 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. In nearly 500 miles of mixed use, the test car achieved an average of about 36 mpg.
Interior: A super-size speedometer centered on the dashboard dominates the Mini's unique interior design. The gauge also houses displays for the audio system, vehicle information center and optional navigation system. An analog tachometer tops the steering column.
Toggle switches on the lower console control the power windows and fog lights, while the interior's ambient lighting's control varies the color in five stages from orange to blue.
The Mini contains a surprising amount of room for the driver and front passenger, and the seats offer good support. Rear-seat legroom is very limited unless the front seats are moved far forward. With the rear seats folded, 24 cubic feet of cargo space is accessible through the rear hatch.
Ride and handling: With a wide stance and low center of gravity, the Mini is like a go-kart for grownups. Its electrical power-assisted steering reacts quickly and provides a good road feel through the small-diameter steering wheel. Ride quality is taut, but not uncomfortable.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with all-season traction control are standard. The test Mini came with the optional Sport Package that adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a stability control system and a sport suspension.
Most Liked Features: The Mini proves that a fuel-efficient car does not have to be dull.
Needs Improvement: Window switches are difficult to operate when containers are placed in the front cupholders.
Bob Kehoe is a Portland freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected] For online archives of recent DriveTime reviews, go to www.oregonlive.com/info/drivetime.