By KBB.com Editors
The Mini brand has made a "maxi" impact on the small-car landscape since its re-launch - by BMW - some ten years ago, and the 2012 Mini continues with the same emphasis on pure fun to drive. The 2012 Mini Cooper offers clever engineering, quality of assembly, terrific performance, exceptional fuel economy and unprecedented personalization. Other manufacturers have tried to catch up, but Mini remains the target and has even bumped the bar higher by introducing a variety of models, including the Convertible, the Clubman, the Countryman and, just recently, the astonishing 2-seater Mini Coupe (reviewed separately).
If you enjoy efficiency, expressive design and responsive handling, today's 2012 Mini Cooper is tailor-made for you. The handling seems almost go-kart quick, helped, in no small part, by a rigid structure. And, if you can tolerate a few stylistic eccentricities within its interior, you'll forge the kind of emotional bond with your Mini that hasn't been seen in the U.S. since the heyday of the Beetle. In its own idiosyncratic way, today's Mini is more than fun; it's functionally recreational.
Even in its stretched Clubman form the 2012 Mini Cooper does not provide an expansive interior. And, once inside, you note the seating position and roofline put you almost underneath adjacent vehicles. So, if you don't enjoy the cut-and-thrust of urban traffic, the Mini may not be your cup of English Tea. It's also not for the financially timid. Despite a reasonable base price, adding but a few of Mini's many options can quickly escalate the window sticker some $10,000! Finally, when introduced to the U.S., there was nothing in its competitive segment; today there are a growing number of legitimate competitors: The Fiat 500, Chevrolet Sonic(!), recently-announced Scion iQ and the always-desirable Volkswagen GTI.
Most changes for the 2012 Mini are related to customization. Mini Yours debuts, with emphasis on a "very premium and very exclusive" subset of options designed to provide even more personalization (and take even more of your budget). The end result is a little bit Mini - and a little bit of Scion.
Driving Impressions With a rigid body structure (even the Mini Cooper Convertible is structurally solid), supple all-independent suspension and responsive powertrains, the 2012 Mini Cooper Hardtop, Convertible...and Clubman can truly be ordered to suit your particular driving preferences. If your attitude toward driving is relatively passive, opt for the base engine and 6-speed auto; you can commute or shop with no chance of physical or emotional fatigue. Choose the Mini Cooper S or John Cooper Works version and every errand becomes a track day, with steering, braking and acceleration at heightened levels and your smile almost as wide as the car. Before upgrading suspension, wheels and/or tires, however, take a real look at your driving needs and driving environment; sometimes the quickest route across town isn't the most compliant.
Clubman Third Door
Within a wheelbase only three inches longer and an overall length only nine inches greater, the 2012 Mini Cooper Clubman stretches the minimalistic Hardtop into a passable alternative to real transportation. Making that expansive interior oh-so-easy to access is the third door mounted on the Clubman's right side, which makes entry into and egress out of the rear-seat area almost civilized. Brits, with their curbs on the opposite side of the road, are appropriately perplexed by the arrangement, but we find it a game-changer in the world of Mini motoring.
John Cooper Works Kit
Although John Cooper - the originator of the hot-rodded Mini - is no longer with us, his spirit lives within the guise of the John Cooper Works Mini Cooper S. The Tuning Kit - via a special air filter and reprogrammed engine management - increases the horsepower of the Cooper S by some 15 percent; also, chassis mods and lighter wheels improve the grip and handling response. The end result is a car completely appropriate to the track, while not so compromised that it can't be driven to work. You can add the John Cooper Works kit to the Convertible, Hardtop or Clubman.
The 2012 Mini Cooper's retro looks extend to the interior, which is highlighted by a large center-mounted speedometer. The look is stylish, with toggle-type switches, contrasting colors, backlit armrests in the doors and handsomely-sewn seats. However, the dashboard layout may confuse owners coming from more contemporary cars, as the knobs and switches can be hard to access - and many of them look basically the same. The Mini Cooper Hardtop uses its limited space well. Front-seat passengers have plenty of head and legroom, but rear passengers may find legroom and shoulder room more than just a little constricted. For those more socially proactive, the Clubman - with its longer wheelbase and third door - makes a more credible argument for carrying passengers or things. And, while giving up a degree of utility, the Convertible is just the ticket for maximizing headroom. Like the exterior, the interior can be personalized, with a range of seat upholsteries, dash trim colors and trim accents in metal, wood or carbon fiber. The most significant update for 2012 is Mini Yours, offering an instrument panel covered in a smooth, two-tone leather, two-tone leather steering wheel and Mini Yours Soda Pattern Lounge Leather.Exterior
Changes for 2012 included a revised front fascia with a larger lower grille and fog lights, new taillights and reverse lamps with optional rear fog lights. Mini Cooper S models also received functional brake ducts in the front grille. These mild mods were made to an architecture first introduced in the 2007 model year, when the Mini was once again enlarged. There are those critics that, while admitting the mechanical package is much improved, find the sheetmetal of 2007-and-later Minis slightly swollen relative to the original Second Coming, introduced to the U.S.as a 2002. The Mini Cooper Clubman has also received its share of criticism, with its odd (albeit functional) third door and split rear barn doors marked by a center post. The styling of the Mini Cooper Convertible is appropriately crisp, but when the top is raised the interior is almost cocoon-like and has significant blind spots that can be slightly troublesome while negotiating traffic. Like the interior, the exterior is fertile ground for customization.
Despite a higher base MSRP than many in the segment, the argument for purchasing a 2012 Mini Cooper is bolstered by a host of standard equipment. On the ground you enjoy the aesthetic and functional benefits of alloy wheels, while inside the seats adjust six ways (manually), the steering wheel offers three spokes and a leather covering and the engine is started by a start/stop button. Air conditioning, AM/FM/CD with six speakers, SiriusXM and HD Radio will provide you with programmed music, and the standard 6-speed gearbox allows you to shift gears the way you like.
According to the Mini website, there exist some 10 million combinations in building a 2012 Mini Cooper; we won't, of course, list all of them here. For convenience, many stand-alone options can be grouped together. The Technology Package combines a harman-kardon sound system with Rear Park Distance control, center armrest and Mini Connected. The Sport Package exterior mods include white turn signals, xenon headlamps, 17-inch conical-spoke alloys and black bonnet stripes, and also include a tauter suspension for even more aggressive driving. With a host of interior and exterior color combinations, along with wheels, rearview mirror caps and graphics, you can virtually dream it and they will build it.
Having received a slight bump in power in 2011, both Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S powertrains remain unchanged for 2012. Both displace 1.6 liters; the Cooper is normally-aspirated while the Cooper S benefits from Mini's twin-scroll turbocharger. Thankfully, with minimal curb weight, the Cooper's 121 horsepower is responsive when connected to the 6-speed manual, and still enjoyable (0-60 mph acceleration in under ten seconds) when connected to the 6-speed auto. The excitement increases exponentially with the John Cooper Works option, with horsepower rising to 208 and torque boosted to 192 lb-ft. The 2012 Mini Cooper - in any of its iterations - is one of the most entertaining ways of saving gas on the American automotive market.
2012 Mini Cooper
1.6-liter in-line 4
121 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
114 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 29/37 (manual), 28/36 (automatic)
2012 Mini Cooper S
1.6-liter turbocharged in-line 4 turbocharged
181 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
177 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/35 (manual), 26/34 (automatic)
2012 John Cooper Works Mini
1.6 liter turbocharged in-line 4
208 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
192 lb-ft of torque @ 1,850-5,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/33 (manual)
By Jeb (WA) on Thursday, November 28, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 40,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun to drive, plenty of power (R56)"
Cons: "Run flat tires"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"This car has been a joy to drive. My wife and I have traveled from Maine to Florida and up the West Coast to Seattle: Car could not have operated better."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By 4Quarts (CA) on Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 88,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun - Fun - Fun to drive, great value for the $$."
Cons: "Can't think of any, really!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"With nimble handling, and a responsive drivetrain, Mini's are street legal Go-Karts with accessories. I have a 2010 Cooper Hardtop with a 6-Speed manual transmission I use as a daily driver. If I'm easy on the throttle, I get 40MPG all day at 70 MPH with the A/C on. When I engage the Sport mode, I feel the steering and throttle tighten up giving a much more sporty ride especially through mountain roads. The S model is worth the extra money and can be tuned beyond 205HP. I ordered my car with the Panorama Sunroof and Harman-Kardon sound system, perfect for all the right reasons. After market accessories are almost endless allowing you to customize your Mini in any way. The Mini culture is friendly and drivers' are all very nice, sometimes waving to each other on the road! Happy Motoring!"
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By cooper owner (AZ) on Monday, November 18, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 23,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "fun, economical, long warranty,manu support"
Cons: "small car, a bit noisy"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"road hugging quality of a sports car. better if you have shorter passengers. safe and so fun. not for big family but perfect for commuting to work etc."
By NorCalCommuter (CA) on Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,000overall rating 6 of 10rating details
Pros: "Sporty, great handling, fun to drive"
Cons: "Road noise, tight/complicated interior controls"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 4
"First the Pros: sporty, fun to drive, cool exterior styling, with great handling and pep (even in the 6 speed manual transmission base model)and above average gas mileage. Easy, no hassle vehicle build and customization via the Mini website. Worked out a lease on a custom built 2013 hardtop almost entirely through the website and emailing the dealership after a test drive. The Cons: once you incorporate this vehicle into your daily life, you begin to see that this car is for a very narrow segment of the driving population. This car is extremely small. The interior is cramped for anything more than 2 adults in the front seat. Even small children lack leg room and a place to plant their feet in the back seat with a 5'4" driver. I have not tried, nor would I subject an average sized adult into the backseat. Better to put the seats down and use the back for trunk/storage. Even getting kids into the back seat is a difficult climb. The cockpit is narrow and at 5'8" I find myself knocking my legs and arms into parts of the interior. The seat belts catch between the seats and door pillars. You have to either grab the buckle while the door is open, or open the door to be able to pull the buckle out. Very annoying. Road noise on the freeway is unbearable. The car lacks serious insulation. It feels like the road is going to rip through the floorboard. Bad for long freeway drives. The interior control design is extremely poor. Mini appears to be trying to give you this retro old school vehicle experience, while at the same time, hiding all of the modern information systems you want (usual upfront) in a car deep into complicated (and archaic) electronic systems. Too many switches with small graphics explaining their function requiring you to take your eyes off the road, locate, read and confirm, then select. Heating/Cooling controls are also difficult to set and select. The electronics take confusing, multiple steps to program through a steering column mounted push button. A small steering column mounted display digitally shows your current speed. This is good, because the huge manual speedometer dial is to the right and below the dash. If you were to try to look at this to figure your speed you take your eyes off the road way too long. Rather than have multiple information sources displayed (temp, mileage, mpg, etc). You have to toggle through this info one at a time on that small display above the wheel. This same toggle also programs sounds, lock systems, etc for the car. Way too much work, way too many levels, and something you can't do while driving or stopped in traffic. The Mini-Connected system is HORRIBLE. A joystick based (mounted between the seats near the e-brake) control with multiple levels and sub levels to do things like set stereo sound, stations, bluetooth, entertainment, etc. This is one of the worst systems I have ever used. With such a huge screen space, Mini needs to have a touch screen system for ease of navigation and speed. Mini: move the things we want to see back to where they belong, behind the steering wheel in the dash (mileage, speedometer, temp, mpg, clock, fuel gauge, etc). Know that getting 16" wheels will come with "run-flat" tires. Upon settling my lease, the finance manager did a hard sell and scare for a "tire insurance" program due to the run flat tires tending to damage easy with pot-holes and curbs, and costing $300 per tire to replace (that's what Mini will charge, other shops are more like $160 per tire). At around $20 more a month, Mini will cover and replace any tire damage during your lease and replace with a new tire with no deductible. Why they use run-flats that are so weak they have to offer insurance, is beyond me. In closing. If you are a single person who might have an occasional passenger and don't need more room other than a briefcase for work and a few bags of groceries, this car is for you. Long term reliability is mixed with other reviewers, but based on the annoyances I have had, I am glad I only have a lease, and that all maintenance is included during this time. This is a car you really need to drive with your normal routine for a week or two and see if you can get past the annoying interior. Rent one first before you buy and lease. You might fall in love during the test drive and all the slick/hip image the dealer and company push out, but this car will not fit all people or lifestyles!"
3 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By Casey (OR) on Sunday, November 03, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 21,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun with a capital F. and great mpg"
Cons: "Ride might be stiff for some. Order the 16" wheels"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"This car surprises everyone. Really quick, handles like a go cart, and even if you drive like a hooligan you'll still get 30 mpg. Nice leather interior, its basically a BMW 128i. and more interior room than you'd expect, I'm 6'4" and fit quite comfortably. I also really enjoyed building this car to my specs. A great experience and a fun to drive, economical sports car."
By Nochanceinhell666 (FL) on Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 32,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"My MINI...I purchased a used 2009 Mini Cooper S, one owner in immaculate condition with 32k miles on the clock. Fantastic car thus far. I scoured the internet reading as much as I could, good and bad, from Emme Hall's not so great review to the gloating British reviews as well as the general history of the original and it's significance in the world of motor vehicles, and yes, I have seen both Italian Job films. I also took some time to lurk around the forums to research the potential and known issues with some of the cars that may need to be addressed prior or immediately after purchasing. I also opted for the extended warranty just after the initial sale, it seemed reasonable considering the chain tensioner issue as well as just adding some reassurance to the purchase for the next few years and I was happy to extend it. Three days after purchase, I heard the rattle on cold start, which is the plastic guides becoming loose and breaking off, and took the car in and had it fixed in the week. Easy to take care of if you know what you should be paying attention to, respect the maintenance and care for the car and I would imagine that it will serve me well in return and so far it has been great. I plan to check oil regularly and dismiss the 10k limit suggested by MINI. Honda owners should be familiar with replacing timing belts around 70-90k miles, I've had my share of those as well, and don't see myself as a victim of 'big auto company neglect' as some of the reviews come across, in my search for this car. I looked a hundreds of used ones for sale online before making my top 5 list of the minis I wanted and luckily scored my top pick. Low miles, single owner with a maintenance record, no accidents, lounge leather interior, chrome line trim, pano roof, anthracite liner, heated seats, zenon headlights, white turn signals, auto climate control, beautiful dark silver metallic with black trim exterior coupled with the black leather seats and white trim, classy. The only thing that I really wish it had are the 17" black spoke wheels, but that can be for Christmas, I like the black 16" that came with it but would prefer the reduction in wheel gap. There is a dash rattle in mine, not enough to really bother me, though I hear of people complaining loudly about it, as well as excessive road noise, though I can't honestly complain there either, given what this car is, it's size, the run-flats and single pane glass. It is compact, and not for everyone, though toting my wife and daughter around with groceries is certainly not as difficult as some make it out to be. My flat coat retriever 70 lbs loves to ride in the back as well albeit with the seats down and a cover over them. It is quick, much faster than I expected and I enjoy clearing his (Nigel's) throat often. He does what the reviews state in the twistys and lives up to the hype, at least for me. I really enjoy driving him around and proudly add him to the family. For those that are engaged and attentive drivers already, this should be an easy choice for a must drive at some point in your life car, it is indeed fun. The wheels positioned at the corners, the rigid frame and transverse mounted engine make for a unique build that are just a part of this excellent equation."
6 people out of 6 found this review helpful