By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 12/14/2012
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.You May Not Like This Car If...
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.What's New for 2012
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 It 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)
The 2012 Mini Cooper's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is little changed for 2012, starting around $20,000, while the sportier Cooper S is around $45,000. Though well equipped, the Mini is pricey for a small car, and it's easy to get a Cooper S well above $30,000, which is the price point where the John Cooper Works starts; it is just under $31,000. The Clubman, in any of its variations, is approximately $2,000 more expensive than the Hardtop, and the Convertible is $2,500 more expensive than the Clubman. In this collective, the most expensive - and expressive - Mini Cooper is the John Cooper Works Convertible, with a base MSRP of $35,800 - plus however much you spend to make it yours. To see what consumers are actually paying for their Minis, check out KBB's Fair Purchase Price. While they are priced higher than other small cars, all Mini Coopers should continue to command much better-than-average resale values.