The Mini is a multi-generational icon. Since being relaunched by BMW in the early 2000s, it’s a young car at heart. Yet the Mini Cooper has nearly six decades of heritage as a British symbol for frugality, efficiency and style. It’s a car for Millennials, Boomers and, well, parents of Boomers. And that’s because the revitalized Mini served as a reminder that small cars don’t have to be cheap penalty boxes, that they can actually be desirable.
You can have the Mini as a rather efficient small hatchback that’s a fun city runabout, or as a turbocharged hot hatch that’s a scream in every situation. Or there’s a convertible if you insist on showing off at slower speeds. And they’re all fairly reasonably priced on the used car market.
Today, we’re looking at three derivatives of the modern Mini’s second generation. The Mini’s enduring popularity means there are many examples out there to choose from, so here’s where to start looking.
An example of the earliest “new” Minis can be had from less than $7,000.
A base Mini Cooper with its 121 horsepower is thoroughly enjoyable with its manual transmission, but adding the common six-speed automatic can dull its responses. A better option for those who need a self-shifter would be the turbocharged S model, which has power as soon as you step on the accelerator. Then there’s the John Cooper Works edition, which is the way to go for the most performance-oriented buyers.
Regardless of engine option, all Mini hatches are surprisingly comfortable for drivers of all sizes. Sure, the ergonomics are peculiar, to put it mildly, and some plastics are cheap for a brand that is a BMW property. Oh, and if you want to carry much cargo, you’re going to fold down the rear seats. Friendships will be tested if you try to put people in the rear seat for too long (this is from personal experience).
Yet for plenty of city dwellers and those who aren’t in charge of carpool duties, a Mini can be an inexpensive way to go for a small car that can do a lot with a certain sense of style.
For added fun, there’s the Mini Convertible. The drop-top Mini is a pretty useless four-seater and you’d better pack light. But from just $11,000, it makes for a relatively inexpensive weekend toy.
Here’s where opting for the automatic transmission might actually be a good thing. The top and structural changes add weight to the convertible over the standard hatchback, meaning the Mini Convertible is never going to be as tossable and fun in the corners. But then if you start going fast, you’ll be blasted with wind rush and the elements as you drive along. The Mini Convertible is really about cruising.
And that top is actually a pretty slick piece of work, which can be partially opened without stopping the car. The Mini is also a fairly rigid convertible. Still, the trunk turns into a letterbox slot when you opt for the soft top and the already tight rear seats essentially turn into a pet-and-parcel zone. But as a way to escape from everyday routine, you could do a lot worse than this small convertible.
If you do need a more practical purchase, there’s the Mini Clubman. Introduced in 2008, it’s an oddball in the Mini lineup, with five doors in places you might not expect them all to be. But from less than $10,000, it’s an extremely affordable premium wagon, if you can live with the quirks.
Drawbacks? Well the rear barn door arrangement looks amusing at first, but is annoying when you look through the rearview mirror and see nothing but doors and two tiny windows. That half-door on the passenger’s side is also not that useful, meaning it doesn’t make entering and exiting the rear seats very graceful. The Clubman is still a small car for four people, but at least two won’t have to pack so lightly or strap anything to the roof on the occasional Home Depot run.
While buying a Mini might mean putting up with a few quirks, look no further if you want a small, fun-to-drive car that can be charming on a daily basis.