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MINI Cooper review - Engines, drive & performance

“The MINI Cooper puts the onus on fun and feels involving to drive, but ride quality suffers”

Carbuyer Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.0 out of 5

One thing that’s quintessential of a MINI Cooper should be a fun, nippy driving experience – something MINI as a brand regularly refers to as a ‘go-kart’ feeling that harks back to the original classic MINI, but as the car has got larger over the years and even gained electric underpinnings, this can be harder to emulate.

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We’ve now driven electric and petrol versions of the MINI Cooper, and the first thing to note is that whichever version you go for, there’s no manual option. We think that’s a bit of a shame because a manual gearbox suits a car like the MINI – in the petrol Cooper there is the option of a ‘Sport Automatic DCT’ gearbox, which allows you to override the gears via paddles on the steering wheel, but this is only available when you specify the Sport style.

The Electric model we tested was fun to drive, despite the heavier weight the supermini has to deal with. It’s one of the most nimble EVs you can buy, changing direction keenly and quickly, but it would be a lie to say the battery’s weight was completely imperceptible in the driving experience – for the most part it feels well balanced.

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The petrol model feels even more agile and you can throw the Cooper in and out of corners with ease. The Cooper S feels peppy and punchy low down in the rev range helping keep that sense of urgency, it’s just a shame that occasionally the gearbox seems to get stuck in certain gears for too long in versions without the paddle gearbox.

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To inject a little extra fun, the latest MINI Cooper gets an ‘Experiences’ switch which also acts as a drive mode selector – toggle ‘Go-Kart Mode’ and the MINI’s steering stiffens up, while the throttle response is made sharper. The interior also lights up a different colour and Electric models get a sound generator which plays synthetic engine noises, including the sound of a classic MINI which gradually morphs into a sci-fi-esque sound as you accelerate. There’s less scope for these auditory enhancements in the petrol version, but the engine sound is made louder and pumped into the cabin for a more thrilling experience.

When it comes to ride comfort, this is where the MINI Cooper Electric falters somewhat. MINIs have always erred towards the side of driving fun rather than comfort, but the Electric’s ride is particularly firm – as can be the case with EVs – in order to cope with the extra weight. Even on the smoothest roads the MINI Cooper Electric felt bumpy – our car was sat on 18-inch wheels, though, and we suspect going for a car in Classic spec with the 16-inchers might improve the ride somewhat.

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Similarly, the MINI Cooper S petrol felt a little firm on 18-inch wheels, and sharper road imperfections can be felt quite noticeably in the cabin and upset the MINI’s composure if you’re cruising along.

Is the MINI Cooper good to drive in town?

The MINI Cooper Electric is a good car for driving around town in the sense that EVs are ideal for shorter, slower trips in urban environments, but its firm ride isn’t the best at soaking up the imperfections in pothole-ridden streets. In addition to this, the MINI’s steering felt heavier than we’d expect of a car made for the city. That said, the MINI’s dinky dimensions mean it’s easy to manoeuvre and park in either guise.

Is the MINI Cooper good to drive on long journeys?

It’s a running theme here, but the MINI Cooper’s ride let it down on the motorway, where the suspension felt bouncy and jittery, which we could imagine getting irritating very quickly.

Is the MINI Cooper good to drive on B-roads?

The MINI Cooper is made to be fun, and our experience with the Electric model showed it to be a good car to blast in and out of corners with. The MINI dives into corners with enthusiasm, offering excellent grip and poise. Even in the wet, the MINI Cooper Electric felt grippy and capable of putting all its power down, even if there was some occasional understeer. The Cooper S’s 2.0-litre engine is punchy and the car feels playful, but we think it’s a shame there’s no manual gearbox to add an extra dose of driver involvement.

Petrol models

We’re yet to test the latest MINI in petrol guise, but these engines are familiar carry-overs from the outgoing model, which comprise a three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine and a four-cylinder 2.0-litre one. With the lower weight of the petrol variants, these engines feel comparably punchy to the electric models’ systems, despite the extra power those offer. No version of the MINI Cooper comes with a manual gearbox this time around.

Model 

Power

0-62mph

Top speed

MINI Cooper C

154bhp

7.7 seconds

139mph

MINI Cooper S

201bhp

6.6 seconds

150mph

Electric models 

The MINI Cooper Electric comes in two variants. Both are front wheel drive with a single electric motor, but the MINI Cooper SE is around 34bhp more powerful than the entry-level MINI Cooper E. The model we tested was the Cooper SE, and its punchy electric motor felt powerful enough to propel the car despite its weight. The electric models have the option of sound generators to mimic engine noises, but if you drive without these you’ll find the E and SE very well-refined and quiet to drive.

Model 

Power

0-62mph

Top speed

MINI Cooper E

181bhp

7.3 seconds

99mph

MINI Cooper SE

215bhp

6.7 seconds

106mph

Carbuyer notes

“If you’ve enjoyed hugging the inside of a corner in your petrol-powered MINI over the years, you can do the same here in the MINI Electric.” John McIlroy, Editor-at-large

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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