Driven: Mini Cooper – Where Less is More

By Seyth Miersma

July 13, 2009

Over the last few months, we’ve been the lucky recipients of a spate of different Mini products here at Winding Road. From the rather rip-snorting Mini JCW, to a Cooper S droptop, to the presumably humble, plain-Jane Cooper we had most recently as part of an upcoming group test. This extended amount of Mini seat time (I do my best to hog the little beggars from my fellow Winding Roaders, whenever possible) has lead to a strange revelation on my part—I simply like driving the less powerful cars more.

Taking a purely rational approach, it’s easy to back up my preference with actual reasoning. The Mini Cooper is cheaper to buy and insure, uses less gas, and offers a considerably brighter future for it’s front tires than do the torque-steery bigger brothers. With those not insignificant benefits in mind, the car is still incredibly satisfying to push on great roads, with the same superb handling DNA that Mini has become known for. What’s more, there’s something I find enormously entertaining about wringing all 116 horsepower out of the 1.6-liter engine—that power level just feels more synergistic with the size and ability of the Mini. This is a car best suited to carving, not the sort of high-speed highway stuff that calls for big power and torque numbers.

Don’t get me wrong; I do love cars with great, unstoppable hordes of horsepower, too. I just don’t feel that that approach suits every model evenly. In fact, I think that Mini (and the John Cooper Works people) might be well served by taking a look at the model Hyundai is planning for it’s Genesis Coupe line, the R-Spec. That’ll be the lighter, stiffer, de-contented, version of the Genesis 2.0T that actually, and this is key, costs less than any other trim level. Revolutionary, right? Now imagine a Mini Cooper with a naturally aspirated engine, weighing 100 pounds less (wouldn’t be hard to strip some of the lardier features from the base car…who needs backseats in a Mini?), with performance tires, all for $17,950. Who wouldn’t buy that car? (Truthfully, a lot of people wouldn’t buy it, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rather toothsome enthusiast proposition, better than the planned Mini “crossover” at any rate.) We can dream, anyway.

Or perhaps the Mini One, the 95-horsepower base model for European customers, is the car I really want? Just enough power to dice with the freshest of urban traffic, lighter still than the Cooper, and returning 40-plus miles per gallon in the effort—yeah I think I’d like that. Less is more Mini, after all.

Got something to say about which Mini is the best enthusiast driver’s machine? Have at it below, in comments.