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2003 MINI Cooper Sub-Compact Sporty Coupe

Base MSRP Range: $16,500. S - $19,500

Base Invoice Range: $15,000. S - $17,500
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: $19,425

Versions: Cooper, Cooper S

Vehicle Category: Sub-Compact Sporty Coupe

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 1.6-liter, single Overhead Cam, Inline-4 cylinder, 115-horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 110 lb-ft torque at 4,500 rpm. S - 1.6-liter, Single Overhead Cam, Supercharged, Inline-4 cylinder, 163-horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 155 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm.

Transmission As Tested: 5-Speed Manual. An optional Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission (CVT)with manual shift option is available on the Cooper. The Cooper S comes standard with a 6-Speed Manul.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 5-Speed Manual - 28/37. CVT - 25/32. 6-Speed Manual - 25/34.

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front and side airbags, side head airbags, 4-wheel disc brakes, "> Antilock Braking System, Daytime Running Lights, Remote Keyless Entry.

Competition: Almost any vehicle that you would own for personal enjoyment or use as a daily driver. Acura RSX, Audi TT, Chevrolet Cavalier, Ford Escort, Ford Focus, Ford Mustang, Honda Civic, Hyundai Tiburon, Mazda RX-8, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Pontiac Sunfire, Saturn ION, Toyota Celica, Volkswagen GTI, Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen New Beetle.

Bodega Bay, California -- Almost two generations of car buyers have been raised without the MINI in the US. Its small size and efficiency, factors that didn't fit with expansive highways of the US, made it a favorite throughout Europe and Asia. While we may consider it retro here, original configuration MINIs were sold in Europe with few cosmetic changes right up until last year.

But the British car industry has fallen on hard times, and the MINI had gone forty years without more than detail improvement. This far surpasses the longevity of either the Beetle or the Model T, and when purchased by BMW, Rover finally had resources to spend on a redesign.

In 1958, designer Alec Issigonis achieved his ambitious goal of building a small family sedan with room for four adults and in so doing, he unintentionally created a sedan that could be driven like a sports car. With the new MINI Cooper, this time-honored concept has been adapted to the 21st century. Using the same design ethos, the center of gravity has been kept very low, further enhanced by the torsionally rigid body, the multi-link rear suspension, and has been enhanced with BMW technology.

So, the MINI is back, but in order to meet the demands of safety and ecology the BMW version has grown in every direction, and has acquired about a thousand pounds of frills, refinement and safety structure. MINI is the second pillar in BMW's new brand strategy, giving folks a quality entry level product with the new Rolls Royce slotting in at the top. MINI will be separated from the BMW brand, selling from special dealers, using unique sales distribution networks, each sold with their own ambiance, although they may share showrooms.

The legendary 'wheel-at-each-corner' ethos is carried through to the new car, and gives the car a real dynamic advantage. The shape of the hood and the large round headlamps gives the MINI Cooper its characteristic face. The MINI Cooper's radiator grille, which also forms part of the hood, has four distinctive horizontal chrome strips preserving the unique MINI appearance. The profile is accentuated by a roofline that is angled down slightly at the rear. The car's distinctive, muscular "shoulders" and wheel arches emphasize this characteristic stance. Hood stripes, a much-loved feature of the original, will be available as dealer options in black or white.

All models have three-doors, with the front doors opening extremely wide - up to 80 degrees - for easy passenger entry and access to the rear seats. The car has the classic MINI lines from the rear, with an extremely short tail, a steeply rising side section and the familiar tail lamps. The flared wheel arches and wide track add to the low road-hugging look.

The dashboard features MINI's classic center speedometer but deviates from the original with air vents, a passenger airbag and an air-conditioned glove box. MINI's full size seats have integrated side airbags and are available in leather, leatherette or cloth. BMW Group's AHPS-2 (Advanced Head Protection System) is also fitted as standard.

Instead of the original MINI's drop down trunk lid, a wide-opening tailgate allows someone six feet tall to stand upright under it. The rear seat splits 50:50 and with both seat-backs folded, increases the trunk capacity from 5.6 cu feet to 25 cubic feet. The rear seats have been designed to accommodate the ISOFIX child seat system.

The MINI Cooper's steering column is height-adjustable and the standard, leather-look steering wheel sports a distinctive two-spoke design and the driver's airbag. Leather or wood steering wheels and a multi-function version with fingertip switches for the stereo and cruise control systems, are available as options. MINI's dash switches have been designed as toggles and echo the aircraft style switchgear of the original. A hi-fi CD sound system is standard, with a Harman Kardon digital sound system offered as an option.

The MINI Cooper body is exceptionally rigid, which helps give the car its go-cart-like handling. Unlike most cars of a similar size, the MINI Cooper's drive shafts have been engineered to be of equal length to significantly reduce torque-steer. MINI Cooper is fitted as standard with 15" aluminum wheel rims in white or silver, 16" rims are also available as factory options with 17" available from the dealer.

Large wheels allow the MINI Cooper to have disc brakes all round, with 11" ventilated front disc brakes and 10" at the rear. The braking system includes four-sensor ABS, Electronic Braking Distribution (EBD) and Cornering Brake Control (CBC) as standard. Cornering Brake Control tempers the natural tendency for a car to become unstable at the rear if the brakes are applied heavily while cornering. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) will also be available as an option. The MINI Cooper is fitted as standard with a flat tire monitor.

MINI Cooper is powered by a four cylinder, 1.6 liter engine developed jointly by BMW Group and Daimler-Chrysler. The MINI Cooper's engine has an overhead camshaft with control chain and four valves per cylinder, with roller tip levers, which control hydraulic valve balancing elements.

The standard transmission is a five speed manual, and their automatic transmission is a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which also contains Steptronic control. The driver can choose between normal automatic mode and a sportier driving mode with a six-stepped semi-automatic transmission. The continuously variable transmission is compact and lighter than a conventional automatic transmission.

MINI uses BMW's sophisticated multiplex electronics infrastructure. This "data bus" system uses far fewer wires, cables and plugs than is usual in car electronics. Trendsetters will love the BMW MINI with 30% of the car's systems the same as the 3 series.

Just think of the 3-series when MINI variants are considered. There should be a convertible, competition versions, and maybe even a stretched wagon. The 163hp supercharged Cooper S will be on sale later in the year. There are distant plans for diesel if US emission laws permit.

MINI worked when other BMW British acquisitions failed as this is a premium product, and can be viewed as small BMW quality vehicle. MINI has a brand identity and tradition that works well with BMW. BMW expects MINI to become a 'happening' and modestly expects sales the first year to double the original sales that took almost ten years to accumulate. is the place for MINI enthusiasts to shop for a wide selection of "MINI MotoringGear" lifestyle and accessory items. By signing up as an "Insider" registrants can also receive exclusive MINI information via e-mail once a month.

Customers have a choice of three distinct option packages that make ordering a nicely equipped MINI Cooper or MINI Cooper S simple. The Premium Package and Sport Package are each only $1,250 and have exclusive options that, when combined, creates an ultimate premium offering. Adding the Cold Weather Package at $500 creates a fully equipped car for all seasons. The MINI brand will become available with 14 exterior colors:

While the big engine muscle and pony cars defined the American car of the sixties, European buyers were captivated by the British MINI.

The MINI Was Truly The Mouse That "Roared"

While we were going away from the small car in droves, costly fuel and narrow roads made the Europeans more conservative. Their prosperity had lagged behind ours, and while most American working class families were looking toward their second or third car, lots of Europeans aspired toward their first.

Germans had their Beetles, the French had their 'Deaux Cheveaux, and Italians had their Fiat 600s. Each had affordable elegance and charm, but Alec Issigonis trumped them all by taking a thrifty four cylinder engine, turning it sideways and mounting it in the front on top of the transmission, driving the front wheels. It was compact, efficient and dramatically reduced power loss with fewer couplings, shafts and spur gears. To take it a step further, in a day when most wheels were 15", Issigonis used small 10" wheels and pushed them to the corners of the vehicle, thus maximizing the area available for people. This became the inspiration for every front drive vehicle that has followed since.

I owned several MINIs in Texas in the mid-sixties, and amazed many tall, lean cowboys with the tiny car's ability to accommodate their six foot plus frames, complete with ten-gallon hat. But I was not an efficiency freak; what attracted me were the modifications that racing designer John Cooper had wreaked upon the simple package. Cooper looked at the drive train efficiency and the low and wide suspension layout, and realized that the car had great potential as a racer. With a few engine and suspension mods, the MINI Cooper was born.

The innocent looking Cooper frequently embarrassed unsuspecting sports cars with twice the MINI Cooper's displacement, and even American V8s could be beaten in half-block drag races due to the MINI's light weight.<.p>

Everyone from racing drivers, Paris playboys, and even the Beatles were proud MINI owners. Still, it remained a European phenomenon, and less than 10,000 were sold here. But in the long run the concept completely revolutionized the car industry, as rear drive has disappeared from all but the top luxury and performance cars.

Thousands of races were won around the world with MINI Coopers; many times beating specially designed racing sports cars. It almost totally dominated international rallies in the sixties, defeating vehicles like Porsches, Mustangs and Jaguars.

An international panel recently recognized the MINI as the runner up as 'Car of the Century', ranking it second only to the Model T Ford as the most important car in the history of the auto.

Pros: Everything. Absolutely everything. The oreall performance, steering, handling, acceleration, interior and exterior materials, and build quality are perfection. And if perfection can be built on, the Cooper S does it. It's even better. The Mini Cooper S is one of's Top 10 Passenger Cars.

Cons: Pertty much nothing at all. Perhaps the navigation system does detract a little from the styling of the dash board. And navigation is unnecessary anyway -- when you're in a Mini your having an adventure, when you're having an adventure, you're never lost. The run-flat tires make the ride rough. Consider doing without them.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 10
  • Performance: 9
  • Price: 10
  • Handling: 10
  • Ride: 9
  • Comfort: 9
  • Quality: 10
  • Overall: 9.6


Where Built: England

Major Options: Antiskid System, air filter, climate control, Contiuously Variable Automatic Transmission with manual shift option, cruise control, enhanced stereo, heated seats and mirrors, leather upholstery, Navigation System, Obstacle Detection System, power sunroof (a must have!), sport seats.

Seating: 4

Number of Rows: 2

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: ****
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: ****
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: ****
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: Seat Too Small To Test
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: ****

  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Overall Rated Good

Length in Inches: 142.8

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 6 years/unlimited miles corrosion, 4 years/50,000 miles free Roadside Assistance, 3 year/36,000 miles Free Scheduled Maintenance.

Weight in Pounds: 2,315

Towing Capacity in Pounds: Not Applicable

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 13.2

Destination Charge: $550