2008 Mini Cooper S new car reviews

Better than: Volvo C30
But not as good as: Mazdaspeed 3, if you've got kids.
GRM Bang For The Buck Index: 88.24

The modern interpretations of the MINI have swept through the track day and autocross communities like a great wave. It's obvious that we like them pretty well, too: We've had five different MINI projects since they arrived at our shores.

It's easy to see why the MINI’s so popular, with handling and acceleration that exemplify driving fun. Additionally, the MINI is surprisingly economical, capable of more that 30 miles per gallon during road trips.

What's not to like? Well, the MINI Cooper S is a bit on the small side for a family car. While the car features moderately comfortable back seats, the tiny chassis doesn't leave much room for luggage.

The MINI Cooper S isn't terribly expensive, but there is still a bit of a premium compared to other small hatchbacks. Thankfully, this premium carries over to the resale value; we're used to seeing Cooper S models on the used market for just under the new car's MSRP.

Other staff views

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard

While I have always liked the MINI Cooper S, I have always been a staunch proponent of standard MINIs. Having just spent a week in both a standard MINI Clubman and a Cooper S, I stand corrected. The new Cooper S is one of the most fun cars I have ever driven. It is also a car I would buy for myself, probably in Clubman S version.

The new turbocharged power unit gives the Cooper S all the power you would ever want. passing even in sixth gear on the highway is effortless. Better yet, in over a week of hard driving in city and on interstates we averaged over 31 mpg.

The new six speed gearbox is the smoothest, best-shifting, six-speed gear box we have ever used. Matching revs and downshifting was breeze. The handling was was close to perfect as we have experienced in a stock car. Winding through canyon roads or around slow moving traffic or racing on and off interstate ramps was a breeze and a blast.

I would not order the sport suspension if I lived in a place that has roads like the LA basin. The ride could be punishing and the cars handles plenty well enough without sport suspension.

Our only complaint with what is probably the best new car built today is the interior ergonomics. While the seat mechanisms have always been a bit wonky in MINIs, the newest version is no better. There is just no logic to the seat mechanisms on a MINI yet. The same person must have designed the radio controls, as they also make no sense on the new car. The old MINI had simple, easy to understand radio controls.

When the 2002 MINI was introduced, the cool center mounted speedometer was one of the cool features of the retro style. The new MINI has a center mounted speedometer that is at least 20 percent larger. Enough already, you are embarrassing me with form over function. The speedometer is now ridiculously large and--even more annoying--hard to read. There is room on the speedometer to print every number from one to 1000 and somehow the speedometer goes in increments of ten.

MINI, you have the right car at the right time. It starts, stops and steers in a league of one. We love what you have done and what this car represents, but don’t get too cute and ruin it with style over substance on the inside.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens
Editorial Director

This is not a slow car. In fact, it pulls like an SRT4. Excellent gearbox, too.

Andy (our auction editor) and I drove one all around the Bay Area, and it was nearly the perfect car--quick as hell, roomy enough for our junk, and just easy to park and see out of. The sport suspension and big wheels made the car a little jarring on the highway, however. I know it's not a performance helper, but the big sunroof is nice when cruising around.

I miss some of the old interior cues, however. The new speedo is way big, and the radio controls could be easier to use.

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