The original Mini Cooper was a smashing success for the old British Motor Corp. Introduced in 1959, the tiny car quickly achieved icon status, both on the streets and on the rally circuit. But it’s easy to forget that the Mini earned more than style points. It outdid its German counterpart, the Volkswagen Beetle, by placing the engine and drivetrain up front, leaving the rest of the floorplan open to passengers and cargo.
In 2001, BMW introduced the new MINI — note the all-caps marque — designed by an American, Frank Stephenson, for the global market. The success of the new car has since spawned a second generation and several variants, including the S roadster and the Clubman wagon (pictured above). MINI is rarely mentioned in fleet circles, but it’s more car than it appears: With the rear seats folded down, the Cooper offers 24 cubic ft. of cargo room.
But that’s not all. The MINI also ranks among the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered vehicles on the road, it fits in tight spaces and it’s fun to drive. With its stiff, European-style suspension and wheels mounted at the corners of the frame, it’s impossible to describe the driving experience without using the word “go-kart.”
The base Cooper is powered by a 1.6-liter inline four that delivers 121 horsepower at 114 pound-ft. of torque. The turbocharged Cooper S ups the ante to 181 hp and 177 lb.-ft. The top-of-the-line John Cooper Works edition cranks the horsepower to 208 at 192 lb.-ft of torque and adds a sporty exterior package. Each is available as a hardtop or convertible.
Half the fun of ordering a MINI is the customization. The list of available features ranges from cloth and leather upholstery, heated seats and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo to parking sensors, bigger wheels and keyless ignition and entry; many are available in groups. The list of colors is nearly as long (four shades of blue!) and the roof can be painted in signature white, black or the body color.
Pricing starts at $19,500 for the base Cooper, $23,100 for the S roadster and $29,900 for the John Cooper Works.
One last note for the fleet buyer: A three-door, two-seat “Clubvan” made its debut this year and could be available in Europe as early as 2013. If it sells well and BMW sees a market stateside, the Clubvan could be useful to florists, bakers and other urban delivery fleets.