The Sell: Tauter and less thirsty than the Honda Fit—but also more expensive.
The Test: This is the third generation of Minis and the thematics that were once comically cute now strike a better balanced between flash and substance. The speedometer and tachometer are still huge, and there are nifty toggle switches everywhere, even to control the push-button ignition (it glows red, like a missile-launch switch), but all of this is easier to operate.
There are two new front-wheel-drive Minis ($20,700 for the base hardtop; $21,450 for the base 4-door; 29 mpg city/40 hwy)—the two-door hatch, and the four-door hatch. We tested both models over mountain roads in Vermont and across battered New Jersey byways. Overall the cars ditch just a bit of hairball sportiness in favor of easier tracking on the highway, a worthwhile trade-off on long road trips. But both cars are still ripping fun on a curvy country byway.
Although you might crave a little more muscle from the optional Cooper S’s 189hp 2.0-liter engine, we’d save the $4,500 and stick with the base 134hp 1.5-liter engine—unless you live at altitude. It’s still spunky: the Mini duo not only sprints from stoplights, but has plenty of muscle for passing, too.
As far as adventure vehicles go, we have to give the nod to the four-door. It’s a full six inches longer than its smaller sibling and gains precious rear-seat knee room as well as several feet of cargo capacity. We managed to cram two mountain bikes in back, wheels removed.
What’s Missing? Space. The Minis are too small to haul more than a weekend’s worth of adventure gear for two.
The Verdict: Greener, wiser, and more pragmatic Minis that are still the life of the party.