Porsche used to have an ad campaign that said, “There is no substitute”. But when you look at a lot of the company’s latest SUV’s and the like, well…there are plenty of substitutes. No, we think if you want something really unique – and somewhat affordable – you look at the MINI.
We were especially excited to drive the base model, 3-door hatchback. For 2022, the MINIs have gotten a new look and some added features to keep things fresh, and we like the idea of getting into the brand’s most affordable model. Let’s Motor! (Ok, that’s their ad campaign).
A MINI is a MINI
On the outside, the MINI has received an update to keep it looking fresh.
Up front, there are air curtains on the front bumper, a new single hexagon grille and removal of fog lights. We really liked our standard LED headlights that had a cool hooded look – giving it a face that had a little bit of impatience to it. Our tester was a basic model, but if you opt for a Cooper S or Works model, you’ll see new intakes for enhanced engine cooling.
The profile is pure MINI – tight, compact, chunky, and fun. New side scuttle designs and wheel arch trims brighten things up, while the 17-inch alloys look nice and meaty on the diminutive body, and we also liked the performance summer tires that came as part of our tester’s Iconic trim.
Speaking of iconic, one of our favorite parts of the rear view is the Union Jack LED taillights – so veddy British! A new rear bumper gives a wider stance, while a rear spoiler above the window and an aggressive lower fascia with hexagonal graphic and a single exhaust poking out finish off the sporty looks. While our tester was dressed in MINI Yours Enigmatic Black, it actually is a very deep blue metallic when the light hits it right.
With a roof and mirrors in a contrasting gray, our MINI looked fun, quirky, and gave off an upscale vibe. This ain’t no Yaris!
MINI Size, Maxi Interior
MINI interiors have always been fun, and the latest model keeps the tradition. Standard on all models for ‘22 is an 8.8-inch screen in the center dash (at one time a home to a pie-plate sized speedometer) that has an updated info-tainment system that seems more logical and easier to use, including configurable live widgets and two available color schemes.
Access is easy with a rotary knob with pushbuttons behind the shift lever, and you navigate intuitively quickly. Speaking of navigation, we found it easy to hook up our Apple CarPlay and enjoy our WAZE to guide us around. We also like how the lights around the display changes colors depending on what feature you’re pulling up.
The MINI also enjoys a standard digital gauge display. While it looks a little like someone left a giant smartphone on the steering column, once it fires up, the images are bright, clear, and informative. Add in the new MINI ambient light with 6 different colors and the Cooper surrounds you in a cool glow at night. Atmosphere!
Speaking of atmosphere, our tester enjoyed a black Leather Lounge interior that smelled and looked awesome, plus the Iconic trim package that really steps up the interior’s game, with nice stuff like deep sport seats – excellent, super supportive – a heated steering wheel wrapped in rich Nappa leather, dual zone climate control, and harman kardon premium audio system.
Other MINI faves remain here, including the bright red toggle to start the engine, and other toggles low on the console that feel very vintage.
All in all, it makes the cozy confines of the interior a chic and cheerful place for the two up front, and probably torturous for those in back. There are larger MINI models for those who need to carry more than kids or the very occasional adult. Dropping the rear seats does yield a surprising amount of room though – think of it as a small sports car with a huge trunk!
Big Fun to Drive
We were also excited to drive our particular tester because it’s the first time we’ve had some extended stick time with the base engine, a 1.5-liter, three (yes, three!) cylinder, turbocharged mighty mouse that kicks out 134 horsepower. The big number here it torque – 162 lb. ft. at just 1,480 rpm. That’s a lot of low-end power right off idle. This is a great motor. Not only do you get an estimated 37 mpg on the highway, it sounds throaty, like a 6-cylinder (which basically, it is ½ of) and it pulls hard while remaining smooth. It loves to be revved.
Another plus in our tester’s case was the 6-speed manual transmission. We really like the MINI’s automatic, but once you zip around for a while in the stick, you wouldn’t want it any other way. The shifts are smooth, the clutch is light but feelsome, and there’s nothing better than running up to the redline, grabbing another gear, and vroooom taking off! The Cooper is surprisingly quick, and you find yourself going faster than you thought in a hurry.
And of course, in a MINI that’s just the beginning. With its short wheelbase and well sorted suspension, it’s an incredible handler. Lane changes are amazingly quick, but the steering is nicely weighted, so it never feels darty. And with our tester’s summer performance tires, grip was impressive too. You live for every corner in a little MINI like this.
And despite that short wheelbase and those relatively large wheels and tires, the ride is comfortable. For sure, it is sporty and on the firm side, but it never gets harsh and won’t spill your coffee when you’re on the commute and hit a bump.
Big Bang for the Buck?
Ok, here’s where you have to be careful. Like any BMW (which the MINI is) you’ve got to keep a watchful eye on the option list. The Cooper Hardtop 2 Door starts at just $22,900, and if you could restrain yourself, that would be one heck of a bargain for a stylish, fun little car.
Oh, but temptations, they are sweet. Our tester had the Leather Lounge interior ($500) and Iconic Trim with Touchscreen Navigation Plus. ($8,000). Add in $850 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $32,250. Gulp. It’s hard to say no to anything we enjoyed, but you could get the much more powerful Cooper S, starting at $26,900.
The Cooper S is probably the closest competitor, because there really isn’t that much else like a MINI. We loved our Mercedes AMG A35, but at $52,900 it was almost twice the price. The all-new Subaru BRZ looks interesting, and at $27,995 will probably be a great performance bargain. But it would lack the charm of the MINI.
So, MINI has updated the Cooper, and kept everything we loved, and added goodies that just make it that much better.
Iconic, Stylish, Fun and Efficient. The 2022 MINI Cooper makes us smile every time we drive it. We bet you’ll be smiling too!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.