When it comes to maximizing getting the biggest bang for your buck at the gas station, automakers tend to extend the idea of economizing to the rest of the vehicle as well. This is especially true in the compact vehicle class, which is filled with a number of fuel sippers that are just as affordable as they are stingy on the amenities. Thankfully, the 2010 MINI Cooper once again returns to offer drivers a flashier, more style-oriented opportunity to help save Mother Earth.
Bring up the topic of the MINI Cooper, and the vehicle's unique Euro-inspired design will inevitably be the first point of discussion. One look at the rounded edges, two-tone color designs and overall refined elegance of this diminutive hatchback, and visions of a monocle-wearing, bowler-hatted Brit sitting behind the driver's seat might come to mind.
Rounded edges, a low frame and two-tone color themes all mold together to deliver an original personality that exudes both charm and character. This philosophy of fun continues in both the vehicle's interior and driving dynamics. Under the hood, the MINI Cooper benefits from BMW engineering, making it one of the zippiest and most fun-to-drive vehicles on the road. Despite this fact, the MINI Cooper posts some of the best fuel efficiency figures for a non-hybrid vehicle (28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway).
The most fuel-efficient MINI Cooper engine comes in the form of a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that musters a more than adequate 118 horsepower. For those willing to compromise a few mpgs for turbocharged power, two high-performance engine upgrades boost performance to either 172 horsepower or 208 horsepower.
Inside, the 2010 MINI Cooper's front seat is big enough to comfortably accommodate the average-size adults (basketball players may even find enough headroom to feel well accommodated). Fit and finish of the MINI serve to further distance the compact from other vehicles in its class. Compared to class leaders like the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, the MINI Cooper is infinitely more upscale.
Of course, for all its added substance, the MINI Cooper comes with an inflated price tag. Base MSRP sits around $18,800, making it thousands more expensive than many of its class competitors. For many, the added flash of style just isn't enough to justify the price increase.
Another disadvantage of the MINI Cooper is the virtually non-existent rear seat. While technically the MINI seats four passenger, for all intents and purposes it should be treated as a two-seater. Trunk space is also unimpressive, with a maximum cargo capacity of 24 cubic feet.
If neither the price nor lack of space discourages you from the MINI Cooper, then likely nothing will. The MINI also benefits from a solid package of standard safety features and a top rating of "Good" in crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). A bevy of options allow for further customization - various trim colors, a sunroof and convertible body style are all available.
If you like the MINI Cooper, you might also look into the Volkswagen Golf. Improved engine performance and a slant towards style can all be had for about $1,000 less then the MINI Cooper. A diesel engine option also boasts a whopping 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. The sporty Mazda MAZDA3 may also be worth a test drive.
If you're looking to save some money, your best bet might be investing in a used MINI Cooper. The 2009 models are virtually identical to 2010 models (save for a few upper-tier model options). The Honda Fit - with a base price around $15,000 - might also serve as a more value-oriented alternative.