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MINI Cooper S vs. Volkswagen GTI: Which is Best?

by Colin Ryan
June 12, 2016
4 min. Reading Time
MINI Cooper S vs VW Golf GTI grilles

MINI Cooper S vs VW Golf GTI grilles

There’s a big difference between the 2016 MINI Cooper S and the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The VW is a classic, while the MINI is really a re-imagining of the 1960s classic. But the good thing is that the current MINI Cooper S is well on the way to becoming a classic in its own right. The GTI is a hot version of the VW Golf, one of the best-selling compact cars in the world and now in its seventh generation (which debuted in 2015). Throughout its existence, the Golf has become more sophisticated and upmarket with each successive generation, as well as a bit bigger. The Mini is smaller than the GTI, but appeals as one of the best-handling cars with front-wheel drive. It now comes as a 4-door version as well. There’s a hotter model, but the Cooper S lines up fairly well against the GTI in terms of power, poise and price. Choosing between the two will be a sweet dilemma.

Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI comes in 2-door or 4-door bodystyles and starts at $25,815 for the S trim, which includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera, cooled glovebox, heated front seats, and much more. The SE trim, from $28,845, brings touches like a sunroof, upgraded audio system, keyless entry/ignition, leather, and rain-sensing wipers. The top of the range is the Autobahn trim (4-door only), priced from $30,955, adding navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat. The 2016 MINI Cooper S starts at $24,950 and comes with a decent level of standard equipment, including sport seats and 16-inch alloy wheels.


Cooper S vs. GTI: Options

In the Cooper S, regular tires are optional. Run-flat tires are standard, saving weight and space (no spare wheel), but impacting ride quality somewhat. The GTI’s Performance Package adds 10 hp, along with a limited slip differential that really helps put the power to the ground and makes the car all the more nimble. It also offers adaptive suspension, known as Dynamic Chassis Control.


Powertrains and Efficiency

The GTI has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. This is not the hottest current version of the Golf (that’s the Golf R), but this amount of muscle is appropriate, accessible and usable. A 6-speed manual transmission is the standard setup, with VW’s 6-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission (essentially an automatic) as an option. Either way, it’s just the front wheels that receive the drive. Fuel consumption with the manual transmission is 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. Throw in the DSG and those figures adjust to 25/33/28 mpg. The Cooper S also has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. This one is turbocharged to produce 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Noticeably less than the GTI, but this is a smaller, lighter car. With the standard 6-speed manual transmission, fuel use is 23/33/27 mpg. When the optional 6-speed automatic is in play, it’s 26/33/29 mpg.


Stand-out Features

What’s immediately apparent in the GTI is the quality of materials, particularly the soft-touch plastics, well-considered ergonomics, and firm yet supportive and ultimately comfortable front seats. What’s immediately apparent in the Cooper S is the immediacy of the driving experience. It’s agile and nimble, willing to change direction at the merest tug of the steering wheel.


Exterior Design

Unsurprisingly, there’s a maturity to the GTI that’s been honed over seven generations. Other iterations were somewhat bulbous, but this version is sharp without being too angular. The great thing is that the 4-door version doesn’t look awkward next to the 2-door. The GTI also has a choice of some cool alloy wheel designs. The Cooper S is now in its third generation and doesn't look too different from the first. Which is no bad thing. If personality in a car is important, the MINI has bags of it, with plenty of opportunity to personalize, like having a contrasting roof or door mirror shells.


Interior Design

GTI models have always distinguished themselves from the rest of the Golf range. Usually with things like red stitching against black leather, or plaid-patterned cloth upholstery. This version also has a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel, plenty of passenger space, and is designed for easy entry and exits. The Cooper S has soft-touch plastics, too, plus a huge central display and some fun aircraft-style switches. The driving position is close to the ground, which helps create a sporty feel.


Cargo Capacity

Not that anyone really buys a fun car like a Cooper S or GTI for their hauling capabilities, but it might be good to know that the 2-door Cooper has just 8.7 cubic feet behind its rear seats. This expands to 34 cubic feet when those rear seats are folded down. The 4-door fares slightly better with 13.1 and 40.7 cubic feet. Looking on the bright side, the cargo area is quite squared-off and therefore quite useful. The Golf’s gradual enlargement means the current GTI can be practical as well as involving. Cargo space with the rear seats in place is 22.8 cubic feet. When those seats are folded down, storage volume expands to 52.7 cubic feet, which is the best of the compact car class.


Safety Ratings and Technology

The 2-door GTI earned a maximum score of five stars overall in government crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the regular Golf its highest rating of Good in all major categories. An optional Driver Assistance package brings adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, forward collision mitigation, and lane departure alerts. The GTI also has secondary braking as standard. In the event of a collision, the brakes are applied automatically to prevent, or at least mitigate, the chances of another. The Mini took four stars out of five in federal crash testing, but was still considered Good by the IIHS. It doesn’t offer many advanced safety features, just the option of a rearview camera and rear parking sensors.



Both cars will sprint from standstill to 60 mph in around six seconds. Not the kind of acceleration to force your cheeks into your ears, but sprightly all the same. The GTI also feels incredibly composed and capable. Rough surfaces have almost no effect. Remember, the MINI comes from BMW, one of the masters of creating a sporty chassis. It urges the driver to throw it around. The ride is firmer than the GTI, but it also gives more feedback for greater involvement.


Which is Best?

The answer “it depends” is probably not what anyone wants to hear. But it’s kind of fitting. The GTI can be a car for all seasons, all temperaments, all moods, all life stages. The MINI is that burst of giddy fun that must come to an end at some point, but what the heck? So it really depends on how grown-up the buyer feels and how greatly practicality will factor into the decision.



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