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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 MINI Cooper Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 MINI Cooper Overview

The Little Brit That Makes a Big Impression

You've seen them out on the road, like some tiny shoebox on wheels, whizzing by at insane speeds. The Mini Cooper—and its hyper active twin, the Cooper S—are the latest show stoppers of the automotive world—following in the tread marks of such legends as the Mazda Miata, VW Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser. Just about everyone loves the Mini Cooper, which also explains why there is a long waiting list to order one. Of course, all popular models go through this initial phase; you may remember when you couldn't even find a PT Cruiser to test drive and now they are lined up at dealer lots with $16,995 splashed across their windshields in bright neon green paint. Someday, the same may be the case for the Mini, but for the time being, the Mini is a hot commodity, especially the super charged Cooper S.

There are two schools of thought that pertain to the Mini Cooper. One is of practicality, where expectations for the little car are limited to reasonable quickness, a comfortable ride and go-kart like handling; this describes the Cooper. The other school is a bit more flamboyant, where 0 to 60 mph runs are completed in under 7 seconds, the suspension and tire setup so stiff that ordinary road imperfections feel like crater-sized potholes and of course, go-kart like handling; this would be the Cooper S. That's about the only difference between the Cooper and the Cooper S—well, that and the S model's 50 additional horsepower, even stiffer sport suspension, different front and rear fascia and lack of a proper spare tire. Though the Cooper is less expensive than the Cooper S model, Mini does not penalize buyers by limiting their options. Other than the suspension, engine and some exterior design elements the two models can be outfitted identically by choosing from a long list of optional add-ons.

The Mini Cooper is a blast to drive. Its 115-horsepower engine has no problem pulling the little car around and its standard 15-inch wheels and tires return the smoothest ride you'll experience in a Cooper. The five-speed manual transmission is fun to shift, but is not as precise or slick as the S model's 6-speed manual. On the other hand, the base Cooper can be ordered with a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic; the Cooper S is available only with a manual transmission. The Cooper S gets a 163-horsepower supercharged engine that lags a bit until the tach climbs above 1500 and then rockets the Mini to an electronically-governed 135 mph. The supercharger does more for the Mini Cooper S than just make it quick off the line, it provides the kind of passing power required to quickly get around slower traffic; something that the base Cooper cannot do.

An optional sport package that stiffens the suspension and adds 16-inch run-flat tires can be ordered for the Cooper. Run-flats have an extremely rigid sidewall that allows the tire to function even if the tire loses air pressure. It's a great idea for cars that don't have room for a spare, like the Cooper S, which moves the battery to the rear of the car to make room for the supercharger up front. But on the base Cooper, a small mini spare (no pun intended) remains tucked under the rear shelf, so the logic of offering only run-flat tires on the optional upgrade is lost on us. The run flats are one of the primary culprits for the mini's rough ride. Order the sport package on the S, and you get a set of 17-inch tires with practically no sidewall to speak of. Of all the Coopers, the S with the sport package handles the best, but also delivers the harshest ride. You may want to test a few variations of the Mini Cooper before you settle on a purchase.

Perhaps the most amazing feature on the Mini is its interior. The design is totally fresh, with a center-mounted speedometer and flip-up toggle switches reminiscent of the original Mini Cooper. The optional sport seats are very comfortable and provide great lateral support for spirited drives. If you like to dial in your own lumbar, you'll have to shell out an additional $1200 because oddly, the Mini's sport seats only offer adjustable lumbar when you order the full leather package. The height adjustable seat and long travel provides enough room so that a driver as tall as 6 feet-7 inches can fit behind the wheel. With an average sized driver behind the wheel, rear seat passengers can sit comfortably, though their entry and exit may not be worthy of the same praise. Also, don't look for much in the way of storage, unless you fold down the rear seats, in which case you'll open up over 25 cubic feet of cargo hauling capacity.

If the Mini's small size has you worried about safety, you should take comfort in the fact that the Cooper is also loaded with standard safety features including front side-impact airbags and a full-length head protection airbag for both front and rear-seat passengers.

A couple of things you might not notice on a short test drive include the following observations: The tall upright windshield pillars gather the residue from the windshield washers and deposit it all over the inside of the doors; you should only wash the windshield when the windows are up. We also observed that the front cup holders are good for little more than 12 oz. cans or coffee cups and there is little storage area besides the glove box and shallow side door pockets.

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