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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 MINI Cooper Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 MINI Cooper Overview

Cute, Fun, Fast and Frugal

By now you've seen the MINI Cooper running around town. It's unmistakable really, with its tiny box of a body and big bug eyes. You may even have made the mistake of trying to race past one, assuming that such a small car couldn't be as fast as your SUV. If the little car you tried to overtake ended up dusting you in the process, you were probably toying with the Cooper S, a supercharged terror that can roll from 0 to 60-mph in less than seven seconds flat.

The MINI Cooper—or MINI as it is affectionately known—may be small, but it is big on room, safety and economy. MINI's parent company is BMW and the quality and attention to detail this premium automaker is renowned for is evident throughout the Cooper. A quick walk around reveals perfectly aligned seams, solid construction and unusually detailed brightwork surrounding the grille and bumpers. Upon further inspection, you'll notice that the MINI's wheels are pushed to the furthest edges of the car. This design not only creates a roomy interior, it is a major factor in the MINI's fantastically stable handling.

The MINI comes in only one body style, though a convertible will join the line mid-year. The two-door hatchback is available in three trims: base, S and John Cooper Works S. All three employ the same 1.6-liter engine, but the latter two receive a supercharger that significantly increases horsepower. The standard MINI produces 115 horsepower while the S bumps that figure to 163; the John Cooper Works S, which is a specially produced version of the MINI sanctioned by BMW, tops out at a whopping 200 horsepower. Now we know these numbers don't look huge, but you need to remember that the MINI weighs less than 3500 pounds, so a little power goes a lot further than in most cars.

The MINI is as radical inside as out, with a huge speedometer predominantly mounted in the center of the dash and a freestanding tachometer bolted to the steering column. There are numerous styling tricks that delight and entertain, such as the dash-mounted toggle switches and the sculpted plastic door panels. The MINI's height adjustable front seats ensure that there is plenty of leg and headroom for six-footers; you can even fit two adults in the rear seat without requiring the front passengers to move their knees under the dash. You won't find much cargo room behind the rear seats, but you can fold them down if you need the extra space.

Of the three models, you'll likely find that the base car affords the smoothest ride. The 115-horsepower engine has no problem pulling the MINI around and, so long as you don't have a full load or are climbing steep inclines, the acceleration is more than adequate for passing and merging. You'll find the MINI's handling to be downright mind boggling, with instantaneous turn-in and a level cornering attitude that would make the original proud. The standard five-speed manual shifts smoothly, but is not as precise as the wonderful Getrag six-speed found on the S model. If you want an automatic, you will have to go with the base Cooper that offers an advanced CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) as an extra-cost option.

The 163-horsepower Cooper S provides a significant increase in performance yet costs only a few thousand dollars more. Though it runs like a cheetah closing in on dinner, the Cooper S does exhibit one unusual trait. Upon engaging first gear, you'll notice what feels like turbo lag. The Cooper S slowly moves forward and then—as the supercharger gains momentum—suddenly rockets away. We are not sure why this occurs but we do know that the John Cooper Works S exhibits no such hesitation, suggesting the culprit may reside in the stock engine management program. To compensate for this momentary lack of inertia, you may find yourself tempted to slip the clutch; doing so will certainly quicken the Cooper S' off-the-line acceleration but it will also greatly shorten the life of the car's clutch.

The Cooper S runs on 16-inch run-flat tires that provide better handling than the stock 15s, but contribute greatly to the S model's rougher ride. If you opt for the Sport Package on the S, you'll get even shorter 17-inch run flats. To ensure you don't end up with buyer's remorse, we suggest you road test all three wheel and tire combinations before signing on the dotted line.

Beyond its original good looks, the MINI offers tremendous value for the money. With a starting price just under $17K, the MINI includes many items that are usually options on other vehicles. If you were to pick up a MINI with no options at all, you'd drive off in a car with air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, keyless entry, dual heated power side-view mirrors, a five-speed manual transmission, AM/FM stereo with CD, front head- and side-impact airbags, a rear wiper, a tire-pressure monitoring system and 15-inch alloy wheels. The S adds traction control, sport seats, six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome fuel cap and a hood scoop.

For just a few thousand more, you can select from a number of packages and stand alone options such as the glass moonroof that fills the entire roof panel, larger wheels and tires, a sport suspension, cruise control, Dynamic Stability Control, heated seats and Xenon headlamps; you can even get an onboard navigation system, though you'll lose the cool center-mounted speedometer to the unit's LCD screen if you do.

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