by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door represents the culmination of more than 60 years of thinking — and designing — outside the box, inspiring a level of affection, and fame few automobiles have ever achieved.

The first Mini was conceived in Great Britain as a tiny, inexpensive, fuel-efficient two-door hatchback. Introduced in 1959, it could fit in a box measuring 4x4x10 feet and still carry four people. To do it, engineer Sir Alec Issigonis designed it with features outside the existing box.

Issigonis worked for the British Motor Corp., which initially sold the Mini as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor. His concept was a small hatchback with caster-like 10-inch wheels out on the corners and equipped with a crosswise-mounted front engine and front-wheel drive to maximize passenger space.

The result was a little boomer with a 34-horsepower four-cylinder engine of less than one-liter displacement with a broad stance and low center of gravity that optimized handling. It soon won racing and rally victories, especially after racer John Cooper tuned it, while at the same time functioning as economical transportation for millions of the hoi polloi. 

It became so mesmerizing to people everywhere it was sold that, by the turn of the millennium from the 20th to 21st centuries, Mini sales were over five million, and a panel of 130 international automotive journalists had selected it “European Car of the Century.” It also was voted the second-most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T but ahead of the Volkswagen Beetle. 

However, new anti-pollution regulations in 1968 kept the Mini pandemic from the United States — that is, until Germany’s BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) acquired the Mini name and some assets and introduced the modern MINI in 2002 to American buyers. 

MINI still assembles its cars in the United Kingdom (in Oxford), but the hot hatch is essentially a German car with British heritage. Almost a third of its parts, 32%, come from Germany, compared to 19% from the U.K. 

So, it’s okay to think of the 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop tested for this review as a British BMW, or maybe a German MINI. It exhibits characteristics of the automobiles of both countries, including some British eccentricities and German solidity.

But it’s no longer a minuscule mule for the masses. It still has its charms of small size for competent handling, shooting holes in traffic, ease of parking, and decent fuel economy. Although it has no direct competitors, it is relatively expensive — more like a Volkswagen GTI than a Nissan Versa or Sentra. 

The tester came with a starting price of $27,750, including the destination charge. With options that included a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, touchscreen navigation, Apple CarPlay, and custom upholstery, the suggested delivered price came to $34,850. Automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning are standard.

But it no longer can fit in the original Mini’s box. It is 12 feet 8 inches long, 4 feet 8 inches tall, and 5 feet 8 inches wide. That’s still small by U.S. standards, which classify it as a subcompact based on its interior volume, totaling 80 cubic feet for passengers with a scant 9 cubic feet for cargo.

With the injection of German technology, this new MINI S is more of a high-performance hatchback like the VW GTI, Hyundai Veloster, or Subaru WRX. MINI power emanates from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers that pumps out 189 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. The grunt makes its way to the front wheels by way of a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic transmission is optional.

Many enthusiasts, including this one, prefer the manual. But the six-speed, though it works well enough once you get used to it, is a bit of a disappointment. The shift linkage is stiff and somewhat bumpy shifting up and down through the gears. No snick-snick here. There’s also a steep learning curve to master the infotainment system housed in the big circle in the dash.

On the road, the tested MINI Cooper 2 Door delivered what its predecessors always have: driving entertainment. Punch the throttle, shift quickly, and you can hit 60 mph from rest in about six seconds, accompanied by engine roar as the revs build. Cruising, it all quiets down to a smooth surge of power with “go-kart handling” on curves.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door subcompact hatchback. 
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, twin turbochargers; 189 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 80/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,813 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/33/27 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,750.
  • Price as tested: $34,850.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) MINI