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How the MINI Cooper Works

The First MINI Generation: 2002 - 2006
A MINI Cooper with Union Jack roof graphic
A MINI Cooper with Union Jack roof graphic
Photo © Rob Britton

BMW introduced two MINI Cooper car models to the American market in 2002: the MINI Cooper and the MINI Cooper S. Both two-door hatchbacks were inspired by the classic Mini cars made in England from 1959 to 1999. Both were 18 inches shorter and 400 pounds lighter than the new Volkswagen Beetles (though they were 4 inches wider). BMW offered several choices in body colors, with an optional alternative roof color (the same color as the rest of the body, white or black -- a white roof was the standard for the old Mini line). Both models also featured the center-mounted speedometer, carried over from the original Mini model.

The first-generation MINI Cooper featured a 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine with 115-horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission was standard; an optional six speed continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) was available. The MINI Cooper S had a more powerful engine with 168 horsepower. The standard transmission for the MINI Cooper S was a six-speed manual transmission.

The MINI Cooper was 142.8 inches long, 75.8 inches wide and 55 inches tall, with a wheelbase of 97.1 inches. The car could seat four people and the rear seats could fold down independently for more storage space. It had antilock four-wheel disc brakes, six air bags, a tire pressure monitor and keyless entry. The Cooper also featured a sports suspension, which pressed the wheels to the ground to increase the tires' grip on the road.

The Cooper S had similar features, though its suspension was more aggressive with thicker anti-sway bars. The Cooper S also featured a functional hood scoop and 16-inch run-flat tires (the MINI Cooper model featured 15-inch tires). Both models had standard air conditioning, power windows and a CD player. Options for both models included anti skid control, navigation and rear-obstacle warning systems, a sunroof, heated seats and Xenon headlamps.

The MINI Cooper followed its predecessor's philosophy of remaining relatively unchanged from one year to the next. In 2003, BMW offered new optional packages with both the MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S models. A Sports Package included options like the antiskid system and increased the wheel size of the model (up to 17 inches for the Cooper S or 16 inches for the Cooper). Dealers could offer different roof graphics to customize cars -- graphics included the Union Jack, the American flag or a checkered pattern. BMW upgraded the CD player to include a port for an MP3 player.

In late 2003, John Cooper Works offered a tuning kit for the MINI Cooper S. This kit could boost the engine to an impressive 200 horsepower. The kit included:

  • a supercharger that generated better engine performance
  • new spark plugs and injectors designed to work with increased gas flow
  • a new cylinder head with precision inlets and exhaust ports
  • an air filter with a second air intake flap that opened during acceleration at 4500 rpm (improving performance and making the MINI roar)
  • chrome enamel badges letting the world know your MINI was ready to tear up the highway

The MINI Cooper of 2004 featured few changes from earlier models. Some drivers reported that the signature center-mounted speedometer was difficult to read without taking their attention off the road, so BMW added a digital speed readout under the tachometer. A rear power socket located in the trunk of the car returned in 2004 (the 2002 model had one as well, but the 2003 model discontinued the feature) as part of the standard MINI equipment. An optional Sport seat with larger side bolsters designed to hold drivers in place while taking tight turns at high speed became available in beige leather.

In 2005, BMW offered a convertible body style for the MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S. The convertible models featured a power top with a heated glass rear window. They came with rear obstacle detection and front side airbags. They were slightly longer, thinner and taller than the hatchback models. All MINI Cooper models received a few minor changes in appearance to their headlights, grille and taillights. Again, changes in the MINI Cooper model continued to be minor.

2006 MINI Cooper with Checkmate Package
2006 MINI Cooper with Checkmate Package
Public domain photo/photographer Poca-traca

The 2006 MINI Cooper was virtually identical to earlier models. One new option was a Checkmate Package, which included the antiskid system, larger wheels, Sport seats and a black-and-white graphics overlay.

We'll look at the next generation of MINI Coopers next.