The 2021 Mini Cooper stylish, fun-to-drive small hatchback can be had as a two- or four-door hardtop, or in two-door form as a convertible, electric SE, or performance-oriented John Cooper Works (JCW). It doesn’t have many natural competitors left, but parent company BMW offers an X1 small crossover without the charm of the Mini Cooper.
The welcome return of a 6-speed manual transmission across most of the lineup headlines the biggest developments for the smallest Mini for 2021. The Sidewalk Edition returns exclusively to the Cooper S convertible, the Oxford Edition can now be had with any hardtop, and the SE electric model is available to order.
The 2021 Mini Cooper effuses charm and personality, with available British heritage elements backed by BMW quality. Everything from rounded door handles to round headlights and, on the inside, circular vents and a circular head unit, make the urban runabout as cute—and as circular—as a button.
Three turbocharged engines and three transmission choices include a 184-hp battery electric vehicle with only 110 miles of range. Weighing under 3,000 pounds, the Mini Cooper and its turbo engines return fuel economy of 30 mpg combined, on average. The turbo-3 base model hustles to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, while at the other end of the spectrum, the 228-hp turbo-4 in the JCW does it under six seconds.
The Cooper S stitches together fun and value the best, and the standard 6-speed manual transmission conspires with direct steering and superb if not stiff handling for a hoot every time you get behind the wheel. The heaviest SE electric model has a 184-hp electric motor that’s quick off the line but plateaus with increasing demand, with a 60 mph time of 6.9 seconds.
The punchy turbos mix with a go-kart like ride and road-hugging handling. The smallest Mini, with its short wheelbase and light weight, is a joy to drive, even though when cruising it rides firmly and the suspension tunes to the stiff side. It’s a worthy tradeoff once you leave the highway for tight urban turns or undulating twisties.
The most efficient and most popular base model uses a 1.5-liter turbo-3 that gets an EPA-rated 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined in convertible or either hardtop. The 2.0-liter turbo-4 hardtops get 26/35/30 mpg combined, and the extra weight of the convertible trims another 1 mpg. The more potent turbo-4 in the JCW with the manual transmission rate at 23/33/27 mpg combined. The SE electric Cooper is the most efficient Mini, with a 110-mile range and an MPGe of 108 combined.
Two-door models seat four with a cramped 30.8 inches of rear leg room and only 8.7 cubic feet of hatch space. Fold down the rear seats and it balloons to crossover proportions with 34 cubic feet of space. Four-door models are 6.3 inches longer, and have a 2.9-inch longer wheelbase for more interior room, including 1.5 inches more rear leg room. Mini wedged in a fifth seat, but it’s bestleft unoccupied. Unlike the two-door, the four-door’s hatch is functional for a vacation with 13.1 cubic feet that opens up to 40.7 cubic feet with the seats down.
Synthetic leather upholstery graces base models while heated leather seats can be optioned, but Mini skimps on tech features that should be available if not standard on all three trims. Apple CarPlay comes standard only on the top Iconic trim, and Android Auto isn’t even available, for example. Available in three trims and four powertrains, the 2021 Mini Cooper starts reasonably enough at $23,250 but jumps too rambunctious with the JCW convertible in top Iconic trim for $45,750.
The 2021 Mini Cooper S retains it’s zoot-scoot fun-to-drive character. Mini has carefully grown the Cooper over the years to maintain its compact dimensions while becoming much more refined with new technology and creature comforts added over the years. Luckily the 2021 Mini Cooper hasn’t lost it’s grin-inducing driving demeanor.