For 2006, the diminutive Mini receives a few changes. A multi-function steering wheel with cruise control is standard on everything but the Classic, and new 15-inch, five-star alloy wheels with all-season tires are standard on the Mini Cooper and Cooper Classic. The convertible also receives the new multi-function wheel. The Cooper Classic retains 2005’s price, while all others increase by $100.

There are new option packages, the most exciting being a John Cooper Works package that was previously a dealer-installed option and is now available factory-installed, which includes a 208 hp tuning kit, limited-slip differential, larger front brakes, stainless steel exhaust pipes and badging; it’s available on both coupe and convertible. Other new packages are a Checkmate for the Cooper S, including new 17-inch wheels with performance tires, silver roof, silver mirror caps and bonnet stripes, exclusive leather upholstery, bi-colour steering wheel and exclusive paint colours; and a Quicksilver package for the Cooper, including a silver roof, silver mirror caps and bonnet stripes, and three new exclusive metallic paint colours.

The Mini is available as a coupe or convertible. Coupes come as Cooper Classic, Cooper, and Cooper S; the convertible is a Cooper or Cooper S. All use a 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder that is supercharged in the Cooper S. The Classic and Cooper come with a five-speed manual transmission that can be optioned to a continuously variable transmission (CVT); the Cooper S uses a six-speed manual that options up to a six-speed automatic.

Features on the Cooper Classic include speed-sensitive steering, sport suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, heated mirrors, speed-sensitive wipers with heated washer jets, power locks with self-charging remote, rear washer/wiper, leather-wrapped wheel, manual air conditioning, 50/50 folding rear seat, cloth or “leatherette” seats, and CD/MP3 player with six speakers.

The Cooper adds traction and stability control, Xenon headlights with washers, manual seat height adjuster and green-stripe windshield. The Cooper S adds “sport suspension plus”, a hood scoop, chrome fuel filler door, rear roof spoiler, twin exhaust tips, sport seats and stainless steel pedals.

The Mini is a blast to drive: the steering is sharp, handling is go-kart responsive, and even the 115 hp models seem quick, given the diminutive size of the car. The forced-air model is even better, and the John Cooper Works is Mini to the max. With its wheels planted at the Mini’s far corners, the car has no body roll; turns can be taken quickly and confidently. Seating is technically for four, but it’s really a driver’s car: two people in the front seat will have plenty of legroom, but will find shoulder room wanting. Back-seat passengers will find tight, hard seats; cargo space is limited, but the rear seats fold. The convertible ups the fun aspect, and comes with a heated glass window and, of all things, a power sunroof. Rear visibility is poor when the top is down, but then, when the top’s down, who cares?

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