Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini
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by Greg Wilson

In 2002, the BMW-designed Mini Cooper was positioned as a ‘premium’ small car, starting at about $25,000 Canadian. In Europe however, the Cooper was also available as an entry-level model called the Mini One with fewer features and a lower price-tag. Now that the initial Mini hysteria has cooled down a bit, BMW has decided to introduce a less-expensive Cooper in Canada: the Cooper Classic. It’s not as sparsely-equipped as the Mini One, but it has fewer standard features than the Cooper and a price reduction of almost $3,000.

For a base price of $22,700 (compared to $25,550 for the Cooper), the Cooper Classic comes with the same 115 horsepower 1.6 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine, 5 speed manual transmission, and 175/65R-15 inch all-season tires with special 7-hole alloy wheels. Personally, I don’t like the look of these wheels, and the car isn’t available with the optional Premium and Sport packages which include different 15 or 16 inch alloys. However, this is only a problem if you don’t like the original wheels.

Surprisingly, the Cooper Classic’s list of standard features isn’t much different to the Cooper: you get six airbags – two front, two side, and two curtain airbags; 4 disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake differential and cornering brake control – features that distribute braking forces more evenly; air conditioning, power windows and door locks, height-adjustable driver’s seat, AM/FM/CD stereo, leatherette seats, tachometer, 50/50 folding rear seatbacks, heated windshield washer nozzles, and rear wiper/washer.

Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini
Click image to enlarge

About the only standard features you don’t get are the automatic stability and traction control, xenon headlamps, and multi-adjustable front passenger seat.

If you want options, however, your choice is basically limited to the automatic CVT transmission ($1,290), heated front seats ($450), and white painted roof. You cannot order a 6-disc CD changer, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, foglights, dynamic stability control or a sunroof. However, if you’re looking for a cheap Mini, you probably wouldn’t want to pay for extras anyway.


4-passenger interior is bold

Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini

Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini

Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini
Click image to enlarge

While the Cooper Classic’s interior design emulates the original Mini with its two-spoke steering wheel, central speedometer and horizontal dash lines, I think the extensive use of metal-look plastic is a bit overdone. There’s nothing subtle about the Mini’s interior – it’s bold, flashy, and bright red when the backlit instruments light up.

I liked the Cooper Classic’s standard ‘leatherette’ seat covering – it’s durable, comfortable and washable; and the bucket seat design, in front and back, provides generous support. I’d recommend ordering the optional seat heaters for cold winter mornings.

One complaint: there’s no storage bin between the front seats, and the lower centre console area is a wasted open space – a storage bin could easily be designed to fit in there.

The Cooper Classic seats four people, not five, and there’s adequate headroom and legroom for four adults in this relatively small car. Getting in to the back seat can be a challenge though. I had trouble with the seat recliners – the front seats kept sticking and I found them awkward to adjust.

The driving position offers excellent visibility in all directions, and good access to controls, but some drivers will find the protruding roof unusual. Its leather-wrapped, two-spoke steering wheel is small and grippy, but I prefer the horn button in the middle rather than on the spokes.

Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini
Click image to enlarge

And no matter how I adjusted the steering wheel or the seat, I could not see the top of the tachometer which is mounted on the steering column. The tachometer also includes inset outside temperature/digital speedometer readout. A huge centrally-positioned speedometer is easy to read, and it also includes inset fuel and coolant gauges, and an odometer. A digital clock is located in the overhead console. And there are two cupholders and a 12 volt powerpoint on the lower console.

I really liked the standard AM/FM/CD stereo – bass, treble and mid-range are all strong and the sound surrounds you.

Though the trunk is small, folding down one or both of the rear seatbacks provides a generous cargo area for such a small car. During the week I had the car, I needed to transport an 8′X 2′ plastic sign and I managed to slide it into the Mini and close the hatch! If you don’t believe me, check out the photo! (see below)


Driving impressions


Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini

Test Drive: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic car test drives mini
Click image to enlarge

The Mini Cooper Classic has a surprisingly comfortable ride for a car with such a short wheelbase – I attribute this, in part, to its short front and rear overhangs. There’s very little longitudinal dive or pitch under braking or accelerating. Vehicle dynamics during aggressive handling are superb – you can really toss the Cooper around and feel safe about doing it.

I found the Cooper Classic’s electro-hydraulic steering quick and accurate at speeds over 30 km/h, but a bit stiff at slower speeds – and there are these funny whirring noises which I can’t quite put my finger on.

Its 1.6 litre engine doesn’t have a lot of power (115), but it’s smooth, free-revving powerplant that loves to rev in the 4,000 to 5,000 rev range. The trick is to keep the revs up for best response. At freeway cruising speeds, the engine is reasonably quiet considering its rather high-revving speeds of 2900 rpm at 100 km/h and 3500 rpm at 120 km/h in fifth gear.

Fuel consumption is excellent: 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg) in the city and 5.9 l/100 km (48 mpg) on the highway.

The standard five-speed manual transmission flips easily from gear to gear with well-defined motions, and the clutch feel is not heavy. I have also driven the Cooper with the CVT transmission – you can read about in my 2003 review of the Cooper.

Overall, I would describe the Mini Cooper Classic as ‘fun-to-drive’ but a little underpowered.


Verdict

With a price almost $3,000 less than the standard Mini Cooper, the Cooper Classic is an attractive buy for those who don’t need or want the Cooper’s many options. It’s a great car to drive and look at, but I had some issues with its interior appearance and ergonomics.


Technical Data: 2004 Mini Cooper Classic

Base price $22,700
Options $1,190 (roof rack)
Freight $1,295
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $25,285
Type 2-door, 4 passenger hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.6 litre 4 cylinder, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 115 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 110 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual
Curb weight 1145 kg (2524 lb.)
Wheelbase 2467 mm (97.1 in.)
Length 3626 mm (142.8 in.)
Width 1688 mm (67.0 in.)
Height 1416 mm (55.7 in.)
Cargo area 150 litres (5.3 cu. ft.) seats up
  670 litres (23.7 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City: 8.3 l/100 km (34 mpg)
  Hwy: 5.9 l/100 km (48 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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