2009 Mini Cooper
2009 Mini Cooper. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2009 Mini Cooper

Ottawa, Ontario – My wife and I strive to live a simple life. We own a house, but a small one. We like nice things, but rather than fill our lives with stuff we don’t need, we opt to spend a little to more to make sure that the things that matter to us are worth having.

So, we have a nice stereo in the living room because I’m passionate about music, and good-quality cooking tools in the kitchen for my wife who finds few things more enjoyable than preparing food.

And when talk turns to cars, my preference is for vehicles that suit my needs and little more: compact, fuel efficient and fun. So, when I was planning a recent road trip to New England – something my wife and I do about once a year – I gave some thought to what sort of car might be considered both fun and frugal, at least in terms of fuel consumption, and still offer enough space for a week’s worth of luggage, and a usable back seat.

2009 Mini Cooper
2009 Mini Cooper. Click image to enlarge

The answer I came up with was the Mini Cooper. Despite being marketed as a premium subcompact (pricing starts at $22,800 for the Cooper Classic), it is among the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars available, and is arguably as much fun as one can have on four wheels.

The basic Mini Cooper uses a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine that generates 118 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. Despite this car’s position as a “premium” subcompact, its power figures are in line with what you’ll get in other, less-expensive small cars, like the Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent. Its low fuel consumption figures, though, put it at the head of the class: its Natural Resources Canada ratings of 7.1/5.3 L/100 km (city/highway) earned it an ecoENERGY award for 2009 in the subcompact class, which it shared with the Toyota Yaris.

The engine’s modest power means that straight-line speed-demons will be disappointed. There’s enough power here to move the car with verve, but only when you spin the engine above 2,500 rpm and get into the meat of its torque curve.

2009 Mini Cooper
2009 Mini Cooper
2009 Mini Cooper. Click image to enlarge

The northern part of New England is known for its hills; our drive took us through Vermont’s Green Mountains, which proved a real test for the Cooper’s little engine. Left in sixth gear, which spins the engine at just over 2,500 rpm at the 65 mph (105 km/h) limit on Vermont’s Interstates, the car had a hard time maintaining velocity on the steepest uphill climbs. It was in situations like this when I missed the Cooper S’ turbocharged urge; the boosted motor makes its 177 lb-ft torque peak at just 1,600 rpm, which makes for useful highway acceleration without the need to downshift.

Mini claims a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time of 9.1 seconds in the Cooper, and 7.1 in the Cooper S. While two seconds doesn’t seem like much, the turbocharged model feels much faster to the butt-o-meter than my tester, mostly owing to its added low-rev throttle response.

Through about 2,300 kilometres worth of driving, most of which was on major highways at speeds around 120 km/h, my tester’s average fuel consumption was 6.1 L/100 km. That’s great, considering I was concentrating on enjoying the drive more than I was trying to conserve. Cooper S models with a manual transmission use more gas, with ratings of 7.8/5.7 L/100 km, so whether that small penalty is worth the extra power is up to your right foot. As thrifty as the Cooper is in either form, though, this is a rare subcompact in that it requires Premium fuel.

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