The sub-3,000-pound, sub-$25,000 subcompact is all but extinct in the US market. We know, it’s sad news for sure, especially for a segment that’s seen such small-size-large-moxie platforms as the Mazda2, Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic, and Mini Cooper. Thankfully, the latter still exists and is good fun to drive, especially in its most base spec: the 2022 Mini Cooper Hardtop.
Starting at $23,750 including destination, the Mini Cooper Hardtop packs a lot of fun for its size. Our tester came equipped with $8,500 in options, but besides the added sport seats, we’d skip all of it and be perfectly content with as base of a VIN as we could find.
The Cooper’s heart is a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that puts out 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. This is good enough to pull all 2,712 pounds of it to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. That might be slow to some, but compared to its old rivals the Mazda2 and Honda Fit, it might as well be its hopped-up S trim sibling.
The engine is plenty peppy and has great torque all over the rev band, but we really wish we could’ve heard it better. We dig an odd number of cylinders’ rumble, especially when they make up such a small displacement. Again—large moxie. Forgoing our tester’s $8,000 in options would mean plenty of coin to throw at an aftermarket intake and exhaust system.
Then there’s the way the Mini steers, handles, and brakes—it all makes for immense fun. There’s some body roll on twisty backroads, but the chassis still feels so playful and delightfully sharp. Before taking it for a spin, its 98.2-inch wheelbase at first sounds like it’d be a tad on the long side. But in practice, having not much weight over the front and generally small dimensions extinguishes any preconceived notions of handling, and makes for a hatch that really enjoys getting thrown around.
Like any good hatchback, it rotates so well on its nose and can be trail-braked all-afternoon-long. Steering feel is OK, but in terms of its ratio and how much of the wheel’s rotation translates to change in direction, pricing-wise it might be the best we’ve experienced this side of the 2022 Toyota GR86.
Our only real qualms about the 2022 Mini Cooper Hardtop were centered around its shifter and gearing. The action is very vague, rubbery, and sadly a bit counter to the little hatch’s other snappy and fun qualities. The six-speed transmission’s gearing is incredibly long—this is good for fuel economy, and the turbo’s torque doesn’t have much issue working through it, but it’s a bit odd to reach 100 mph in third gear. Like the shifter, it’s a weird contrast to the rest of the car’s sprightliness.
Shorter gearing and a little more snick-snick in the action would make the 2022 Mini an utter riot, which it appears one has to pony up to the S for. That’s all well and good, but there’d be something special about the base model getting this kind of treatment, especially in an era where the manual transmission is becoming extinct faster than the tiny platforms that it’s normally found in. Why not treat those who very much want to live the three-pedal life? Still, the base 2022 Mini Cooper is a great all-around subcompact, and any enthusiast would get a kick out of putting it through its paces on a winding mountain road.
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