Remember when MINI just had one MINI and it was actually pretty, well, mini?
Engine: 1.5L turbo 3-cylinder
Output: 134 hp, 162 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual/auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 32 combined (manual)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.5 city, 6.2 hwy, 7.5 combined (manual)
US Price: Starts at $21,900
CAN Price: Starts at $23,090
(Pricing doesn’t include destination)
As the little British (now German) purveyor of cute and zippy little cars matured, the lineup expanded from one tiny two-door hatchback to include a whole variety of vehicles that ranged from practical crossovers to just plain weird niche cars.
MINIs were always supposed to be three things: Fun, small, and affordable. With big, heavy crossovers now dominating the lineup and an expensive JCW variant for each one, MINIs all of a sudden were the opposite of what they were known to be.
MINI was no longer associated with the model the brand was built on, but heavier cars with prices that stepped on the toes of established luxury brands without offering the luxury brand niceties. And although MINI now sells more crossovers than anything else, the entry-level two-door hardtop hatchback still exists and we should be really happy about it.
So Much Personality
The MINI Hardtop 2-Door (curiously just called the MINI 3-Door in Canada) is a reminder that MINI still makes a car that is entirely affordable and way more fun than something its price ought to be. For just over $21K ($23K in Canada), you can get an ultra adorable and unique compact car with a huge personality, some cool features, and famously smiley driving dynamics. Nothing in its price range comes even close to offering this much fun or personality.
ALSO SEE: 2018 MINI Countryman JCW Review
That charisma starts with MINI’s trademark adorable bug-eye headlights, fun color combinations, and retro design. As retro is cool again, this is the most unique and stylish compact car out there.
The personality continues inside with a retro-futuristic circular theme with cute toggle switches and a jet fighter-inspired start button. Although it’s not the most practical interior, it is certainly the most cheerful. The infotainment system isn’t very intuitive, the rotary knob used to control it is placed quite awkwardly (and scrolls in the opposite way you expect it to), the ergonomics can be questionable, and there’s a lot of hard black plastic used throughout the cabin. And yet it still manages to make you smile.
Finally, the MINI’s big personality shines through its driving dynamics. What you’ve heard about MINIs is still true: they are ridiculously fun to drive and make you feel all kinds of cheeky while behind the wheel. I’m a big believer that cars don’t need to have tons of horsepower to be a lot of fun — they need to be engaging and communicative and MINI nails it with this hatchback.
Heavy and communicative steering and a stiff, playful suspension make even a short jaunt to the store a reason to act a fool. The suspension helps the MINI handle like a sports car, but might be too stiff for some folks during the day-to-day commute. The payoff in driving dynamics is 100 percent worth it in my books, however.
What About the Little Engine?
This entry-level MINI is powered by an itsy-bitsy turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder motor with 134 hp and 162 lb-feet of torque. I was initially worried that this three-cylinder engine would feel taxed and underpowered, especially since I’ve become used to those big, heavy MINIs I mentioned before, but my fears were unsubstantiated. This engine is perfect for the two-door with peak torque coming online at 1250 rpm, low enough that you don’t have to rev up the engine to get the most of it. That means you can get to the fun sooner! The engine is also surprisingly smooth for something so small, and it doesn’t even get too noisy at speed.
The only downside of this little engine is that with a manual transmission, you can’t be lazy with it. The transmission requires a lot of shifting to keep the engine in its happy place, so you just can’t chug up a hill in second or make a convincing pass in fourth or fifth, which I can do with most manual cars with larger engines. But what’s the fun in that? The fact that it makes you work also makes it somewhat rewarding.
ALSO SEE: MINI Cooper S Hardtop 4 Door Review
An Excellent Manual Transmission
It’s been a goal of mine to teach my boyfriend how to drive stick. I tried to teach him once on my 10-year-old Volkswagen and he hated it. I convinced him to try again with this six-speed manual MINI because it is one of the most forgiving manual cars I’ve ever used. Besides having a very engaging and communicative clutch pedal, the MINI also has a hill holder so you don’t have to worry about rolling backwards into the car behind you or frying your clutch trying to make it up an incline. The shifter’s throws are also intuitive and he didn’t put it into the wrong gear very often, even though the shift pattern hadn’t become muscle memory yet.
The best part? I didn’t have to teach him to heel-toe (I’m not that good at it anyway) because the manual MINI comes standard with automatic rev-matching downshifts. This is the most brilliant improvement to the manual transmission since a hill holder. Automatic rev-matching downshifts makes you feel like such a good driver, and I don’t care what the snobs say. I love this feature. I find a perverse pleasure in remarkably smooth downshifts, but maybe it just makes me feel like a race car driver.
This is all fantastic because a manual transmission makes this car even more affordable and most other manual transmissions in this price range are truly awful and no fun at all. To have a manual transmission in a car that not only makes the car more fun but is also this technologically advanced is a blessing. If you are new to manual transmissions, this MINI is the perfect gateway into the #savethemanuals camp.
The Verdict: 2019 MINI Cooper Review
The 2019 MINI Hardtop 2-Door is a fantastic little runabout with an enormous personality and excellent driving dynamics that no other car it competes with can match.
The fact that all the best characteristics are offered in a base-level car is fantastic and I’m convinced that this MINI is the best one you can get. While others can be more fun and more practical, they’re also much more expensive, and this affordable 2-door is the purest MINI there is. Even without any options, this MINI is fantastic, and that’s usually not the case for base-level cars.
Although it might not be the most intuitive, practical, or powerful car in its segment, it stands out by being so darn charming. Every interaction you have with this car puts a smile on your face and I think we can all use a bit more of that in our lives.
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