2005 MINI Cooper Reviewed

Having owned a MINI Cooper for the last three years I often found myself rolling my eyes at such terms as “the lowly Cooper” or “the base model”. And as someone who has driven every model of MINI released in the US many many times over the past three years, I can also say that neither of those terms accurately describes the Cooper. In fact I’ve found, in both the initial 2002 spec and the improved 2005 model, the Cooper has its own personality that is quite unique from the Cooper S.

For this review I’m not going to spend time on all areas where the Cooper was improved for the 2005 model year. If you’d like some background information on the changes, I’d recommend checking out this previous MotoringFile story [ 2005 MINI Changes ]. I’m also not going to spend much time on the convertible aspect of this car as that was covered in great detail with our MCSc review. Instead I would like to focus on a few key improvements that have changed the performance characteristics of the car slightly.

For starters, MINI improved the Cooper by fitting a new standard 5-speed Getrag gearbox. For those keeping score at home, Getrag is also the manufacturer of the much admired MCS 6-speed manual. This new Cooper manual transmission shares many of the better characteristics of that unit. First off the new manual gives the 2005 Cooper improved gearing for more mid-range power. It’s not massive but it is subtly apparent if you’re familiar with the previous version of the car. Secondly the stick has a nice notchy feedback to it that is both satisfying and reafirming. The previous Midlands unit, while butter smooth after an initial break-in, never possessed the tactile feeling needed for completely confident shifts. This was especially the case during aggressive driving. That said, the 5-speed Getrag is let down by a clutch that lacks some feedback and is generally a bit too light. This is one area the ’02-’04 model excelled in. While it may feel familiar to MCS owners, it could be considered a step back for those moving from previous Coopers.

Despite the addition of improved gearing and a touch more torque, acceleration is certainly not one of the strong points of the car. That said, if you know how to row the gears, the 2005 Cooper (like those that came before it) certainly feels fast enough around town. The improved gearing gives the car a bit more bite off the line. In fact, it would probably give an ’02-’04 MCS all it could handle in a tight course that didn’t let you to go beyond 30 mph. It’s the acceleration from 45-75mph where the old iron block 4-cylinder runs out of breath, something improved gearing can do little to alleviate.

Handling (with the $550 optional Sports Suspension +) is equivalent to the MCS and technically should be a bit better without that extra weight from the supercharger and intercooler sitting over the front axle. (It’s worth noting however, that SS+ is not available on the convertible.) That said, equipped with the standard 15″ wheels and tires, the car does suffer from limited grip in “spirited driving”. This is especially noticeable in rainy conditions as I found out on one of Chicago’s few roundabouts during a light April mist. I’d highly recommend speccing up the car to at least 16″ wheels and then unceremoniously dumping the runflats in favor of some softer, stickier tires. Of course one nice thing to remember about the Cooper… it has a spare.

Another nice thing about the Cooper is its rather graceful lines at the front of the car. This is one area where the MCS has a hard time competing. Of course, some might say that there’s a nice trade-off under that bulging hood. Nevertheless, this current Cooper (and One outside the US) will be the last MINI to see such a sleek, graceful bonnet. European pedestrian crash regulations will see to that in 2007.

Naturally the convertible top adds a bit of style while sacrificing some performance. This is especially evident in the Cooper. However, those wanting open top motoring will find the MINI’s new convertible top is quite a successful piece of engineering. It’s dual mode operation allows this car to be much more at home in not so perfect weather. There are a few drawbacks of course. Limits visibilty with the top up or down is something one has to get used to in the Cooper Convertible. And then there’s the fact that top (and its related structural bracing) add well over 200lbs which cause this car to suffer a bit more body roll than is seen with the typical MINI.

For those wanting to know more about the convertible aspect of the car, you may want to check out the previous MINI Cooper S Convertible review posted last November.

In the end, one has to look at the 2005 Cooper and Cooper Convertible as one of the best buys on the market. Yes, it only has 115hp. Yes, it does 0-60 in 8+ seconds. But it’s a $17,000 car (21k for the MCc) that has the chassis dynamics (and not to mention fun factor) of almost nothing else on the market. It comes standard (or has available) with almost all the technology built into the MCS, not to mention quite a bit from BMWs costing over twice as much. And while its performance may not be earth-shattering, it always seems to be quick enough around town and just wicked in the twisties. All that and it regularly gets over 30mpg in day to day driving.

In fact, the more I think about it, the only thing that could come close to matching its value is the MINI Cooper S.

  • Handling (with the $550 optional Sports Suspension +) is equivalent to the MCS and technically should be a bit better without that extra weight from the supercharger and intercooler sitting over the front axle.

    How much weight do the SC and related components add to the engine on an S? How much of that is offset by having the battery in the boot?

    This doesn’t really read like a review for the ’05 MCc, but more of the MC with an aside (and link) regarding the Convertible… 🙂

  • W Weldin

    Why do you complain about light clutch pedal effort? Is your clutch slipping? If so that has nothing to do with pedal effort. We’ve got an 03 MCS w/JCW and and 05 MC. The 05 is more fun to drive and a superior car due to the refinements made by Mini. What the MC really needs is a 6th speed to bring the rpm’s down at highway cruising speeds and a readable clock (we got the chrono pack option on the 05).

  • “Why do you complain about light clutch pedal effort? Is your clutch slipping?”

    This is the third 2005 Cooper I’ve driven. All their clutches felt the same as this one.

  • Eric

    BMW has made the Cooper a different beast than the S to such a degree that quite a number of people who have the money to spend have chosen the base model because it fits their personal liking. Usually, in any line of a model, when people have the money, they buy the most upscale model. This is not always the case with the MINI and makes it that much more special.

    (by the way, I went with the 15″s over the 16″s for the “tossability” factor that is muted by the larger wheels…)

  • Dietmar

    I love the picture at the top of this article! Is it available in higher resolutions anywhere?

  • ChrisW

    I must agree with the “bargain price” assessment on the Cooper, particularly for the Cooper cabrio. For $21k you are getting much more car than I got for $20k way back in ’94 for my Miata (with its vinyl zippered rear window, manual top, cheap manual window cranks, 14″ wheels, clanging-tin doors, seating for 2, etc.).

    Of course my beloved Miata was just replaced last week with a $29k MCSc (YES!!! Finally it’s here!), fairly loaded, and I feel even that is a great price compared to what I paid 10 years ago for the Miata. The MCSc blows the Miata out of the water in every regard except the shifter (ohhh, that beautiful Miata shifter…) and overall top-down experience (the low seating and wide-open rear view in the Miata give a driving sensation unmatched by the MINI (unfortunately)).

    I’ll miss my Miata…I’ll love my MINI.

  • Chris M

    That’s a helpful review, thanks, Gabe. I bought an ’05 MCS, but I’ve often thought that for most of my driving the Cooper would be just as much fun. The extra power is great, of course, but what really makes the Mini fun is the way it handles.

  • Frank

    Believe it or not, I have never driven a 5-speed Cooper from any year. Next time I am at the dealer, I plan to take one out for a spin and see how it compares to the CVT, which is the only Cooper model I am fully familiarized with.

  • glassintrepid

    I finnaly got a chance to drive a club members cooper 5 speed. I was impressed. The only cooper i have driven is the CVT, which is completely different. I really liked the smooth power delivery.

  • db

    AMEN! Nicely written.

    As long as you don’t mind winding them out, you can eek a bit more power and a fair bit of torque out of the MC. 2nd gear at or close to redline is very responsive and quite a kick to drive! At least it works like that on most tracks where I can easily keep up with most MCS’s through the turns (especially at Streets of Willow Springs). I’ve tried the same in 3rd on the faster courses (like Buttonwillow) and the effect is pretty close, just not as much torque.

  • Evan

    The Cooper is a great choice. I’ve had my 2004 for just over a year and for $18k it is an unbelievable value. I only went for cold weather and MFSW for the cruise and audio controls, but it doesn’t need anything else.

    I had never driven an S, mainly b/c I knew I couldn’t really make the stretch money wise, but after reading all of the glowing 2005 MCS reviews, I had to go and see. So, I took one for a drive and it was very nice, but suprisingly not as percievably quick off the line. It did move out from about 3500rpm onward, but revving my MC is a lot of fun. The MC somehow feels lighter and more playful. In the end, I knew I had made the right choice and enjoy the bonus of better fuel mileage.

    Seriously though, what other car puts this many smiles on someone’s face? I can take corners at 30mph that other cars max out at 20mph, park anywhere and well- driving it is reward enough.

    In the end, there really is no “base” model MINI. Each one is amazing.



    I’ve seen several references to tires on the MC. I want to go with 15 wheels, but move up from 175’s to 195/55R-15 for better grip. Comments:

  • Greg W

    Unfortunately, you folks in the USA do not get the “Base” model MINI One – why I don’t know. It is said that a MINI One with a hot-up kit is a better buy than a standard Cooper. My theory is this – the Cooper is targeted at a different market to the One model. Older drivers may not want the “Cooper” or “race-car” tag, but still want a MINI to use as a shopping basket or commuter – unless they are like the “little ol’ lady from Pasadena” – go granny go! Remember that old Mini sold basic cars that drivers made their own custom mods to, and Cooper models were limited production (over 5 million classic Minis were made).

  • GuateMINI

    Great review! I may be a minority, but I like the way the front end of the MCS looks better than the MC.

  • Frank

    Greg, MINIUSA has stated in the past that the MINI ONE is a tough sell in North America. The car only has 90HP and it lacks some of the factory equipment items that us gringos are accustomed to. For instance, the MINI ONE in Europe does not come with a Tachometer and A/C is optional.

    Another reason is that the MINI ONE at $14K-$15K will be very expensive and not competitive to other lower priced econo models from Asian makes (Japan-Korea) that offer more options and more power for less money (Albeit not cool factor, quality, handling or resale value as MINI).

    The MINI ONE exists in Europe because it is a low priced model to lure buyers that otherwise could not afford the more expensive Cooper and Cooper S models. Also it is more fuel frugal, meaning cheaper operation bills and lower road taxes.

    The MINI ONE is a great idea in Europe but it will never fly in North America. Not even Mexico, a third world country, gets the ONE model either.

    The one that interests me is the MINI ONE “D” (Diesel) but unfortunately we don’t have the required low sulfur diesel gas to run it here.

  • Johnny

    Great to see this discussion of the Cooper, as I am FINALLY really ready to order a mini now that my mazda is paid off and I have been vascillating over whether I want to spend the extra $$ for the S when my car is mainly an around-town commodity and I lack a garage. So keep the comments coming please…

  • BigNumber35

    I have a 2002 MC. There is an old expression of “driving a slow car fast is more fun than driving a fast car slow”. Don’t know about the fast car part but I have a ball driving my MC. Without a lot of power, you have to think ahead a lot more about what gear you want to be in when driving it in a “spirited” way. With the great handling, I leave some cars with a lot more horsepower in my dust on some of the real twisty canyon roads. And smile a lot doing so.

  • MadisonMini

    This is an interesting discussion and one that I brought up recently on Mini2.com.

    I think it’s all what you get used to and what your looking for when comparing the MC to the MCS.

    I have an MCSC which I brought to Patrick Mini 3 weeks ago for the JCW upgrade. Brought it down on a Wednesday and picked it up on Saturday. Patrick gave me a loaner MCCa to drive for those days. In all, drove about 400 miles (Madison to Chicago).

    I don’t know how to say this nicely…I hated the MCC. It was the same around corners, but after that, it felt to me like driving an electric car. Keep in mind, I was so used to my MCSC, the only Mini I’ve ever driven before.

    Now with JCW, a “standard” MCSC would probably feel like an electric car. If my first Mini was a MCC, I would love it. But like I said, it’s what you get used to.

    I’m hope I’m not making anyone mad, just my impressions.

  • Anyone going from a MCS to a MC/CVT (which is what I assume you drove) is certainly in for a shock if they’re not used to it. Even someone going from a manual Cooper to the CVT Cooper will find some big differences in drivability and performance.

    And before all you CVT owners write in to tell me to stop bashing the CVT Cooper… please read my previous review of the car 😉

    [ motoringfile.com/2003/09/10/TheCVTRevisited-AFullReview ]

  • I chose a CVT MC with my ex-girlfriend. When it was time to buy myself a MINI, I had no thoughts of an MCS. I got another MC, though this time with a 5-speed manual. It has been said that the MC to 40 mph can nearly run with an MCS. I believe it, especially the CVT in SD mode. I prefer the smooth, lower bonnet; chrome grill as standard; the look of the roof without the spoiler; better gas mileage; more options for wheels; and having a spare. If I were buying a third MINI, it would be an Astro Black (not available on the MCS) 2006 MINI Cooper. I only wish they’d bring back the short-lived JCW kit (not sound kit) for the MC.

  • James – the JCW kit is actually still available for the Cooper. In fact I know of at least one dealership that has one of two in stock as we speak.

  • Rob Livesey

    Watch you tongue! I own a Mini One so if a Cooper is “lowly” what does that make mine ?

  • I’ve tried both the MC and MCS and own an “S”. Whenever I get work done on my “S”, I borrow the dealer’s borrower MINI Coopers. I see virtues in both, actually. The manual MC is a much more fun car in stop and go traffic. It is much more forgiving and gentle on the clutch, which is what you want in those situations. However, without the Sport Suspension+, the MC wallows a bit in curves. The MC with CVS is more sedate, but is the easiest commuter of the bunch.

    The manual MCS is definitely more high-spirited, even high-strung. I wouldn’t want to face a long, daily bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go commute in an MCS. Still-and-all, when you come down to, “I’ve had enough of this crap!”, and need to pass an annoying driver and “put him safely behind”, 😉 the grunt and quickness of the MCS is most welcome and its sound is lovely. The standard SS+ makes the “S” stick to the road and gives you a very sure feeling but it does bounce you a bit. Still, it has the “toy” car thing in spades.

    So it’s all good. You just have to decide what you are looking for.

    2nd MINI

  • Rob – you missed the point of that sentence if you thought I was putting down the Cooper.

  • David Clark

    To Bruce Hord – My comments on going to 195/55R15 performance tires on the Cooper – I think you will like them! In some respects I wish I had gone this way, as the std. 7-hole wheels have a very light and agile feel to them. I chose to use the 7-hole wheels to mount winter tires on, and bought a set of the 16″ X-lites w/ runflats for summer use. The raw grip improved but the light turn-in feel is somewhat blunted, I presume by the weight increase. If I had to do it all again I think I would go with a light tire like a Toyo T-1S on the 7-hole wheels, or an even lighter wheel such as OZ Superleggarras or Kosei K1-TS. The differences can be felt on a car with as good a chassis as the MINI.

  • Rob Livesey

    That’s OK Gabe. Here in the UK you can spec a Mini One in the guise of a Cooper (including the Sports Suspension) and have enough left from the savings to get it chipped past the Cooper’s 115 BHP. When I take my One to the Dealers they mistake it for a Cooper everytime!

  • gokartride

    When I was deciding what MINI to purchase back in late ’02, I happened upon a glowing Cooper review by the Car Talk guys. They (Tommy) noted, in no uncertain terms, that the Cooper engine was perfect for the car because it engaged you and made you drive it. I see the same comments echoed here. I did get a Cooper and, since I drive it around town mostly, I am certain I would never fully make use of the added power offered by the MCS (I have test driven three…an ’03, an ’03 JCW, and an ’05). Funny thing, I have perhaps the most fun in my Cooper on the highway, either opening her up getting highway speeds or passing by dropping into 4th…..I’m outa there!!!!!

  • Jojo

    I will be getting my ’06 MCS in July! I was lucky enough to get it for $22k since I bought it directly from Germany. It’s dark silver with the roof the same color, 6-speed, sports package w/sunroof. I will also lightly tint all the windows. When I test drove this car, I was just doing for kicks. You know what happened after that! I had to buy one. I own a ’98 and a ’00 BMW 328i but the MCS is so much more fun to drive. Getting anxious to get this car alreaady!

  • Kurt Nelson

    I’m one of those who agonized and finally decided on the MC (just ordered), even though the MCS was easily within my budget. For the kind of driving I do (a lot of crowded fwy commuting as well as fun weekend trips) the MC just suited my needs better, and seemed in keeping with the original spirit and intent of the mini – light weight and great handling. I’m going to stay away from the sunroof, have already purchase 16″ vspokes & will get some lightweight hiperf. tires. At first I wondered about the lack of a 6th gear, but took several test drives on fwy @ 70mph and while the revs are a bit higher than in the MCS, there is simply no undue noise or vibration. I see the point of the MCS for many, but I love the balance (and the fuel economy) of the MC. IMHO it is prettier too.

  • Frank

    I think the Cooper is a fantastic car in its own right. We have owned ours for nearly 3 years and the car works as the finest piece of Swiss clock machinery.

    Having said that however, I find the constant supercharger whining and the nicely tuned popping exhaust sound to be highly intoxicating in the MCS 🙂

    Power wise and acceleration the MCS has it all over the Cooper.

    Our ’02 MC CVT has a pretty loud stock exhaust. You can hear the car from a mile away! Very nice.

  • Don

    I have owned two mustang converts and still own my 2000. When I first saw the new MINI I wanted one. unfortunantly when my wife saw what I wanted she said it is too small and ugly. It won’t carry all the groceries we get in the stang and she likes the sound and power of the V8. Alas I’m destined to die a sad old man.

  • Bob Cabaniss

    I can’t seem to get an engineering type answer for this question…..I wish to tow 4 wheels down my new 05 mini convertable (ordered June 05)behind my motor home. Can it be done without damage to the transmission? Please don’t give me the mini warrenty junk, just the facts please as they say. Thanks for your help!

  • Bob in Mass

    I just bought a Cooper with the CVT. On the test drive, I was hugely impressed. I will be commuting, sometimes in bad traffic, so a manual would have been misery.

    I was a little worried it would buzz the engine to up the available power when accellerating, but the electronics are amazingly good at picking the right ratio all the time. The main sensation is one of smoothness and power available on-demand.

    It feels like nothing else. There is no “kick down” as with a conventional automatic, and there are no “shift points.”

    What I had to get used to was expecting to either have to shift, or to to feel a shift point. Speed and gear ratio adjust continuously, so there is this odd sensation of being in the “right” gear waaaaay longer than is possible. You keep moving faster, but the engine note stays the same – adding to the sensation of smoothness.

  • sixsixsix

    Anyone who is looking for a real drivers car like the mini, but not wishing to choose the ‘image’ (good or bad), or simply can’t afford one, should drive a Peugeot 306 GTi6. £18,500 new, good ones can be picked up for between £4k and immaculate ones for £6k.

    This is my favourite car to date, I’ve owned it for over 3 years and have done over 80,000 miles in it and it still brings a smile to my face every time I drive it.

    The only car that came close was a Mini Cooper S that I drove 3 years ago for 1 whole day. Came close was an understatement, I was amazed that there was a new car still manufactured like the GTi6. The performance of both cars is virtually identical and the handling is sublime on both cars. The only fault I had with the Mini was the lack of grip from stationary, even in the dry. With the Traction Control ON the car just bogged down and with the Traction Control OFF it was virtually impossible to pull away without wheelspin. I couldn’t live with that.

    The GTi6 pulls away without wheelspinning even in very wet conditions without having to resort to Traction Control. On grass, when pulling away fast it leaves two equal length wheelspin marks despite not having a LSD (Limited Slip Differential).

    I drive the GTi6 very hard and it is a a match performance wise for some very fast cars such as the Porsche Boxster and BMW 330i. It’s handling is more than a match for almost everything I have come across on the road including Subaru Impreza Turbo’s.

    I hope this gets printed as I just want to say that the Mini Cooper S is the best current Saloon Car out there.

  • Amdy

    The Cooper desperately needs a new engine. It is a fantastic car but the engine is a few decades behind a 1988 Honda Civic and its throttle response is woeful.

  • Bruce Walker

    There are so many reasons to prefer the MC over the MCS that it is difficult to mention them all in a short post.

    But let me begin with the history of the original MINI itself. The original MINI came of age in the era of Minimalism, and I am convinced even the name of the car had as much to do with it’s minimalist design elements as it did it’s minimal size.

    Which immediately brings us to the differences in body style of the current models, especially the hood of the cars. The MC simply looks a lot better and conveys a much more minimalist look than the MCS. Ditto the simpler exhaust on the MC.

    And I think this same concept extends to all of the available exterior accessories as well, -for the most part they clutter up the look of a terrific automobile. I will be the first to admit that some of roof designs availble do look pretty cool, my favorite being the St. Andrew’s Cross on a silver roof with hyper blue body, –and of course the rally lights do looks kind of cool so long as you can block the vision in your mind of vandals one day ripping them off the car.

    But as for the rest, especially all the chrome available, it just leaves the car looking, –well–,, looking kind of pimpish. This is especially true of the chrome line bumber treatment that is available, it looks vastly inferior to the plane body color trim and leaves the car looking like a PT Cruiser knock-off.

    The interior of the MC and MCS are essentially identicle, so no gripe there. Both are vastly superior to the new 2007, especially the instrumentation the 2007 will sport. The handling is similar, and unless the driver plans on racing the cars there is little incentive to deviate from the base MC for this reason alone.

    Which leaves 2 items, performance and cost. The MC is already so much fun to drive that the added HP in the MCS is a negligble reason for spending $3,500 more for the super charger. Personally, I found spending that additional $3,500 on upgrades to be a vastly better investment. Better seats, premium package including sunroof. And in my own case, additional guages in the auxilliary instrument panel installed above the cup holder, fog lights front and back, and a fully populated toggle switch panel. And of course the John Cooper sound package that includes stainless exhaust etc.

    No extra chrome, no bonnet stripes, no checked boards on the fenders, no ridiculously low profile tires, none of that non-sense(!)

    Probably sounds a wee bit to humble for many Mini enthusiasts, but it works for me.

  • Joannie

    Hi all,

    I’m turning in my Honda Pilot, which I absolutely love; DVD player and all, but I’m looking at the Mini Cooper’s now. I like to play. Ha!

    Anyway, I’ve been reading all of your advice and am still having trouble with which one to get. And which year. Can someone break it down in layman’s terms? I drive mostly city, but living close to L.A. I also drive freeway. I like the convertibles but I’m seeing that some of you are choosing the sun roof instead.

    I’m reading about the tires and all, but what “really” about the flip and roll on these cars? I do take my grandkids around sometimes.

    Thank you so much.