The MINI Cooper made its return to the U.S. in 2002 under the BMW umbrella. This small and nimble people hauler became an immediate cult classic, drawing in buyers seeking something different from the subcompact hatchbacks of the world.

So is this tiny hatchback effective at being an everyday car, or is it just a niche vehicle carved out for a specific demographic? Continue reading to find out.

Pricing and Equipment

The 2017 MINI Cooper Hardtop comes in a variety of flavors and tunes. With these variations come pricing changes and stylistic mods. Prices start from $21,800 for the base model and range to $31,750 for the performance-oriented John Cooper Works model (delivery fees included).

In its base setup, the Cooper Hardtop comes standard with:

  • Fifteen-inch alloy wheels
  • Automatic headlights and wipers
  • Heated mirrors
  • Keyless ignition
  • Automatic climate control
  • Six-speaker audio system with 6.5-inch display
  • Leatherette upholstery

Buyers looking for extra goodies can add optional bits, such as the John Cooper Works Exterior Package ($2,990), the Wired Package ($1,610), the Premium Package ($1,655), and more.

Performance Pros

MINI Hardtop

Performance ranges greatly between the various versions of the Cooper Hardtop. The most balanced of the models is the Cooper S with its 189-horsepower engine, but those looking for unreal performance would prefer the 228-horsepower JCW model.

  • Up to 228 horsepower at your disposal
  • Precision handling in all versions
  • We noted great fuel economy across the range for guilt-free fun

Performance Cons

While its John Cooper Works performance variant is incredibly fun, we found it to be a little uncontrollable at times. We also think the shifter feels a little clunky, pulling us back to our grocery-getting reality.

  • The JCW model is quite hard to tame at times
  • Shifter felt a tad inaccurate, killing the fun for a split second
  • While we're okay with it, some buyers may find the ride a bit too stiff

Interior Pros

MINI Hardtop

We're pleased that MINI relocated the speedometer behind the steering wheel, giving the dashboard a more conventional layout. Headroom is also surprisingly generous, taking tall folks in stride. The MINI represses road noise well, but without silencing a pleasant exhaust note.

  • The speedometer is now where it’s supposed to be
  • Taller adults won’t feel like they’re about to bump their heads
  • Noise level is a great balance of peace and feedback, particularly on the S model

Interior Cons

As expected, there isn't much storage space in a MINI—you'll find just 8.7 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats in place. Even with the seats down, the Cooper Hardtop only offers 38 cubes. Speaking of those rear seats, we suggest not subjecting your adult friends to too many hours in such cramped quarters.

  • Tiny cargo area limits the daily-driver usability of the Cooper
  • Miniscule rear seats make this a tough buy for anyone who needs a back seat
  • Despite design improvements, the interior remains a sea of dreary black

The Most Pleasant Surprise

The delicate balance of road noise and peacefulness when driving the Cooper Hardtop was one of our biggest surprises. In this class, you typically expect to hear every single bump and groove in the road, but the Cooper does a great job balancing this out.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

While you may be tempted to check the JCW box to get that 228-horsepower 2-liter engine, you may want to think twice. Power delivery is dramatic and it can take serious effort to maintain complete control under heavy throttle. Some may find this enjoyable, but many daily drivers will prefer something a bit more manageable.

The Bottom Line

It’s good but not great. The MINI Cooper Hardtop is just what we expected it to be: a niche car. It doesn’t do car things (hauling people and cargo) too well, but its combination of sportiness, funkiness, and thriftiness may be exactly what you’re looking for.