We recently spoke about MINI sharing platforms with BMW and how the British marquee is a lot more important to BMW than many may think. It’s true that MINI is incredibly important to BMW and that MINI’s vehicles share parts with some BMWs, so they’re actually very good cars that feel more premium than their price would suggest. However, are MINIs good enough that they could actually rival their Bavarian brethren?
The MINI Cooper S is pretty much the bread and butter of the MINI brand. It’s the car that most enthusiasts buy, because it’s fun and fast but not as expensive or as hardcore as the John Cooper Works variant. The Cooper S uses a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. While that may not sound like a lot when comparing with a BMW, remember that the Cooper S only weights about 2,800 lbs or so, depending on options. With that low curb weight, 189 hp and 207 lb-ft is enough to be an absolute riot. And trust us, that engine pulls and pulls hard. It’s a very fun little car. 0-60 mph, with a manual, comes in the mid six second range, which is fast enough to make smiles.
The BMW 228i, on the other hand, also packs a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but the Bavarian makes 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. That’s quite a big bump in power over the MINI Cooper S. However, the 228i weights around 3,300 lbs, depending on options, so it’s performance figures aren’t much better. Equipped with a manual, the BMW 228i will run from 0-60 mph in the high five second range. But BMW’s N20 engine is a gem. It’s silky smooth, punchy and more than enough fun. It doesn’t sound all that good, though.
Obviously, though, these cars aren’t about their performance figures. Cars getting from 0-60 in 5.5 seconds hasn’t been impressive since the E46 M3 was new, so you don’t buy a 228i for its mighty performance. These two cars are about the way they make you feel. They’re both quick, they both have nimble driving dynamics and they’re both fun to toss around. However, they go about doing that differently.
The obvious difference between the two is the driven axle. The base model BMW 228i is rear-wheel drive, which is the chosen drivetrain of choice for enthusiasts, while the MINI Cooper S is front-wheel drive. MINIs have always been front-wheel drive so this is nothing new and that’s never stopped them from being fun before, nor is it going to now. The MINI Cooper S is a riot to drive. It has this sort of hilarious, bulldog-style of playfulness to it. It just wants to be silly and have a good time. If it were a person, you’d here it say “Watch this!” and then proceed to get hurt doing something hilarious.
The BMW 228i is also a very fun car to drive but in a different manner. It’s a bit more grown up and refined. It’s quick, has great steering response and excellent chassis dynamics. It’s a proper sports car through and through, no doubt. But it isn’t the most hilarious car on the road. It’s a driver’s car for certain, but it’s a driver’s car for drivers who are a bit more focused, not just people who like being a hoon. Which, ultimately, is a good thing. There’s comes a time when we have to stop messing around and grow up a bit and I think the 228i is a great stop-gap between hooliganism and being an adult, as it’s fun but not reckless. Plus, you can waggle the tail out on a 228i, something the Cooper S cannot do.
In terms of looks, that’s a bit of a wash. The MINI Cooper S is a British hatchback to its core. It looks exactly as it should and looks great, even if it isn’t exactly pretty. It’s utilitarian and fun looking and manages to pull that off and still look cool. The 228i on the other hand is actually a very pretty car. The 2 Series in general is one of BMW’s best looking model lines. It’s compact and has great lines, it’s just a very good looking car, especially for the price.
On the inside, things are much the same. The Cooper S has a nice cabin, no doubt, but it’s a bit cramped and there are bits that feel somewhat cheap. However, BMW’s influence can easily be seen and it makes the Cooper S’ cabin feel much more premium than nearly anything in the price range. But it still can’t match the 228i’s cabin in terms of comfort and refinement. While also small, and being BMW’s cheapest car, the 228i actually manages to feel more roomy and the materials are significantly better. It also has the great cockpit-like feel, bringing you back to the feeling of BMW’s from long ago. It feels like a genuine sports car on the inside. Though, the MINI’s hatchback body gives it much more practicality.
A fully loaded MINI Cooper S will run you about $32,000, give or take a couple of silly extras, like roof rails and what not. But for that you get the brilliant little engine, great handling dynamics and good practicality along with heated leather seats, a sunroof, navigation, a premium sound system, ambient lighting, a head-up display and BMW’s iDrive. So it’s not bad value for money.
A base model BMW 228i will run you about the same money, as it starts at $32,850. For that, you get BMW’s excellent N20 engine, a manual gearbox (though an automatic is a no-cost option, making it the better deal), a great looking car, four seats, four wheels and that’s about it. No navigation, no heated seats, leatherette interior and no sunroof. It’s a pretty baron place to be. However, it is fun and it is a BMW.
So for the money, which would you rather have? A fully loaded MINI Cooper S, that’s tons of cheeky fun, more practical than you’d imagine and loaded to the gills with options, or a base model BMW 228i that’s just as much fun, can do rear-wheel drive stuff and drives quite a bit nicer but comes with no extra luxuries?