Mini vs. Maxi: Driving Coopers old and new

A right-hand-drive vintage Mini and a brand-new 60 Years Edition Cooper S meet in Monterey, California, for a day of spirited driving.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
3 min read
1999 Mini
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1999 Mini

Enlarged to show texture.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Mini is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. To celebrate, the automaker released the 60 Years Edition, which I'll tell you about in a moment. But first, let's take a look back at the past.

Though we tend to think of the original Mini as a car from the '60s and '70s, it was actually produced all the way up until 2000. And in fact, the one I'm driving today is one of those final-year cars.

You might assume the Mini's interior is small (I mean, it kind of is), but there's a surprising amount of room in here. I'm about a foot and a half taller than the Mini, at 5 feet, 9 inches, but there's plenty of room for me inside and I don't feel claustrophobic at all. Even fellow drivers standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall say they have no problem getting relatively comfortable inside the little runabout. Just like some modern cars -- the comes to mind -- the original Mini makes great use of its interior space.

The Mini is powered by a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine, with 63 horsepower, 70 pound-feet of torque and a four-speed manual transmission (that I'm shifting with my left hand, by the way, in this right-hand-drive vehicle). With a curb weight of right around 1,500 pounds, that low power means the Mini still has enough get-up-and-go to safely propel me into traffic at an appropriate pace. It's not quick, but it gets the job done.

1999 Mini
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1999 Mini

The vintage Mini is like a clown car, holding more people than one would think.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Driving this car is superfun. Accelerating to 60 miles per hour takes over 13 seconds, and I'm laughing the whole time. This car handles like a dream, and you can corner with your foot buried in the throttle because it's never really going that fast. Mini says this original hardtop has a top speed of 89 mph, but even 60 mph feels like a thrill in something this small.

Everyone around me loves it, too. I'm driving this car during the posh Monterey Car Week, dodging McLarens and Bentleys as I zip along. A traffic cop gives me a thumbs-up. Someone in another car yells out, "Rev it!" Everyone loves this pint-size cutie, myself included. 

The new Mini, by comparison, is a much different experience. It's bigger, and has modern safety and multimedia tech and a lot more power, to boot. This one, specifically, is the 60th anniversary special edition. It's got a British Racing Green paint job, special badging, LED lighting and 17-inch wheels.

At its core, this Mini 60 Years Edition is your everyday Cooper S, with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged I4 engine producing 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. This Mini accelerates to 60 mph in about half the time of its forebear: 6.5 seconds, by the automaker's estimate.

See how the Mini Cooper has grown over 60 years

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The new car is definitely larger and heavier, but it's still nimble and tossable, just like the old Mini. The Cooper S has a forgiving ride quality -- more so than the John Cooper Works car I tested a while back -- but manages to retain that go-kart handling characteristic without killing my kidneys and back.

But unlike my time in the old Mini, no one waves at me in the new one. The traffic cop doesn't even notice me this time. Maybe it's because they're more commonplace. Or maybe it's because Mini has lost some of that cheeky-cute charm.

Either way, the new Mini is a great little car, and I like this 60 Years Special Edition. It starts at $33,400, which is a decent hike above the standard Cooper S starting price of $25,900. If you like the unique badging, get it. Otherwise, you might be better off spending that kind of coin on a 228-horsepower JCW Hardtop, which starts at $31,900.

But the key thing that links Minis new and old is the joy they bring to the driver. The vintage Mini might garner more attention, but both allow me to zip around with a smile on my face.

2019 Mini Cooper 60 Year Edition
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2019 Mini Cooper 60 Year Edition

Bigger, yes but the latest Mini is almost as fun as the original.


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