Introduced in 1959, it was originally the Austin Seven. Then the Morris Mini Minor. Now more familiarly, the Mini Cooper. As the name changes suggest, this is a car with a long cultural history – an icon of Britishness.
The takeover by BMW has given us a more capable Mini, and I am a fan-boy. It’s a premium small car with throwback styling you can get in two-, four-door, convertible and the more utilitarian Clubman body styles.
But just in case the Mini Cooper experience isn’t your cup of tea, with its go-kart handling, old-school toggle switches and taillights featuring the British Union Jack. Here are eleven cars that look like the Mini Cooper; appealing alternatives priced around the Cooper’s reach that offer a bit more room and a softer ride.
1. Volkswagen GTI
Priced comfortably within the range of the Mini Cooper, this hot hatchback features impressively balanced handling and supreme driving delights that are as satisfying as the Mini. The GTI has grown by an inch overall to improve passenger and cargo room. Like the Mini, inside the GTI boasts a high-tech dashboard with throwback styling. The bolstered front seats incorporate iconic plaid inserts that reach back to GTIs of old. The cowl has been lowered to improve road visibility. Touch-sensitive sliders is the only way to operate the 10-inch touchscreen.
2. Mazda MX-5 Miata
Rivaling the Mini Coopers convertible offerings, the Mazda MX-5 Miata also comes in two great open-top designs. Like the Mini it takes corners seriously with wonderfully precise and sharp steering. After over 30 years it still delivers the same old-school sports-car driving experience for which it was created. Although it features a cozy cabin fit for two adults, taller drivers might feel a bit pinched in the interior room department. It’s all business here with basic accommodations. And as far as trunk space goes, you’ll want to pack light.
3. Subaru BRZ
Now firmly in its second generation the Subaru BRZ is still a small, light and nimble sports car with a peppy and responsive Boxer engine. This compact rear-wheel drive is designed specifically for budget enthusiasts. Steering is responsive with plenty of feedback and the standard six-speed transmission offers confidence inspiring low effort shifts that beg you to take corners at blistering speeds. The Subaru BRZ is a 2+2 in the same way that the Porsche 911 is a 2+2, which means the back seat is only for show.
4. BMW 2 Series
Featuring love-it-or-hate-it exterior styling, the BMW 2 Series offers a lively power train with appropriately athletic handling for a luxury car. It provides powerful handling, precision steering and powerful brakes for entertaining driving. You can choose a 255 HP turbocharged inline 4 or a 382 HP turbocharged inline-six. The interior space is less claustrophobic than the cars above with styling and build quality that offer satisfying ergonomics. Now for the bad: you can no longer get the 2 Series with a manual transmission or convertible top.
5. Audi A3
But if you want even more room, you can actually fit adults in the back seat of the Audi A3. Luggage space is more generous than any of the cars above with enough room for a weekend’s worth of luggage. Though not as entertaining to drive as the S3 or RS3 variants. The A3 nevertheless delivers strong sports sedan handling and performance that makes it a desirable choice if you’re seeking thrills in the luxury segment. Audi’s tech-focused ethos is showcased by the digital gauge cluster and infotainment screen.
6. Mazda 3
Ah, the Mazda 3. I can’t stop gushing over this car. The exterior looks sharp. The interior feels like you’re driving something more upscale. And every time you get behind the wheel, you just want to go for a drive. You can choose from two spry four-cylinder engines, including a punchy turbo you can mate to a six-speed manual. Regrettably, you can’t get the all-wheel drive version with a manual transmission. The seats are supportive with a comfortable amount of room for rear-seat passengers. If you want the most room for your luggage, go for the sedan which is my favorite.
7. Honda Civic
When it comes to economy cars that are fun to drive, the Honda Civic has always been among the top 1%. Like the Mazda 3, the Civic comes in both sedan and hatchback variants. And offers luxury appointments that once weren’t associated with Civics. You can get it with a six-speed manual transmission that makes it fun to row through gears. As typical of the Civic brand, the interior is streamlined and aesthetically pleasing with plenty of room for all your passengers. And generous cargo space for all your luggage.
8. Acura Integra
You can get the Civic Si for similar driving fun. But the Acura Integra offers more eager handling. The hotly anticipated return of the Integra replaces the aging ILX in Acura’s lineup. Like most Integras of old the new body style is exclusively a hatchback sharing much of its underpinnings with the Honda Civic. Driving dynamics are fun with a more upscale presence than the Civic. Like the Civic the rear seats are large enough to fit adults comfortably. And the 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster is standard across the entire Integra lineup.
9. Audi TT
Regrettably, the rumors are true. Sadly, after 25 years the Audi TT will be phased out of the company’s lineup as it focuses on the electrification of its surviving models. Built on the same chassis shared by the Volkswagen Golf, the TT is a sports car designed for everyday usability. Like the Mini Cooper, it flaunts an unmistakable profile with its sloped back and seamlessly integrated bumpers. Affectionately, nicknamed the baby R8. Each subsequent generation brought more aggressive lines along with more power.
10. Volkswagen New Beetle
Now let’s turn our attention to cars that look like the Mini Cooper that you can only get in the used car market since they’re no longer in production. And perhaps none from our list is held in higher esteem the Volkswagen New Beetle. This is the car that single-handedly set off the retro-design trend. Sharing its chassis with the Volkswagen Golf and Audi TT, the New Beetle brought cuteness back in 1998. Bigger, safer and more user-friendly. It generated smiles for over twenty years before ending its production run in 2019 due to waning interest.
11. Chrysler PT Cruiser
Riding the coattails of the New Beetle, the Chrysler PT Cruiser made its debut the following year in 1999. I remember a friend of mine was so excited when his dad finally brought a PT Cruiser home in 2001. For a week prior, he couldn’t stop talking about it. Like the Mini Cooper, the design features a mix of retro and contemporary. The PT Cruiser is based on a reworked Neon platform and was EPA-classified as a truck to improve Chrysler’s CAFÉ numbers. The 2003 model was more powerful with a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine that made 215 HP. And like the Mini Cooper you can also get it as a convertible.