2019 Mini Cooper Hardtop Oxford Edition First Test: Not Easy Being Green
I’m the target audience for the Mini Cooper Hardtop Oxford Edition. My automotive tastes line up well with the Mini ethos; I’m all about compact dimensions, light weight, and motorsport heritage. I’ve always liked the styling and “kart-like” handling of these cars, even if driving this Mini is nothing like driving a go-kart. But there’s one little detail about my life that makes me the ideal customer for this particular Mini. I just graduated from college.
The Mini Hardtop Oxford Edition is something of a popular equipment package, combining some of the model’s best available options in one trim level and selling it at a lower price. Sort of like a Porsche 911 T. But pricing for the Oxford Edition actually sits below that of the optionless base model; a Mini Hardtop 4 Door starts at $23,750, but our optioned-up Oxford tester stickers at just $21,600. What’s the catch? Only a very limited demographic is eligible to buy one.
To be more specific, fine print reads that the Oxford Edition is available to “eligible current full- or part-time students of any two- or four-year accredited college or university, recent college graduates who are within 12 months of their graduation, as well as students enrolled in post-bachelor’s degree programs, such as graduate school, law school, or medical school,” plus “Active Duty members of the United States Military and its recent retirees.”
A Semi-British Bargain
So ,what do these students and military folks get for a shade over $21k? The entry-level Mini Hardtop plus premium paint, 17-inch wheels (up from 15s), heated seats, and a panoramic sunroof. The optional automatic transmission—usually a $1,250 upcharge—is also included with the Oxford, if that’s your thing. This student-or-soldier special saves up to $6,900 compared with a similarly equipped Cooper Hardtop. And let’s recall, the entry-level car is not a bad place to start. It retains the brand’s iconic styling without looking dated, both powertrain options are strong and torquey, and they finally moved the speedometer to a visible spot behind the steering wheel from its awkward home directly in the center of the dash.
Back up a sec; let’s talk powertrain for a moment. Our test car was powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine. Just a tiny little thing, but it makes 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque—or 169 lb-ft on temporary overboost. That’s a good bit of torque for a car under 3,000 pounds, and it comes in just off idle at 1,250 rpm. Our Oxford scooted to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, which was legitimate hot hatch territory not long ago. There’s more than enough grunt to get up to speed, and we had no difficulty passing above 70 mph. Yes, the little three-pot struggles with noise, vibration, and harshness at low RPM, and sure, it makes an almost diesel-like clatter at idle. But it’s enthusiastic in character and a fun driving companion, especially for a base engine.
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Inside, the standard synthetic leather upholstery is nice enough, and we appreciate this generation’s more conventional interior touches. Window switches have migrated to the doors from their old spot in the center console, and the aforementioned speedometer relocation means it was much easier to tell how fast I was driving. Remember, quirky aesthetics are all well and good but making quirky ergonomic decisions is just poor design. Perfect example: There’s a dramatically red starter switch in the middle of the center stack, and its color and shape make it the first bit of switchgear you see when you slide behind the wheel. It’s a well-executed detail that I appreciated at the start and finish of every drive.
Another ergonomic mishap concerns the 6.5-inch infotainment screen running a Mini-branded version of BMW’s iDrive system. It’s relatively intuitive, but operating the control dial requires a wrist angle that can’t be comfortable for anyone with normal human bone structure. It also scrolls differently than I’d expect; turn left to scroll down, right to scroll up.
Quibbles and Complaints
The backup camera is of decent resolution, but the lack of any guidelines on screen make parking harder than it needs to be. Notably missing here is the inclusion of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. Combined with the lack of navigation, drivers in need of directions must resort to propping up phones in a poor-visibility cupholder or biting the bullet and buying a mount. (Pro tip: There are more affordable options than Mini’s Click & Drive with Universal Holder, available for “just” $245.) Bluetooth pairing works well, and the standard audio setup is on the better side of adequate, if a little heavy on midrange bass and weak at the low end. The panoramic sunroof included with the Oxford is large and pleasant, making the relatively tight cabin feel downright airy.
Although quibbles about wind and tire noise can be masked by said audio setup, what cannot be covered up is the Mini’s ride quality. The suspension on this car is pretty stiff—more so than necessary for the standard Hardtop—and that translates to a choppy, bouncy ride that can border on unpleasant.
It also means good body control and little roll when the going gets twisty, something at which the Mini excels. Steering feels quick, and the car is small enough to pick your line through a series of corners without crossing the double yellow. Power is good as long as you keep the three-pot on boil. This would be easier if you could swap gears with paddles behind the steering wheel, but the automatic’s manual gate works in the correct direction (down is up, up is down) and it does the job just fine. The optional six-speed manual ‘box would also do the trick. The limiting reactant in the handling equation is understeer, no surprise given the Mini’s poorly rated Hankook Optimo all-season tires. Despite a firm brake pedal with strong initial bite, the rubber’s limited grip is also to blame for a mediocre 126-foot 60-0 mph braking distance.
Perhaps the best way to summarize my disappointment in this car is by talking about its paint. Let me be clear, the color rocks. It’s Mini’s B22-code British Racing Green metallic, and it looks fabulous on this little four-door. I’m a strong believer that any English (even German-owned English) car with even the slightest hint of motorsport history should be ordered in British Racing Green. Bentleys, Jags, Minis, the lot. Heck, I’d be on board if they went Henry Ford-style and decided every Mini is available in any color you like, as long as it’s British Racing Green.
But access to this perfect pigment is even more limited than that of the Oxford Edition and its sizeable discount. Mini tells us that BRG code B22 was developed for the 60th Anniversary Edition car, and it was offered as an option for early-production Oxfords but discontinued in April 2019. As of our writing, it cannot be ordered on any model Mini makes. And that’s our issue with the Cooper Oxford Edition. It’s the quick, character-filled, enthusiastic Mini we love, and it’s genuinely affordable to the people. We just wish more folks could actually buy one.
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