MINI Cooper’s Number One Competitor Will Surprise You

MINI USA boss Jim McDowell sat down with AutoGuide at the Chicago Auto Show to talk about what might just be the most carefree car brand out there, complete with its own lexicon that includes things like bootgating – that’s tailgating in a Countryman, if you must know.

Much of the conversation dealt with the upcoming Coupe and Roadster models, but first McDowell shared with us a revelation. The most cross-shopped car with the dynamic MINI Cooper is a vehicle that’s most certainly not known for being fun. In fact, it could be described as the exact opposite. That car is the Toyota Prius.

The reason, says McDowell, is due to the way both cars appeal to a certain buyer, with a distinctive look that says something about the driver.

Fuel economy is a top priority for these consumers, and McDowell is eager to point out the Cooper’s impressive 37 mpg highway rating. While hardly close to the 48-mpg rating of the Prius on the highway, that number is up one tick from 2010 thanks to some added efficiencies rolled-out in a mid-cycle update for this year. In the end, he says, those who really want to make that big environmental statement choose the Prius and those who value driving dynamics more highly pick the MINI.

On the topic of the Roadster, we asked McDowell to elaborate on comments he made the last time we spoke, about the car as a serious rival to the MX5. While FWD, McDowell touts the cars neutral characteristics and says it “will deliver such a fun driving experience that I wouldn’t shy away from a rear wheel drive comparison.”

He also expects to scoop up buyers due to the car’s functionality, and insists it will be a true MINI in the sense of delivering a solid amount of interior space in a very small package. He even went so far as to say there will be enough room for a couple to pack enough to drive across the country.

As for the Coupe, McDowell did say he expects it to be perceived as the brand’s top performance model, but stopped short of saying if it would out-perform the current John Cooper Works Cooper hatch.

As for the next-gen Cooper hatchback, McDowell did little to quell rumors of a dual-clutch automatic transmission being added to the lineup, indicating that as a brand highly-focused on both driving fun and fuel efficiency, any technology that can fulfill these requirements is under consideration.