• Jun 22nd 2010 at 11:56AM
  • 21
2010 Mini Cooper 50 Camden Edition - Click above for high-res image gallery

It's hard to believe, but the Mini brand just turned 50. Nevermind the huge gap in new model production until BMW bought the pint-sized automaker in the early 2000s, but the name Mini as we know it has been around for half a century. It's over the hill, though still looking good for its age.

To celebrate, Mini created two special edition packages for the Cooper hatchback – the Mayfair and Camden – named after two of London's trendiest boroughs. And while the extra kit doesn't provide a performance boost or driving enhancements, they do add some extra cheekiness to the already-cute Cooper.

We recently spent some time with the Camden package fitted to a base Cooper hatchback. The most notably addition is the talking Mission Control system, and while we always enjoy spending time with special editions of our favorite cars, our test run in this Cooper did more than provide us with a few gee-whiz features to show our friends. You see, we hadn't driven a base, non-turbocharged Cooper in a very long time, and while we certainly love the S and John Cooper Works models, there's a lot to be said about the bottom-rung of the Cooper range. Follow the jump to find out what.

Photos by Steven J. Ewing / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Visually, the Camden package adds a choice of special paint colors (White Silver Metallic in this case), white pin stripes on the mirrors, xenon headlamps, front foglamps, appropriate badges on the sides, grille and door sills, and unique 17-inch Silver Shield wheels. We like what we see, though we're still arguing with ourselves over whether those alloys get a full-fledged thumbs-up or thumbs-down. While we don't dislike them, we'd honestly prefer something more akin to the traditional eight-spoke design found on the Cooper S.

Moving inside, the Camden package is nicely applied to the cabin, where a white and black theme is present throughout. It's sharp and fits well with the voguish theme that Mini has going on inside its offerings. That same white pin striping from the outside mirrors is found on the plastic dash materials, and if we're honest, the interior design is what garnered the most positive feedback from passengers. We appreciate the upgraded Harmon/Kardon premium sound system that comes as a part of the Camden package, especially since we find the standard Mini audio system to be a bit weak for pumping out the jams.

Spruced-up design aside, the Mini's interior is growing a bit tiresome for our tastes. After all these years, we're still having trouble getting used to the controls on the center stack. We've lost track of how many times we've gone to adjust the volume and inadvertently changed the audio track on the CD player, and while the dinner plate-sized speedometer is a fun throwback to the original Minis from the 60s, we'd much rather see that space allocated to house a more functional audio and navigation system.

That aside, we don't have much in the way of comfort or quality issues. The Mini's cabin is surprisingly spacious and the front buckets are extremely supportive and plush. We've driven long distances in these chairs and would eagerly do it over and over again. Sight lines are great in all directions, and smart features like the dual glovebox design, fold-flat rear seats and cubbies in the doors make for a hatch capable of carrying a raft of personal items, regardless of its exterior size.

Then there's the Mission Control system – the absurdly annoying chatterbox that comes as part of the Camden kit. Sure, it'll make your girlfriend giggle, and it's sort of cute for the first few minutes you're in the car, but if we're honest, the best part about this feature is that it can be turned off (or hacked, as the folks at Automobile found out). It presents itself right away when you start the car, the different voices talking to one another, but as you start to drive, the conversation tapers off. That is, until you're twenty minutes into a Sunday drive, you take a quick left-hander, and suddenly, "Love that go-kart feeling!" comes blaring out of the speakers. That's one way to ruin the perfect line you had going into a turn.

But beyond the Mission Control and Camden-ness beats the heart of a real champ, even in naturally aspirated form. Remember, the base Cooper only cranks out 118 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque from its 1.6-liter inline-four, but it's the car's chassis tuning that makes it a real honey for all sorts of driving situations. Granted, it doesn't provide blistering acceleration off the line, taking a quoted 8.6 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour if your foot is pressed to the floor, but for an diminutive hatchback, it delivers enough power, especially when you consider that it's capable of achieving 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway. We can't think of many other vehicles that are this frugal and so entertaining.

Our test car was fitted with the standard six-speed manual transmission, which is really the way to go in any of the Mini models if you want to get the most out of your driving experience. Yes, we're partial to do-it-yourself shifters in the majority of the cars we test, but it just feels so right in the Mini. The clutch pedal has a good deal of weight behind it, which isn't terribly noticeable unless you're faced with long stretches of stop-and-go traffic, and it's easy to modulate during shifts at speed. The stick is pleasant to use, as well, and while we can see how some drivers would prefer shorter throw lengths between the gears, we like the notchy throws and overall engagement.

When it comes to on-road dynamics, we've always been impressed with how well the Mini handles, especially when it comes to the steering. The helm is one of the best in the industry – a small, thick-rimmed wheel that inspires plenty of confidence as soon as you grab it. From there, the steering is nicely weighted, never light or flimsy, providing enough feedback and communication to the driver to make the whole experience immensely involving. One complaint that we've always had with most Minis is the overabundance of torque steer, but with only 118 hp delivered to the front wheels without the aid of a turbocharger, it's barely present in the base Cooper.

To get the most out of the Cooper's dynamics, it's best to drive in sport mode, activated by pushing a small button just above the shifter. This not only improves the throttle response, but it stiffens the suspension slightly, and when combined with the Camden's larger 17-inch wheels wrapped in 205/45-series rubber, there's plenty of grip for the tomfoolery that Mini driving inspires. We'll admit, the suspension damping is a little harsh for the pothole-laden roads of metropolitan Detroit, but once you're out on smooth, twisty roads, all is well.

The base Cooper, while lacking in turbocharged oomph, is still a total hoot to drive. It's an extremely well-balanced and spirited little hatch, and while we'd still probably spend our hard-earned bucks on the upgraded S model, enthusiasts who stick to the lower-end of the price scale will be immensely satisfied.

Speaking of price, that's the big issue we have with Mini's clever Camden car. We've always said that at a base price of only $18,800, the Cooper provides exceptional bang for the buck, but when you start ticking boxes on the options list, it becomes clear that this is, in fact, a product from the BMW group. On its own, that Camden package commands $4,500, and our test car's window sticker showed an additional $1,000 in extras. Tally that up, add $700 for destination and delivery, and the end result is – get ready – a $25,000 base Cooper. For reference, the Cooper S starts at $23,000, albeit without as many extra amenities, but to be blunt, the Camden package simply isn't worth all of that extra coin. Ditch the Mission Control system, spec the same goodies found in the Camden package, and you'll actually spend a bit less.

So while the Camden package might prove to be a hard sell, our time spent with the talkative Cooper reminds us that we don't simply love the Mini range for its turbocharged offerings – the entry-level model still packs plenty of punch, regardless of what flashy goodies have been added on. As a purchase proposition, this car really does speak to us. As Mission Control would say, "This is it – total Mini love."

Photos by Steven J. Ewing / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I almost jumped from the window after the "Mission Control system" video.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm feeling this 50 yr version but I think it needs hood stripes!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Its no Porsche.
      • 5 Years Ago
      there are a few cars i would much rather have for $24-25k but I'm guessing people that buy Mini's probably wouldnt consider. GTI, Golf TDI, Civic Si, Mustang V6, Gencoupe
        • 5 Years Ago
        @JimBob Reliability has been fantastic for my (late-2005 build). Don't believe what you read.

        They are expensive, but for the money, you get engineering and daily fun that no other car in our market can touch for the money. Everything else is boring and cheaply made below that price. Price anything against the MINI (similarly-equipped, not that there are any) and the MINI comes out very competative. Maybe the Juke and/or Veloster will change that?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, certainly NOT the Civic SI. LOL
        • 5 Years Ago
        Same here - I'd love to own a Mini, but it seems way overpriced given the competition. Although, none of the cars that you mentioned would have the same driving feel since they all weight at least 500lbs more than the Mini.

        Too bad the reliability seems to suck as well. Hopefully the 500 will come in significantly cheaper than this.
        • 5 Years Ago

        the civic si coupe is about 400lbs more and the gti is about 500lbs more....but they both have about 80hp more than the base 118hp mini.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Looks nice, but does it only come in silver? I think I'd like it better in white or black.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You can get it in White Silver(test car), Midnight Black or Horizon Blue.
      • 5 Years Ago
      There wasn't a huge gap in production as you state. The old Mini was built until 2000 and the new one was introduced in 2001. Unless you're referring to the 30+ years the original Mini outlasted its intended design cycle...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Also, its faster, yet more frugal than the Honda CR-Z, the pricing is in line too. Better yet, get the Cooper S, and you barely lose any MPG for sports car like power.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As the owner of a base MINI Cooper, it's like this: Skip the turbo and still get 80% of the fun, but have money left over to add all the cool creature-comforts to the inside. I loaded up the interior and nixed most of the exterior's add-ons. The inside is where I spend my time.

      I've noticed in many cases that those who get the "S" seem perhaps have had little money left over (or inclination) to buy the nicer options.

      I have had my Cooper for 5 years and love every option I chose, and would do-over exactly the same: Sat-Nav, XM (although that could go!), aux input, Xenons, sport seats, heated seats, sunroof, steering wheel controls, chrome interior, auto-climate, dynamic stability control, etc... Today, I'd add power-folding mirrors for sure, as well as keyless entry/ignition. Those weren't available in 2005. Mine came in at $23,000 almost fully-loaded, or in other words, nearly the price of a bare-bones MINI Cooper S. I think I made a better choice. The greatest thing about buying a MINI is that you can choose à la carte which items you want and which you do not. I nixed the run-flats, the spoiler, and some other items. You can do packages too, but you can break them up if you want to. I built the Cooper I wanted with the items I wanted and none of the ones I considered to be useless (e.g. parking distance control -- on THIS car? Why???). I chose wisely too!

      As always, you can replace the stupid central speedometer with the Nav system, and thus accomplish exactly that which the article claims it "wishes for". My speedo is next to the tach above the steering wheel, where it belongs. Doesn't the author know this to be the case?

      I am jealous of the current MINI's PSA-BMW engine and some other goodies, but I am so NOT jealous of the current dash layout. I think my dash is much, much classier, and much more user-friendly. If the 2005 dash/console out-classes the 2010 version, then something is wrong in MINI-land. In fact, I had high hopes for the Countryman, but foolishly, they've kept the dash the same as in the other current MINI's. I was really hoping they'd take the opportunity to do an all-new, more upscale dash do-over. It makes me not nearly as interested in the Countryman as I might have been. Not kidding!
        • 5 Years Ago
        You're right, I forgot about the digital readout--good point.

        I priced out a comparably-equipped Cooper and Cooper S, and the S actually came in about $750 cheaper ... I think the choice is clear.
      Niko the Farmer
      • 5 Years Ago
      Stop picking on the car, and stop picking on Camden, New Jersey. I bet if you were stranded in Camden, New Jersey, you wouldn't complain about the center speedometer if one came along to get you out of there.

      By the way, how "trendie" can Camdentown be? Isn't that where poor Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim lived?
      • 5 Years Ago
      the exterior is camden town. the interior is camden, nj.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The interior is FAR too nice to be Camden, NJ.
        • 5 Years Ago
        DAMN! I was gonna do a Camden, NJ tie-in. Kudos to you for getting to it first! ;)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Growing up in mortar range of Camden NJ, that's the first thing I thought of as well. Still tempted to photoshop together a "Camden NJ Edition" Mini.
      • 5 Years Ago
      They need to stop that speedometer in the middle thing.

      And I wish that oval in the middle of the rear of the car was the exhaust, I would have been sold.
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