In 1959, Alec Issigonis designed a vehicle that combined minimal exterior dimensions with a surprising amount of interior space, thanks to a transverse-mounted engine and a boxy shape. Mini's 43-year history may be biblical, but it boils down to a car that was affordable, compact, stylish and fun to drive. Sales in the U.S. were limited to the years between 1960 and 1967, but those who have some connection to Europe always seem to harbor some tender recollection of the British icon. Then, as now, Mini had a wide appeal and reached a diverse audience, its style lending itself to artistic interpretations by pop stars, while its price allowed it access to the less illustrious masses. In 1994, BMW acquired the Rover Group, which included the Land Rover, Rover, MG and Mini brands. BMW wanted entry into the lucrative high-end sport-utility market and sought Land Rover as a foothold, but the acquisition proved to be ill-fated. The company unloaded Land Rover to Ford in 2000, but kept Mini around so it could extend its reach into all segments of the marketplace, including that of the economy hatchback. BMW's goal was to retain the Mini's basic philosophies while raising the engineering bar to Bavarian standards. Enter the latest Mini Cooper. It merges British heritage and facade with German innards (much like the Windsor royals) in the form of technology and construction. Touted as the Next Big Thing, Mini's clever marketing campaign seems to have reached ubiquity. Although the Cooper is no great performance car and has minimal space for passengers and cargo, it has all of the things that made it so popular in the first place: an accessible price, miniature dimensions for urban convenience and fun -- in both its style and its go-kart handling. As the 2003s arrive at the dealerships, you may still be waiting for your Cooper, given the first wave's short supplies. Allow us to suggest that you option your eventual car sparingly -- Coopers are eligible for most BMW-grade content, but if you add all of it, you'll end up with one expensive hatchback. This endearing three-door hatchback is available in two versions -- the Cooper and the Cooper S. The base Cooper is outfitted with 15-inch wheels and tires; leatherette upholstery (cloth is a no-cost option); a tilt steering wheel; a centrally mounted speedometer; air conditioning with micron filtration; a six-speaker stereo with CD changer prewiring; speed-sensitive intermittent wipers; and power windows (including an auto-down feature), locks and mirrors. The Cooper S adds 16-inch wheels and run-flat performance tires, seat-height adjustment, lumbar adjustment and a leather-wrapped steering wheel; all of these features are available for the base car. Oddly, cruise control costs extra for both models, and you have to pop for a $1,250 Premium package to get it. Of course, the options list for either Cooper is extensive (sport package, leather upholstery, nav system and so on). The base car is powered by a 1.6-liter 16-valve inline four that makes 115 horsepower. This isn't much power by today's standards, but at least the engine has only 2,300 pounds of car to propel. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) with a Steptronic automanual mode is optional. Fuel economy is rated at 28 city/37 highway with the manual and 25/32 with the CVT. The sporty Cooper S is aided by an intercooled supercharger, allowing it to pump out 163 hp and 155 lb-ft of twist. A six-speed manual gearbox is your only transmission choice; mileage is rated at 24/33. Premium fuel is recommended for both models. All Minis come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes assisted by Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Cornering Brake Control. The S model also includes traction control, and should you equip either model with the Sport package, you'll get Dynamic Stability Control. Other standard safety features include a flat-tire monitor, side airbags for front occupants, head curtain airbags (for front and rear) and a crash sensor that automatically turns on the hazard and interior lights and unlocks all the doors in the event of a collision. The Cooper earned four stars for frontal impacts in NHTSA crash testing and four stars for side impacts involving front occupants. Besides looking stylish with its metallic trim, tubular structures and Frisbee-size speedometer in the center of the dash, the Cooper's interior has very little competition in this price range in terms of materials quality. Passenger and cargo space is predictably tight -- there's just 5.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats in use. You can expect lively handling (with very little body roll) from either Cooper, as the cars borrow their sophisticated multilink independent rear suspension from the current BMW 3 Series, with a MacPherson strut arrangement up front. Additionally, the more performance-oriented Cooper S gets reinforced antiroll bars and firmer springs, though its setup may be too stiff for some.