Comparison: 2021 Mazda 3 Sport vs 2022 Mini Cooper S
Is the lower market Mazda 3 better than the Cooper S?
Now I know that the 2021 Mazda 3 Sport and 2022 Mini Cooper S may seem like the automotive version of the “Odd Couple”, but these two cars are more similar than you may think. They’re roughly the same size, they’re available with engines with similar power, and they’re both aiming to be at the top of the premium compact car segment. So which one is better?
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Engine – The 2022 Mini Cooper S is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque (141 kw & 280 Nm). In a car that tips the scales at 1,332 kg (2,936 lbs), the engine’s power can accelerate the Mini to 100 km/h in around 6.7 seconds. Thanks to the turbocharger, the Mini doesn’t need to rev all that much when driving around town. All of the torque is available at low rpms. Also for a turbocharged engine, it is reasonably responsive with hardly any turbo lag and a low boost threshold.
By comparison, the Mazda 3 can be equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.5L 4-cylinder engine that produces 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque (139 kW & 252 Nm). With this engine, the heavier Mazda 3 Hatch – at 1,416 kg (3,121 lbs) – will accelerate to 100 km/h in just over 7 seconds. If you equip it with the AWD system, that number jumps to almost 8 seconds. Because this engine is not turbocharged, it does need to rev a bit more than the one in the Mini. Peak torque is reached at around the 4,000 rpm mark. However, throttle response is immediate because it is naturally aspirated.
But this particular demo car is equipped with the turbocharged 2.5L engine which can develop up to 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque (186 kW & 434 Nm). This is dependent on the fuel you put into it. The 250 hp figure is with premium fuel while on regular fuel, it’ll develop 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (169 kW & 420 Nm). With this engine, which can be equipped only with AWD, it will accelerate the Mazda 3 to 100 km/h in 6 seconds. Faster than the Cooper S but not by a significant amount given the 100+lb-ft of extra torque and 61 extra hp. With the turbocharger and AWD system, the Mazda tips the scales at 1,535 kg (3,384 lbs). But with this engine, the Mazda 3 is quick and it has the same characteristics as the Mini Cooper S. Low end torque for daily usability.
What’s really interesting is that the Mini Cooper S can achieve better fuel economy numbers. Even better than those of the naturally aspirated 2.5L engine in the Mazda 3. The 2022 Cooper S can achieve a rating of 8.9 L/100km (26.4 MPG) in a city and 6.6 L/100km (35.6 MPG) on a highway. With the 2.5L naturally aspirated engine, the 2021 Mazda 3 hatch can achieve 9.2 L/100km (25.5 MPG) in a city and 6.9 L/100km (34 MPG) on a highway. With the turbo engine, those numbers jump to 10.1 L/100km (23.3 MPG) and 7.5 L/100km (31.4 MPG) respectively.
Transmission – The Mini Cooper S is equipped with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. This is a great transmission with smooth and quick shifts. It’s also fast to react to a pull of the steering wheel mounted paddle shifter and it doesn’t hesitate when setting off from a stop.
The Mazda 3 Sport is equipped with a 6-speed automatic. While other manufacturers have added more gears, Mazda refined the 6-speed to make it the best in the class. It’s smooth shifting and fast to react. The 7-speed DCT in the Mini, though, shifts a bit more quickly.
If you want to row your own gears, both are available with 6-speed manual transmission. However in the Mazda, it’s only available with the 2.0L and 2.5L naturally aspirated engines and FWD.
Braking – Between the two cars, the 2022 Mini Cooper S has the better feeling brake pedal. It’s a bit sharper and firmer than the one in the Mazda 3 Sport. That’s not to say that the 3’s brake pedal or brakes are not good because they are. They’re definitely better than what you’d get on other mainstream cars like the Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra. The Mini Cooper has forward collision alert as standard but in the Mazda, you have to move up to the GS trim to get it.
Handling – Thanks to it’s lightweight and shorter wheelbase, the 2022 Mini Cooper S is the more enjoyable driving car on twisting and winding roads. It has a direct and responsive steering feel. It also firms up depending on the drive mode and provides just enough feedback through your fingertips. It’s not like a Lotus Elise but a car of this size, it’s just enough. Body roll is also well maintained with adaptive dampers helping to further aid in reducing the body roll if you opt for them.
More impressive though is the dynamic traction and stability control system because it actually helps to turn the car in the corners. No, the Cooper S does not have a limited slip differential but it uses clever programming to slow the rotation of the inside rear wheel to induce drag thus rotating the car.
On the other hand, the 2021 Mazda 3 Sport is much more sporty to drive than other compact cars like the Civic and Sentra, but the Mini is more sporty than the 3. Steering weight is a bit lighter in the Mazda 3 than the Mini Cooper. However the steering response is just as quick and body roll is well maintained thanks to stiffer springs and retuned dampers.
With the addition of the AWD system, which has been retuned with the Turbo engine, the Mazda 3 feels neutral around corners. The AWD system can send up to 3 times more torque than previously allowed to the back wheels to improve off the line and corner exit traction. Of course, it’s also a blanket of security when you’re driving in not so ideal conditions.
Ride Comfort – While the Mazda 3 Sport is not quite as sporty as the Mini Cooper S, it does provide a better ride. The short wheelbase and stiff suspension of the Mini make it bouncy on city streets. It’s not completely unbearable but what I’m saying is that between these two cars, the Mazda is smoother over bumps and rough roads.
Interior Space – Between the two, the 2022 Mini Cooper S has more headroom across both rows of seats. Legroom in the front seats is quite capacious in both. My 6’4” height sits with plenty of room to spare. Visibility out the front and side windows is also good in both but over the shoulder visibility in the Mazda 3 is hampered by the thick C-pillar.
In the back, the Mazda 3 Sport has more legroom than the Mini Cooper but that’s not saying much when you’re as tall as me. Both are incredibly tight but it is obvious that the Mazda has a bit more legroom behind my own driving position. However, headroom in the Mazda is pitiful. I’d be more comfortable if I detached my head from my torso.
Trunk space is a similar story with the Mazda providing more than the Mini. The Cooper S has just 278 L (9.8 cu-ft) of space behind the back seats with that number increasing to 941 L (33.2 cu-ft) with the rear seats folded. There is a bit of storage underneath the trunk floor in the Mini. In the Mazda, you get 569L (20 cu-ft) with the seats up and 1,334L (47.1 cu-ft) with the rear seats down.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – There’s two ways of looking at the noises that these cars make. First is the good noise from the engine in which case the Mini is the clear winner. The second is the noises that they prevent from intruding into the cabin like wind and tire noise. In which case the Mazda is the better of the two.
The Mini Cooper’s engine is paired with a sporty sounding exhaust that is not only audible from inside the car but not obnoxious to others outside the car. But quite a lot of tire noise at higher speeds is evident in the Mini Cooper which is where the Mazda 3 hatch shines. It feels like you’re in a much more premium and expensive vehicle. The engine does make some noise at higher rpms and it has a deep and operatic tone, but it’s not as sporty sounding as the Mini.
Odds and Ends
Pricing – The Mini Cooper starts at $25,790 CAD ($23,900 USD) with this Cooper S model starting at $30,090 CAD ($27,900 USD). The Mazda 3 Sport starts at $21,750 CAD for the base GS trim with the 2.0L engine. In the United States, there is no 2.0L engine option and instead the Mazda 3 Hatch starts at $22,650 USD with the 2.5L engine. In Canada with the 2.5L naturally aspirated engine, the Mazda 3 Sport with the 6-speed manual starts at $24,450 CAD. With the Turbo engine, it starts at $34,150 CAD ($31,050 USD).
At the other end of the spectrum, a fully loaded 2022 Mini Cooper S will cost you $44,830 CAD ($37,500 USD). Barring any accessories, a fully loaded 2021 Mazda 3 Sport will cost $36,300 CAD ($34,495 USD).
Gadgets – For your money, both cars come equipped with the same features. These include leather upholstery with heated seats and heated steering wheels, head-up displays, Automatic climate control, satellite navigation, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, advanced driver and safety aids, and sunroofs to name a few.
However there are differences. The Mini has two sunroofs, it can be equipped with smart parking that will automatically park the car once a spot is detected, and is available with adaptive dampers. The Mazda can be equipped with rear automatic braking (for when you park), it has surround view cameras, and comes standard with blind spot sensors which the Mini does not have at all.
Interior Design – “Cheap” is not a word that you can associate with the materials in the Mazda 3 Sport. There is soft leather across the dashboard, door panels, steering wheel, and of course the seats. Yes, there are some hard plastics on the lower portions of the doors and center console but those are areas that you hardly ever touch with your fingers. The buttons also have a premium “click” when you use them. The Mazda 3 definitely feels more premium than other mainstream vehicles.
The Mini Cooper S has the traditional look that the car is known for. Big, round circle on the center dash that houses the touchscreen along with physical media buttons and knobs. Below it are more physical buttons, knobs, and toggle switches which I really like. It makes me feel like I’m in a plane’s cockpit. The 2022 Cooper S receives the digital driver’s display that first appeared in the Cooper SE but I personally prefer the old analog gauges of the pre-facelifted Cooper S. This demo car had the quilted Chesterfield leather upholstery that is nice to the touch but some of the other materials throughout the cabin are soft plastics which, at times, feel like rubber. Overall, the interior of the Mini feels a bit more premium than something like a Hyundai Elantra but it can’t match the quality of the Mazda 3.
Exterior Design – While in principle these are 4 door hatchbacks, they couldn’t be any more different in their designs. The Mini looks like a classic Mini even though its grown by a lot since the original Mini Cooper. However, it is still smaller than other compact cars in the class. The 2022 update gives it a new front bumper and who doesn’t like the Union Jack tail lights?
The 2021 Mazda 3 Sport is all about smooth lines and shapes. It looks like something that can go into an art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. From just about every angle, the car looks stunning for something that starts at under $25,000.
Warranty – Mini vehicles are covered by a 4 year / 80,000 km new vehicle and powertrain warranty with a 12 year rust perforation warranty.
Mazda, on the other hand, offers a very unique auto industry warranty. The Mazda 3 Sport is covered by a 3 year / unlimited km basic warranty and a 5 year / unlimited powertrain warranty. Unfortunately this unlimited km warranty is not available in the United States. In the U.S.A, the warranty is more “normal” at 3 year / 36,000 mile basic & 5 year / 60,000 mile powertrain warranties.
So of the two, which one is better? That depends on what you’re looking for from a premium compact car. The 2022 Mini Cooper S provides a more thrilling driving experience from the way it goes around corners to how it sounds. It also still maintains the essence of a Mini vehicle which a lot of people still like and are willing to pay a bit more money for.
The Mazda 3 Sport on the other hand is a car for those that want the comfort, the peace and serenity with some sporty driving characteristics. Sure, the Mazda 3 is not as unique as the Mini Cooper but it does everything that you want it to do at a lower price.