When it comes to “cuteness” few cars can match the MINI Cooper. With its subcompact dimensions and cheerful styling this little guy is like a kitten in a teacup except it doesn’t hiss or scratch and it can’t infect you with toxoplasmosis.
|1. The 2014 Mini Cooper S Hardtop starts at $24,385 including $795 for shipping and handling. 2. Cooper S’s are powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four that cranks out 189 hp with 207 lb-ft of torque. 3. The base powerplant is a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that delivers 134 ponies and 162 units of twist. 4. A nifty over-boost feature briefly ups the torque output of both engines|
But don’t let its dust cover fool you, this history book is a real page-turner; since the original debuted in the 1960s, MINIS have always been a hoot and a half to drive. But has the company sold out on this heritage with the all-new 2014 model? To answer that query we put their latest offering through its paces on the narrow, winding roads of Puerto Rico.
Obviously this Cooper Hardtop draws A TON of inspiration from its predecessor. In fact can you even tell them apart? It’s no easy task, they look exceedingly similar.
Apparently when redesigning this iconic car the company couldn’t afford to take any styling chances; its upgrades are all pretty much invisible, plus icons don’t necessarily need radical change.
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Despite its familiar face the 2014 MINI Hardtop is completely new from the ground up. It rides atop a brand-new architecture, the engines are all new and it’s got a great new interior, there’s even plenty of new-car smell to go around. Perhaps the company should get into the fragrance business…
Growing up, Filling out
Right off the bat this car is built on an all-new platform. Overall it’s 4.5-inches longer and features a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 1.1 inches. Front and rear the car’s track has been increased and so has the luggage space; behind the back seat it’s grown to nearly nine cubic feet; total cargo room clocks in at 38 cubes.
These dimensional enhancements are supposed to make the car more comfortable and functional; though it feels a little insincere because this MINI isn’t so mini anymore; it looks noticeably larger when you stand next to it. But putting the tape measure away here are some numbers you’ll actually care about.
Unlike a Chupacabra The Engine Doesn’t Suck
The 2014 Hardtop’s base engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that pumps out 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque.
Cooper S’s are powered by a larger force-fed 2.0-liter four-banger that cranks out a palpitation-inducing 189 hp with 207 units of twist. Additionally there’s a nifty over-boost feature that briefly ups the torque output of both engines, giving you a few more pound-feet to play with. In fact, while the car is certainly peppy, it’s obvious MINI put the focus on fuel economy. 189-hp is solid for a car of this size, but a 2.0-liter turbo should easily be able to produce almost 100 more ponies.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard; an autobox with the same number or ratios is also available if you’ve totally given up on life…
In the acceleration department both cars are plenty quick. The base Cooper can hit 60 miles an hour from a standstill in around 7.4 seconds; the S will accomplish the same feat in roughly 6.5 seconds. Surprisingly the automatic is a tenth quicker for both sprints.
When it comes to fuel economy, with two engines and two transmission choices things start to get a little confusing. Keeping it simple, three-cylinder models average 34 miles per gallon while the S version delivers a combined score of 32 MPG with the automatic and just 28 with the manual. You know maybe I’m mistaken; there could be something to these self-shifting gearboxes after all.
Additionally the company is offering an adaptive suspension system called Dynamic Damper Control; it’s brand new for 2014. It offers drivers three different settings including Eco, Sport and a Normal mode for day-to-day driving.
We only had a brief chance to test it and the difference between settings was negligible, if it was noticeable at all. Like past MINIs this new one’s ride remains quite stiff. The suspension is tight, steering sharp and acceleration brisk, if not larynx-crushing.
Continuing a familiar theme without beating it like a deceased equine, the 2014 MINI Hardtop’s interior looks much like the one in today’s car. It has a large circular display on the dashboard, a small satellite set of instruments attached to the top of the steering column and toggle-style switches. But take a closer look and things are quite different.
One thing you’ll immediately notice is the overall quality of the materials. They’re far better than what’s typically used in subcompact cars. There are plenty of squishy-soft plastics, low-gloss polymers and supple leather if so equipped. Additionally, everything is assembled with precision and feels like it’s built for the long haul.
Unfortunately MINI irritating toggle-style switches remain a prominent feature of the lower center stack, though with one groundbreaking improvement. Making these lil’ buggers a lot less grating, engineers moved the power-window controls to the door panels where they belong. Bravo for this change as it addresses our major complaint with the toggles.
Additionally the car’s large, centrally-mounted speedometer has been dramatically reduced in size and demoted to the steering column to make room for the available navigation system. The display spans 8.8-inches and is controlled by an iDrive-style knob (not the annoying little joystick used before) and smattering of buttons located on the center console directly behind the shifter.
Interestingly this GPS-driven technology can actually enhance the vehicle’s performance. Models equipped with an automatic transmission can monitor your drive route to control shifts based on upcoming turns. For instance if it knows you’re about to enter a corner it can refrain from grabbing the next gear and subsequently bogging you down. That’s damn-clever engineering right there.
The sporty S-themed model’s front seats are firm and supportive and feel like a hug from the Queen of England, amicable but authoritative. Thin or otherwise emaciated drivers (like me) slide side-to-side a little bit in corners but normal folks will fit just fine between the bolsters.
On The Road, Off the Hook
Putting the Cooper S in motion everything clicks, just like with past versions of the MINI. The suspension is tight, steering sharp and acceleration brisk, if not larynx-crushing. The car even has a throaty exhaust note as it rips through the gears.
We sampled the S with an automatic transmission and it worked just as well as everything else. It delivered imperceptible up-shifts when you wanted it to but if you were really pouring on the power it hammered into the next gear with near dual-clutch enthusiasm. It’s everything you’d expect from a MINI and pretty much nothing you don’t.
Now for some pocketbook issues, pricing. The standard MINI Hardtop starts at $20,745, including $795 in destination and delivery charges. The sporty S model is a few grand more expensive; they kick off at $24,385, again including shipping and handling fees. Look for both models at MINI dealers this spring.
Despite its modest size increase the all-new 2014 MINI Hardtop is still a MINI to its very foundation. The car delivers an absolutely riotous driving experience but at the same time it’s more fuel efficient and feature-laden than ever. As always, the interior is a shining example of premiumness in the subcompact segment.
With nearly identical styling to the previous generation it may seem like this latest iteration is little more than a minor refresh. Fortunately the car’s engineering enhancements are far more than just sheet-metal deep; this is a ground-up overhaul and a laudable update to an already successful product.