If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone from Mini refer to 'go-kart-like handling,' I'd be retired, living on a beautiful piece of coastline somewhere in the Caribbean. Perhaps even on the shores of Puerto Rico, where Mini chose to launch its latest Cooper and Cooper S hatchbacks. As with so many frequently used phrases, though, there is indeed some truth to the cliché – while the Mini Cooper has never actually handled quite like a go kart, it has always had a certain directness in its movements, reacting to steering inputs with an immediacy and fervor unlike most any other automobile meant primarily for the street.
Combine those unique driving dynamics with a sense of fun that permeates the entire brand from pre-sales marketing to the actual sales process itself and you end up with a marketplace success. As an ex-Mini owner myself (a 2009 Cooper S Convertible), I can attest to the kinship felt between fellow Mini drivers who share in the knowledge that they are having more fun than the poor appliance-driving masses sharing the highways and byways of these United States. It's no surprise that the style-conscious US continues to be the marque's single largest market year after year.
This enviable brand perception hasn't been attained without its own fair share of flaws, however. Though the quirky design and massively customizable bits and pieces that have made up the Mini brand's interior philosophy since it was reborn in 2001 have proven somewhat endearing, the Cooper Hardtop's ergonomics have always been an unmitigated disaster. Plus, this is a very small car, with a rear seat that's practically uninhabitable by adult-size occupants. While that adjective seemingly goes hand-in-hand with the brand's name, the modern Cooper has never been as ingeniously packaged as its 1959 forbearer, which offered up as much interior space as possible through innovative engineering and minimalist design. Further, parent company BMW has positioned Mini as a premium brand, so the Cooper's diminutive size has never equated to low prices. And for being such a small car, the Cooper historically hasn't been well-known for its fuel efficiency.
With each subsequent redesign, Mini has sought to improve its shortcomings, with a new, slightly larger platform and more efficient engines in 2007 being the most noteworthy updates. Now, for the 2014 model year, Mini has once again completely reengineered the Cooper, making it larger than ever, rethinking the interior packaging and offering a completely new lineup of engine options. Does it all add up to the best one yet?
Related Gallery2014 Mini Cooper: First Drive
Casual observers will see little to differentiate the 2014 Mini Cooper from the 2007 Mini Cooper and the 'original' new Cooper from 2001. Such familial resemblance is completely intentional, as the car's styling has always been a primary calling card. It's cute, stocky and upright, and has continually drawn comparisons to the rough-and-ready look of an English Bulldog. That won't change with this latest redesign.
I'll get my biggest styling grievance out of the way right off the bat: In Cooper S trim, the front fascia has a pronounced underbite that I don't find appealing, a condition exacerbated by chrome-ringed air intakes at the corners of the front valance. I find the face of the standard Cooper much more palatable, and I doubt I'm alone. There's some debate about the placement of the headlights, but from most views, while the Cooper may have grown from a petite size 0 to a curvier size 2, it's still as head-turningly perky as a young Meg Ryan.
You might not notice its larger size unless you park one next to its predecessor.
So, while it's still mostly cute as a button, a closer look into the model's measurements backs up the fact that it's an entirely new design. A measuring tape reveals that length has grown by a substantial 4.5 inches; it's 1.7-inches wider and a third of an inch taller, with a wheelbase that spans 1.1 inches more than before. Front track is up 1.7 inches and rear track is widened by 1.3. Put more simply, the 2014 Cooper is larger in every measurable dimension than the last generation, but you might not notice its larger size unless you park one next to its predecessor.
Is it still mini? That's the million-dollar question, and it's one I'm not going to debate. The 2014 Cooper is still most definitely a small car, both inside and out, and while I'd love to see its engineers eke more interior space from smaller exterior dimensions, as was the case with the original, today's automotive marketplace is a much more complex place to play than it was in 1959, when crash tests were a distant afterthought and drivers had yet to be spoiled by such conveniences as power steering, windows and door locks, not to mention (now) basic necessities like air conditioning and airbags. That said, sure, it's still pretty mini in comparison to the other cars it shares the roadways with (at 151.1 inches long, it's still over 8.5 inches shorter than a Ford Fiesta hatchback). Besides, if you want to go smaller, there's still a reasonable number of Mini models to choose from on the used market. Have fun and be happy!
It's still over 8.5 inches shorter than a Ford Fiesta hatchback.
Moving on, what these enlargements mean in the real world is a bit more room inside for passengers and cargo, plus a slightly more composed ride while still maintaining its trademark quick reflexes thanks to an enlarged track. Front-seat occupants benefit from increased seat travel and rear-seat occupants have a longer bottom bench that is indeed more comfortable than before. Shoulder space is up by a few meaningful inches, and there's a general sense of airiness inside the 2014 Cooper's cabin. Still, the back seat isn't a place full-grown adults are going to want to spend lots of time in, and while its 8.7 cubic feet of luggage space behind the seats represents a 25-percent improvement (it expands to 38 cu-ft with the 60/40 split rear seatbacks folded), it's still only enough room for a week's worth of groceries. Suffice it to say that a family of four will still feel mighty cramped inside, while a couple ought to find room enough for a fun weekend getaway.
Mercifully, the driver isn't forced to wade through a cookbook of ergonomic atrocities with this latest generation Cooper. Directly behind the steering wheel sit round analog speedometer and tachometer gauges that are clear and easy to see. The window switches, which used to be little chrome toggles at the bottom of the center stack, have been moved to the doors, and every control is finally easy to locate with just a quick glance. The lone embellishment that isn't immediately obvious is the bright red starter button, which is actually a toggle just ahead of the shifter, and I kinda like it. Overall, this new cabin is a revelation of efficiency when compared to past Coopers, and it still manages to retain the funky looks, along with a myriad of customizable textures and surfaces, that have entertained Mini fanatics over the last dozen years or so. I found the seats comfortable for a full-day drive, and you can still pass endless hours – and dollars – customizing your dream Cooper online.
Our Blazing Red 2014 Cooper test car was kitted out with white bonnet stripes and 17-inch, 10-spoke aluminum wheels, and the optional Sport Seats were swathed in Cross Leather Punch upholstery in Carbon Black. I also tested Cooper models with cloth-and-leather combination seats, and found them to be perfectly attractive, less-expensive alternatives.
This new cabin is a revelation of efficiency when compared to past Coopers.
One more salient detail about the 2014 Cooper's interior: The pie-plate sized central gauge that used to be a speedometer in past generations has made the transition into the digital age. It houses either a small four-line screen or a large 8.8-inch multifunction unit that displays everything from navigation information to radio stations, all of which is part of the Mini Connected infotainment system. For 2014, this suite of technology can be paired with either an iPhone or Android phone, and there's an optional head-up display for the first time that projects a bevy of information onto a small translucent screen that pops up from the dash, not unlike the system in the new Mazda3. Also new is the Driving Assistant option, which can maintain a preset distance from the car ahead, detect and mitigate impending collisions and vary the intensity of the high-beam headlights. A backup camera is optional as well, as is a parking assistant for those who want to fit their Mini into tight spaces with electronic intervention.
If you're into colorful light shows, perhaps you'll be amused by the ring of lights that surround the large circular cluster. They are used to warn the driver when the car is close to objects around it, and they change in size as upcoming turns are announced by the GPS. They also change colors along with the automatic temperature controls.
Naturally, a full suite of safety bits and pieces are included in the 2014 Cooper, including ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, Electronic Differential Lock Control, and, on Cooper S models, a Performance Control system that helps counteract understeer. Also new is Dynamic Damper Control that automatically adjusts to offer a smoother ride when possible and a firmer option when desired.
Mini is to be congratulated for keeping the new Cooper's curb weight in check.
Considering its larger footprint, Mini is to be congratulated for keeping the new Cooper's curb weight in check – the 2013 model weighed in at 2,535 pounds in base trim, while the better-equipped 2014 checks in at 2,605 lbs. Those stats suggest that performance and fuel efficiency won't take a massive hit, and handling should still be sprightly. And indeed, a day's drive proves that each of these attributes has actually been significantly improved for 2014.
Even the most basic Mini Cooper in the US will come with a turbocharged engine producing 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque from just three cylinders displacing 1.5 liters. Those are pretty stout figures that represent increases of 13 hp and a huge 44 lb-ft over its predecessor. The end result is a 0-60 run of 7.4 seconds with the base six-speed manual transmission or 7.3 with the automatic. Would you believe that's a massive 2.5-second improvement over the old 1.6-liter four?
Real-world performance from the three-banger is even better than its numbers suggest. Torque comes on strong from about 1,200 rpm, and once the needle swings past 1,700 revs, there's plentiful pull in the first three gears. The new TwinPower turbo engine feels peppy so long as you keep it in the proper gear, as fourth through sixth feel like they exist more for economy than stunning acceleration. Of course, that will be a boon for efficiency. While the car has yet to receive official EPA ratings, the brand is estimating 30 miles per gallon in the city (up from 29), 41 on the highway (or 42 with the automatic; up from 37) and 34 combined. Color me impressed.
Despite a massive improvement from the new Cooper's base engine, the equally new 2.0-liter TwinPower four-cylinder engine that is fitted to the 2014 Cooper S isn't much more powerful than the 1.6-liter turbocharged mill it replaces. Its 189 horsepower represents an increase of 8 ponies. Torque is up more substantially, from 177 lb-ft to 207, which can be increased for brief spurts of 221 lb-ft via an overboost function. The run to 60 takes 6.5 seconds with the manual or 6.4 with the automatic, which is a few tenths quicker than before. Efficiency is up, too, with the automatic gearbox being the way to go when it comes to saving at the pump. Mini estimates that the 2014 Cooper S will achieve 23 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined with the six-speed manual, or 28/40/32 with the automatic. (It isn't immediately clear if the latter transmission's efficiency figures are achieved in the new Green Mode, which slows responses and decouples the drivetrain while coasting.)
The brand is estimating 30 mpg in the city (up from 29), 42 on the highway and 34 combined.
Both the standard Cooper and Cooper S offer a Sport Mode that quickens the car's reflexes a bit, though it's not exactly a night-and-day difference. The standard stop/start function can be disabled using a toggle switch next to the starter switch. Interestingly, Mini says that its automatic transmission is informed by the navigation system to prevent unwanted upshifts depending on the route ahead. I didn't specifically notice this system in operation on the test route, but I look forward to further examination.
Steering is electronic, and it's programmed with something Mini calls torque-steer compensation. Indeed, the wheel does indeed remain stable in-hand, even in instances where front-wheel-drive cars typically get jittery. Paddle shifters are optional and recommended.
The argument to spend the extra few thousand bucks for the Cooper S is no longer as compelling as it used to be.
If you've read this far, you're probably wondering how much all this new stuff is going to cost. Good news: About the same as last year. The starting price is $19,950 ($250 more than 2013) for the base Cooper or $23,600 ($300 more) for the Cooper S. The conveniently named Fully Loaded Package adds a hefty $4,750 to the sticker, but it includes a whole bunch of goodies that you'll probably want. For instance, using Mini's handy-dandy configurator, pricing out a 2014 Cooper with base engine and six-speed manual in British Racing Green with white bonnet stripes, mirrors and roof, the rear-view camera and head-up display, a fancy interior package and a few more baubles and bolt-ons, you're still looking at well under $27,000.
That's a large chunk of change for such a small car, but it's one that will feel like a premium piece and offer lots of driving entertainment. And, with the new base engine proving such a willing partner, the argument to spend the extra few thousand bucks for the Cooper S is no longer as clear or compelling as it used to be.
Is it the best Cooper of the modern era? Indeed, I believe that it is. It's larger, but still small enough, smoother and more fun to drive than ever before, it's easier to live with on a daily basis and it even manages to pack in some unexpected value in the form of increased fuel efficiency. Well done, Mini.
- Turbo 1.5L I3
- 134 HP / 162 LB-FT
- 6-Speed Manual
- 0-60 Time:
- 7.4 Seconds
- Top Speed:
- 130 MPH
- Front-Wheel Drive
- Curb Weight:
- 2,605 LBS
- 38 CU-FT (max)
- 30 City / 41 HWY
- Base Price: