AOL Autos Test Drive: 2014 Mini Cooper
Redesigning an iconic automobile with such a history and avid following as the Mini Cooper is never easy. But parent company BMW has shown how, with careful stewardship, it can be done.
At first glance, there is very little to suggest that the new Cooper is anything but the same minicar we've come to know and love. Yet by nearly every measure, it is actually a better vehicle. It now has stronger, more efficient engines, considerably better materials and more space inside for people and cargo. Sharing a platform with the BMW 1 Series, the Cooper also has newfound refinement and even better driving dynamics.
But while these changes are beneficial in many respects, they have, unfortunately, come at the cost of the Cooper's character. Bigger and with more premium features than ever, there's no question that some of the novelty has worn off.
Read on for more impressions of the beguiling new Mini Cooper.
The BasicsSticker Price: $19,950 (Cooper); $23,600 (Cooper S)
?Invoice Price: NA
??Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-3 (Cooper); 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (Cooper S)
??Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
??Performance: 134 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque, 0-60 in 7.3 seconds (Cooper); 189 horsepower, 207 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 in 6.4 seconds (Cooper S)
??Fuel Economy: 30 mpg City, 42 mpg Highway (Cooper); 28 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway (Cooper S)??
Seating: 4 people??
Cargo Capacity: 8.7 cubic feet
Dimensionally, the 2014 Cooper is longer, broader and taller than the outgoing model. Headlamps are larger than ever, now incorporating an arch of LED running lamps, and are wide-set in the clamshell hood.
Wraparound windows, chrome door handles, available contrasting roof colors and other Mini-isms have returned for the new generation. The grille is bolder and the fascias (both front and rear) are more styled, adding a sense of visual presence no standard Cooper has had before.
All told, the look remains unmistakably Mini. But, the car is no longer the pint-sized enigma it once was, in part because it’s bigger, and in part because the Mini isn’t the only eensy car on the road anymore.
InteriorWhile the Mini Cooper now has plenty of small car company, no car this size is as nicely finished inside. This is where the BMW bloodlines really show. It feels like a truly premium interior, complete with well-placed insulation that ensures the cabin stays free of road and wind noise.
The overall look remains cheerful, though some of the more whimsical interior elements of prior models have been modified. For example, the speedometer and tachometer are now mounted to the steering column where they belong, the climate controls are now classy dials and the bank of chrome toggle switches now includes an illuminated red engine starter.
One new bit of kitsch I particularly enjoyed: an LED light ring around the center dial illuminates in a thematic color, or even can follow the engine revs as a new form of tachometer. Cute. I also highly recommend the full-length, double-pane moonroof, which bathes the interior with light.
The Cooper remains one of the most customizable cars extant. With many different colors, upholsteries and trim materials from which to choose, there are literally hundreds of thousands of ways to design a Cooper.
Passenger And Cargo RoomEndowed with more shoulder room, front headroom and greater versatility, the Cooper no longer feels like a little car for little people. I suspect that all buyers, whether they’re new to the Mini brand or replacing a beloved earlier model, will appreciate that. The back seat feels far more welcoming, thanks to three inches of additional legroom.
Aggressively bolstered sport seats, which include excellent upholstery, are optional on Cooper and standard on Cooper S models. These were the only seats our test cars had during the drive program, and while I found them quite comfortable, one or two drivers felt the bolsters were a bit too firm.
Cargo space is much improved, as well. The “boot” is now 30 percent bigger and features a recessed floor that can be mounted flush with the bumper or affixed to the back seat. The back seat itself now splits 60/40 rather than 50/50 for better versatility.
Both Cooper models use all-new engines, both considerably more powerful than before. The base Cooper, which is powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder, produces an impressive 134 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, while the Cooper S receives a 189-hp turbo four-cylinder. Both models are available with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
Neither model weighs very much, so they get moving with some enthusiasm. Between the two, the real marvel is the base Cooper, which is no longer a dog, as it's capable of hitting freeway speeds nearly three seconds quicker than the last model.
That said, to drive a Mini is to understand that they are not about catapulting away from a stoplight. Rather, they’re all about handling. And the new Mini feels as delightfully grippy around corners as ever. It could use a bit more feel in the steering (a Sport mode helps by stiffening the shocks a bit), but the Mini remains eminently tossable on curvy roads.
Smiles will widen the harder you push it, and thanks to a more compliant ride quality, the smiles won’t turn to frowns on rough roads.
Tech And InfotainmentThe infotainment is housed in a circular area in the dashboard. An iteration of BMW’s sophisticated iDrive system can be had in higher-trim models.
All Minis are equipped with keyless engine starting, where a proximity sensor knows when you’ve approached and entered the car, allowing it to be unlocked and started without ever removing it from your pocket or purse.
Other new tech features include an automated parking assistance system, a fabulous Harmon/Kardon sound system and a new heads-up display that casts speed, navigation and other information on a clear panel that motors up from the dashtop. Connectivity also got a big boost this year, with integration of Twitter, Facebook, Internet radio, calendars and other apps.
Bottom LineIf you’re a believer that more is better, you’ll love the new Mini. It’s more comfortable, more spacious and more technologically endowed. It’s got more power and a more sophisticated suspension that sucks up bumps like a much larger car. But the very idea of more being better is somewhat at odds with the original Mini’s premise of, well, less is more. And in that regard, a bit of the Cooper’s magic got lost in this new iteration.
The 2014 Mini Cooper goes on sale in March with an MSRP starting under $20,000, and under $24,000 for the zestier Cooper S. As I said before, it is absolutely better in nearly every measurable respect. And it will sell like hot cakes, especially if gas prices rise again. It’s just a little less Mini.