Test Drive: 2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop
Hitting the coastal roads in Puerto Rico with the latest refined yet playful compact
by Davis Adams
“These bright colors are so hard to manufacture, and we didn’t want a trendy yellow," explains Annette Baumeister, leader of the color and trim engineering team at Mini's Munich office. She’s particularly proud of the Volcanic Orange available on the all-new 2014 Mini Cooper S Hardtop. "This one is very complex. It’s warmer, with more reds, and more—you would say, ‘class,’ in English?" Color is just the beginning; the new Mini is more sophisticated than ever before. We ventured back to Puerto Rico to put the latest compact to the test.
After a long day of driving the car, we found ourselves on the beach chattering back and forth about the characteristics that make a Mini so recognizable—even 55 years after the car originally debuted. The consensus was that most car designs don’t stay true to an identity for a lifetime; the Toyota Camry today looks nothing like the car from the 1986, and the BMW 3-Series is nearly double the size of the original sedan. You’re left with only a few cars that truly aged like a fine wine: Porsches, Volkswagen Beetles and Minis.
For 2014, Mini has overhauled (relatively speaking) the Cooper Hardtop for the third time since the car’s initial launch in 1959. That classic Mini maintained its shape and size until BMW relaunched the brand in 2002. Since then, Mini has focused more on the evolution of its design and expansion of its models rather than producing radically different cars every few years over the past decade.
The all-new Mini is no exception to that rule, with an eye on nuanced styling cues rather than shocking transformations. While it has grown slightly in length and width, the general proportions are the same, maintaining the brand’s signature “bulldog" stance. The third Mini generation is the perfect balance between Mini heritage and future-shaping form language; uniquely Mini and full of character,” says Head of Design, Anders Warming. On the outside, the headlamps and tail-lamps have grown in size and grown more refined with particular attention paid to the front, which now includes LED running lights and optional full-LED headlights and fog lamps. The grille has also grown wider in size, with additional chrome accents. There are also five new colors—and five previously available options—of the car, including Baumeister’s very flashy Volcanic Orange and an updated, warmer version of the classic British Racing Green.
Inside, the new Cooper continues to drive the brand up-market, with premium fits and finishes more becoming of a luxury car than an economy one–and it’s something that has only been marginally reflected in the price structure of the car. The oversized circular display remains the focus for the dash, though the speedometer and fuel gauges have been shifted to the wheel-mounted cluster. Instead, the center stack houses only the 8.8'' infotainment display, as well as the brand’s new LED ambient lighting arc, which changes colors based on your driving mode or personal preference.
“The intention while creating the new interior design was to fulfill the requirements of our customers of a premium car brand: new fascinating functionalities, a significant interior concerning materials, workmanship and individualization in a Mini way,” says Oliver Sieghart, Head of Interiors. And truthfully, the abundance of soft-touch materials, optional real-wood trim pieces and generally quieter ride do make the new Mini seem more akin to luxury brands than mainstream ones. But, that’s with the caveat that the Cooper remains delightfully gimmicky with all of its switches, toggles and funky interior shapes, of course.
Under the hood, Mini offers two new engines, both of which have been developed for global use with BMW’s very first generation of front-wheel-drive vehicles. The base Mini is powered by a 1.5-liter, twin-scroll turbocharged three-cylinder, with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with wheel-mounted paddle shifters. We found this particular model to have more than enough zip to bounce around town with its 134 horsepower, but it felt a little strained climbing the hills in Puerto Rico. Translation: it’s probably a great choice for just about anyone who doesn’t live in the Rockies or in San Francisco. People in those areas should look to the Cooper S, which produces 189-horsepower with its 2.0-liter turbo-four and has more than enough torque to sprint uphill, weave through traffic and potentially earn yourself a ticket. If the base car is the logical choice, that makes the S model the emotional one. Both cars have improved fuel economy with expected ratings of 30-mpg city/42-mpg highway, and 28/40-mpg, respectively.
Regardless of which Mini appeals the most, the car’s driving dynamics won't disappoint. It has grown slightly in size but the proportions go unchanged, and the go-kart-like handling qualities remain ever-present. The steering is about as direct as any vehicle you can find on the road today, and models equipped with the dynamic suspension can shift from sharp and sporty to casual and soft with the twist of a dial. Put simply, this is the most mature car Mini has ever built, and it’s accomplished without compromising the reason so many people flock to the brand in the first place. Whether you’d rather valet it in sophisticated Thunder Grey with a creamy leather interior, panoramic sunroof and the available heads-up display and navigation pack, or you’d prefer to autocross the stripped-down, Blazing Red car with cloth seats, a manual transmission and racing stripes, there’s a Mini that can be built to your taste.
The 2014 Cooper Hardtop starts at just under $20,000 making it the most upscale, best-equipped option in a segment filled with cars like the Scion tC, Ford Fiesta and FIAT 500. However, a Cooper S with the 18-inch wheels, park-assist system, LED lighting, heads-up display and every other option on the list can graze nearly $40,000. That’s a lot of cash for a Mini, but there’s something to be said for the ability to personalize a car at the level this brand offers. Considering how mature and refined it is, the new Mini Cooper doesn’t feel out of place sitting next to a Mercedes-Benz CLA or Audi A3.
Images courtesy of Mini Cooper