New MINI Hardtop maximizes motoring fun
Yet it delivers exactly that, simple motoring fun.
A new, larger MINI was reintroduced in 2002 by BMW, the former Mini was a British make. Now, a dozen model years later, its third and again larger (about 5 inches nose to tail) iteration, continues to be a cute boxy hardtop that is a blast to drive. This is especially true of the tested Volcanic Orange S version with a new 2.0-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine.
That smooth running BMW-designed powerplant belts out 189 horsepower and features a torque rating of 207. It kicks you in the seat of the pants, especially when the car is set to Sport mode. The S model offers three driving settings, Eco that reduces power and saves fuel (MINI-malizing they call it), Mid (perfectly fine for nearly all driving) and Sport (booster rocket power).
You simply turn a ring on the base of the shift lever housing and once it hits Sport you know it. Power is instantaneous. The MINI zips forward like a race horse set free from a starting gate. Sport also firms up the suspension, which might be needed on the race track, but only further intensifies the rump thumping you already get in the MINI on the street. Despite the 2014 model’s wheelbase growing 1.1 inches, the ride is no smoother and the shock damping feels almost non-existent in the Sport setting.
The Mid setting eases shock stiffness some, as it does the horsepower and torque. But MINI still hustles away from stoplights quickly and power is near instant with the twin-turbo booster set at the Mid, default, level. Go Eco and you’ll feel the car ease away from a stop, but power is substantially reduced. This may work well in jammed city driving where you just crawl from stoplight to stoplight.
Handling is go-kart like responsive all the time, but extraordinarily quick in Sport mode. That’s what makes MINI so much fun, especially around town. You can flick the car into a tight curve or corner and zip out the other side like you’re an F1 racer on a quick practice lap. Steering is immediate and easy.
MINI’s six-speed Getrag manual transmission slips through the gears quickly and smoothly, the gear ratio seeming to be dead on perfect throughout the engine’s power band. There’s a rev-matching feature too that helps the car’s gears synch as you downshift. So you sometimes hear a little engine power blip as you work down the gears. Fun!
Braking also is first rate from four wheel discs with ABS and stability control, plus something called Corner Brake Control to help keep the car tracking perfectly through a turn.
Oh, and MINI has a start/stop function that occasionally shuts the engine off at stoplights, when the clutch is depressed and you’ve stopped. Let the clutch out at all and the engine re-fires. Not sure if our warm weather and the need for air conditioning affected this, but it often did NOT turn off the engine while the car was stopped at traffic lights.
Inside, the car still has its quirky style with circles everywhere from the dash and gauges to the air vents and door handles. Toggle switches are everywhere too, on the lower center stack for 3-level heated seats to the overhead switch panel (like in an aircraft) to turn on lights and power the front sunroof back.
There’s a rear sunroof too, part of the $4,500 Fully Loaded option. That monster package includes what MINI calls its Wired, Premium and Sport package options, including such valuable add-ons as the navigation system, a Harman/Kardon stereo upgrade, rain-sensing wipers, R-rated run-flat tires and satellite radio with real-time traffic updates for the nav system.
I appreciate the sunroofs, something to add another layer of fun to MINI, but wish it had solid sun blocking shades instead of the netted versions. These are better than previous shades, but still let sun through on a bright day, often leading to unwanted dash and trim reflections in the cockpit.
The test car featured fake carbon fiber dash trim and gloss black door trim. The shifter has some of that black gloss trim and leather while the steering wheel is leather covered. Seats are black leather here with suede trim (a $1,500 option) and are manual sport seats with serious back side bolsters and good support for the hips too. I loved these, but my wife, a couple inches shorter at 5-3 or so, felt they put too much pressure on her sides. A knob on the inside seat back side adjusts the lumbar.
MINI’s gauges have been updated and upgraded. The giant round center stack dial is still there, but houses a radio and navigation screen. The speedometer moves to a round dial in front of the driver, where it belongs and is easier to see, a half round tachometer attached to it. The fuel gauge is a series of vertical lights on the speedo’s right side.
That big round center dash gauge shows what mode the vehicle is in too and has fun colors that light up around it as you switch between modes, so green for Eco, yellow for Mid and red/white/blue for Sport. Overhead you can adjust the cockpit’s ambient light color too.
There are some interior concerns though, including very tricky radio station select buttons that baffled me for several days. You could set one station, but all six buttons then had that station. I finally figured out to use the big knob and buttons on the console between the seats to call up the radio station list and then pre-select the channels. Not real intuitive!
Also, the navigation screen is small (MINI-mal) and split with the radio function. There’s an arrow that makes you believe you can open the screen wider, but I could not get that to function and widen the map.
Short drivers also may find the space between seat and manual tilt/telescope steering wheel to be a tight squeeze. With the seat well forward for me to fully depress the clutch I had to wriggle between the seat’s large side bolsters and the wheel, not real comfy when you must do it each time you enter or exit the car. I ultimately started flipping the wheel up as high as possible to exit, but it was still tight.
Cargo room is 8.7 cubic feet, three more than the previous model and the rear seats split and fold down. With them down there’s good storage space and while the car has grown, that rear seat really is still only for small children. The test car added an under floor storage area for $250 and well worth it if you travel and want to hide a laptop, tablet or camera.
The orange test car with black roof and black hood racing stripes looked great and added $500 worth of 18-inch alloy wheels, an inch larger than what is standard. These were run flats, which adds to the harsh ride. There were LED fog and headlights for $250 and a rear spoiler for $250 too. A head-up display was $500 and worked the first two days I had the car. Then it disappeared and I could not reactivate it.
Gas mileage was excellent at 33.8 mpg for the week, about 70% being highway. The EPA rates this at 25 mpg city and 38 mpg highway and this model drinks 91 octane fuel. A base model with 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbo with 134 horsepower is rated at 30 mpg city and 42 highway. It starts at $20,745.
The tested S model lists at $23,600 with a $795 delivery charge. Adding many options this one topped out at $33,795, which seems a bit much for a car that starts $10 grand less. Still, it was a hoot to drive.
A small two-door hardtop not measuring up to your needs? Well, there are some other choices, including a 5-door hardtop coming soon. There’s a convertible, a roadster and a Clubman with extended back that features panel truck like doors, so better for hauling. Off roader? MINI has the Countryman that offers 4-wheel-drive.
FAST Stats: 2014 MINI Cooper S Hardtop
Hits: Distinctive cute looks, big-time power, excellent handling, easy-shifting 6-speed manual, dual sunroofs, sporty bolstered seats, 3 driving modes, fun colored lights around center circle gauge, speedometer now easy to see in front of driver and power window toggles now on doors. Excellent gas mileage.
Misses: Extremely rough ride, tough in/out for short-driver knees, radio station select buttons difficult to work, nav screen MIMI-mal in big gauge.
Made in: Oxford, U.K.
Engine: 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4, 189 hp
Transmission: 6-speed Getrag manual w/rev matching
Weight: 2,760 lbs.
Wheelbase: 98.2 in.
Length: 151.9 in.
Cargo: 8.7 cu.ft.
MPG: 25/38 (EPA)
MPG: 33.8 (tested)
Base Price: $23,600
Dealer’s Price: $22,505
Leather cross punch carbon black interior, $1,500
Cold weather package (heated front seats, power folding mirrors), $600
Fully loaded package (navigation XL, enhanced BT/USB, panoramic moonroof, auto. climate control, Harman/Kardon premium sound system, R-rated 17-inch tires, auto. headlights, rain-sensing wipers, real-time traffic updates), $4,500
18-inch cone spoke silver alloy wheels, $500
LED fog and headlights, $250
Dynamic damper control, $500
Rear spoiler, $250
Storage package (under floor storage), $250
Anthracite headliner, $250
Satellite radio w/1-yr. sub, $300
Head-up display, $500
Test vehicle: $33,795
Sources: MINI, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage