2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop: First Drive Review
The MINI Cooper challenged how Americans thought of small cars when the reinterpreted classic was introduced to North America in 2002. Fast forward a dozen years, and the BMW-owned nameplate is entering its third generation with an updated take on the iconic British brand.
Starting at $19,950, the 2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop introduces two new powerplants, which will eventually trickle into other BMW models, and a slew of improvements intended to signal the maturation and sophistication of this admittedly cutesy brand.
How is the latest MINI engineered to feel different? Is the third generation of the British classic still relevant after all these years? We drove MINI's latest on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico to find out.
Bigger Inside and Out, but Still a MINI
Though it retains its diminutive moniker, the 2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop has expanded in size to the tune of 4.5 inches in overall length, 1.7 in width and .3 in height.
The MINI's insides have grown to offer increased shoulder room and easier ingress/egress for rear passengers. Similarly, luggage volume has expanded by 3 cu ft to 8.7 cu ft in total.
While there's plenty that's new to the MINI for 2014, the aesthetic changes are generally proportionate so the MINI doesn't lose its signature looks, which is a good thing for those who love the brand's friendly retro appeal.
Under the Hood
MINI's engines are usually derived from pre-existing BMW models, but in the case of the 2014 models, the brand's two powerplants are debuting in the diminutive Cooper and Cooper S models before trickling down to BMWs.
The entry-level model (starting at $19,950) is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine that produces 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The tiny engine features several advanced features, including direct injection, variable camshaft control and variable valve timing, all of which help its peak torque figure start at a mere 1,250 rpm. The standard Cooper can be ordered with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic gearbox. The 3-cylinder is estimated at 30 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway (or 42 mpg hwy with the automatic).
Opt for the Cooper S (starting at $23,600) and you'll get a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that pumps 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, with all of the same tech features found in the 3-cylinder powerplant and fuel economy figures at 23 mpg city/40 mpg hwy.
On the Road in the New MINI
The new MINI offers a more spacious interior with improvements made based on customer feedback. For instance, the massive, centrally positioned speedometer has been repositioned to a more conventional spot behind the steering wheel, while window control switches have been added to the door, more closely following standard automotive design.
The manual-gearbox-equipped 3-cylinder that we sampled felt spritely when driven hard but a bit less eager during more routine driving situations. Though it's capable of sprinting to 60 miles per hour a full 2.3 seconds quicker than its predecessor, it takes a bit of coaxing to draw a real sensation of speed from the engine, which has a power band that feels rather narrow.
The 4-cylinder model comes across as zippier and more eager, with a broader power band and a relatively smooth, quick-shifting 6-speed automatic gearbox. Both models are equipped with an improved interior in both finish and ergonomics that includes a novel ring of LED lights around the central display screen. The lights serve a number of different functions, such as acting as a virtual tachometer and revealing parking sensor proximity and upcoming turns for the navigation system.
If you don't mind the fact that the 2014 MINI doesn't look a whole lot different than its predecessors, you'll find plenty of practical improvements in these similarly styled new models. They're quicker, more economical and more spacious than the models they replace, and they also feature innovative new engines that will eventually make their way into future BMWs.
Though the 3-cylinder model's estimated fuel economy numbers seem tempting on paper, we'd suggest considering the S model, as you'll be likelier to score respectable mpg numbers without having to wring out the engine thanks to its responsive power and broad torque curve. But if you're on a budget and don't need options like adaptive suspension (available for the first time on 2014 MINI Cooper S models), you'll find a decent amount of standard equipment on the base model, such as a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and LED-illuminated door handles.
Either way, MINI is a brand that most prospective buyers have a strong opinion about in terms of style. If you choose to take the plunge with a 2014 model, you'll be getting a bigger, gruntier and more economical car that promises easier day-to-day livability and greater performance.