The eye-catching MINI Cooper hardtop continues as one of the most recognizable subcompacts traveling the highways or resting confidently in the mall parking lot. A trend-setter in every sense, not a follower.
Luxury German automaker BMW took ownership of MINI in the late 1990s and in 2002 reintroduced the brand to the U.S. The British Motor Co. debuted the original MINI in England back in the late 1950s.
Since its return to U.S. shores, several variants have joined the lineup. In addition to the two-door hardtop, other selections include a four-door hardtop, a two-seat open-top roadster, four-seat convertible, four-door Countryman, two-door Paceman and John Cooper Works. MINI owners remain a passionate and protective bunch with fan clubs nation and worldwide.
The 2014 model year introduced a complete next-generation redesign to the venerable two-door hardtop, the most significant upgrade since the 2002 return; it's longer than Gen Two and includes the most fun one could ever expect from three cylinders (engine technology on loan from the BMW stable). The redesigned two-door began arriving to dealer lots in March of 2014. A revamp of the four-door hardtop made its way to dealers late in the 2014 calendar year.
Size has its privileges and the diminutive two-door Cooper hardtop is a snap to park even in the most challenging of spaces. Handling remains outstanding for those enjoying spirited, driver-influenced inputs thanks to a lightweight design. Drivers enjoy a oneness with the pavement as MINI cooper provides on-road feedback usually reserved for pricier sports cars. Don't expect a plush, soft ride with glass-smooth suspension.
This new-generation MINI Cooper hardtop measures four-and-a-half inches longer and 1.7-inches wider than the previous generation. Now 151.1 inches long, the two-door MINI hatchback still clocks in more than twenty-five inches shorter than a compact 2014 Honda Civic coupe.
Our two-door tester retained familiar traits with past generations including standard front-wheel drive, loooong, low flat roof, oval headlights and minimal overhangs in front and behind tires.
Two new turbocharged engines are available in 2014. Our base tester included the spunky three cylinder, 1.5-liter twin-power turbo with direct injection generating 134 horses. Horses are up 16 from an out-going four-cylinder. Up-level Cooper S editions sport a 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder cranking out 189 horses. Both engines offer the choice of six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic.
Better-than-average fuel economy remains top of mind when shopping subcompacts. To that end both engines include a stop-start feature (with the automatic transmission option) shutting down the gas-engine at prolonged stops before automatically restarting when summoning the accelerator pedal. Once only the domain of gas-electric hybrid vehicles, stop/start now saves fuel with a growing number of conventional gas-only cars. Two drive models include 'sport' and 'eco.'
Despite its small size, pricing remains at premium levels when adding the many desirable extras and customizable opportunities; after all, BMW is watching in the wings, resulting in a subcompact with up-scale gadgetry and options. Dual pane sky windows and in-dash navigation are just some available extras.
The 2014 MINI Cooper hatchback starts around $21,500, near the 2013 mark despite oodles of upgrades. After factoring options, our tester ended well above $25,000. The three-door MINI hatchback's S version sporting the 2.0-liter, four cylinder starts around $24,500.
Atop the manually tilt-and-telescoping steering column is the instrument cluster, which moves in tandem when adjusting the three-spoke steering wheel. The cluster includes a chrome-trimmed center speedometer with large numbers at frame edge and a digital message window along the base; a right-side extension doubles as a maximum-sized bar-type fuel gauge; to the left, a half-moon tachometer; all backlit with red hues. At 9 o'clock on the three-spoke steering wheel, a circular cruise control template awaits while 3 o'clock is the home for secondary audio functions. Easy-to-grab dials monitor fan speed and dual temperatures while fan direction is push-plank operated. Below is a tab operating push-button start/stop.
One can't miss the huge, round central dashboard information circle trimmed with changing mood lighting. Select the 'eco' drive mode and the outside ring sports a green tint. Navigation and audio controls are operable though a BMW-like iDrive circular knob and push-buttons between the front buckets; which is more intuitive and less confounding than when first introduced. Thankfully, a twist dial monitoring sound volume and old-school station select push buttons are found along the bottom curve of the multi-function, multi-colored circle.
Each side door includes a chrome, half-moon mechanical pull handle, also part of a circular design; and the large, round audio door speakers are hard to miss visually or audibly. A third speaker sits atop the center dash. At night, thin pen-light accents adorn door trim. During the redesign, power lock controls relocated from the center region to the door handle area. Ends of the dash include circular air vents with center extensions for easy closure; square shaped vents flank the large center information circle. A narrow armrest folds up when not desired, containing a shallow storage area housing a cell phone or small portable electronics. Plug-in ports are located at the intersection of the bottom center column in front of side-by-side beverage holders.
Kudos for the four-seat designation; many subcompacts continue insisting three adults can sandwich in back. That said, those willing to brave row two in the MINI hardtop best be pre-teens or those not prioritizing leg comfort although shoulder room increases in 2014. Both driver's and passenger's side seat backs tilt and slide forward for access to the cozy second row. The cargo region behind row two measures 8.7 cubic feet, but with 60/40 second rows folded expands nicely to 38 cubic feet.
Give MINI credit for marching to its own retro-like tune. Even the safety chimes reminding riders to buckle up emit background melodies similar to an old-school Mario Brother's video game marathon.
Oval-shaped side view mirrors tilt toward the diminutive size, and the passenger's one tilts down when shifting into reverse. Sharing the same circular theme are bug-eyed headlights with daytime running lamp rings outlining the eyes. The rear hatchback opens bottom up with surprising good head clearance when loading the cargo region behind row two. Smartly, narrow half-moon wheel wells include a hard, grey composite material helping to minimize side fender chipping.
Fuel mileage approaches highly desired 40 miles per gallon plateau when tackling the highway. In fact, MINI's infatuation with 40 caused a bit of consternation. Original estimates for the three cylinder engine generated by the automaker projected highway mileage right at 40, but after closer scrutiny by the environmental protection agency (EPA), numbers for three cylinder, automatic transmission versions were reevaluated to 32 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. When teamed with a manual transmission however, the EPA gives a thumbs up to 40 miles per gallon highway.
The fuel tank holds a rather conservative 11.6 gallons of petro. Having Germany's BMW as a watchful parental figure comes with built-in advantages, including a comprehensive warranty program.
2014 MINI Cooper two-door hardtop
Starting price: Around $21,500
Engine: 1.5 liter three cylinder
Wheelbase: 98.2 inches
Overall length: 151.1 inches
Overall Height: 55.7 inches
Overall Width: 68 inches
Fuel Economy: 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
Curb weight 2,605 pounds