Whoops. This doesn’t feel like a Mini. It feels more like a BMW. Well, probably it should. But that’s not the way it was. It was different, more British, which is what it was, too.
|STATS||Starting Retail Price||As Tested Price||HP / Lb-Ft|
|2014 MINI Cooper Hardtop||$20,745||$25,745||134 / NA|
|EPA MPG||As Tested MPG||Curb Weight LBS|
|30 / 41 / 34||N/A||2,605|
Ever since Germany’s BMW bought the brand and resurrected the modern MINI Cooper in 2001, it has retained a distinct British core, quirky and endearing, which contributed mightily to its resounding sales success in the U.S. But the 2014 MINI Cooper has morphed almost entirely into a car that, despite its looks, now feels and performs as if it were a member of the BMW lineup. It’s no surprise once you look closely.
The new MINI is bigger than its predecessor. It is built on a new front-wheel drive platform that will underpin future BMW models and, in its most interesting and surprising feature, is powered by a new three-cylinder engine that is part of a new family of BMW engines. Though it still looks the part of the boxy original MINI and Austin/Morris 850 models from the 1960s, and is still built in Great Britain, the new 2014 MINI Cooper has the Germanic personality and engineering of its parent company.
There’s a luxury car heft to the steering that is apparent as soon as you set off. The handling is less darting and twitchy than the previous generation model, although it retains its quickness. But there’s more certainty to the experience, notwithstanding the protests of the MINI’s creators who still like to describe it as a big go-kart.
MINI calls its main model the Hardtop, patterned after the original. It essentially is a two-door with a hatchback and in the 2014 model delivers a back seat that can actually accommodate two adults if the driver and front passenger are willing to slide forward a bit. There’s also a couple of cubic feet more of cargo space behind the back seat, which can be cleverly enhanced by locking the seatbacks in a vertical position or flipping them down for maximum load carrying. There’s an adjustable shelf in the floor that can be aligned with the folded seatbacks or dropped lower to carry taller items.
Although the 2014 MINI Cooper retains its old English rows of toggle switches overhead and on the center stack, several have been relocated. Owners will find the power window and door locking switches properly on the doors. Moreover, the giant center speedometer has been banished to a more sensible location on the steering column, where it can be viewed, along with the tachometer and fuel gauge, through the steering wheel. If you wish, you can order a heads-up display that has its own screen and perches on top of the instrument panel.
The big circle in the middle remains, now housing a screen for the backup camera and navigation system. Hard buttons below can be programmed to handle various functions. We do have to retain some of the old stiff upper lip and UK ways, so the start button is not a pushbutton as on other cars but yet another toggle switch.
The traditional Hardtop is MINI’s main model, accounting for about half of its sales. There also are other spinoffs, including the three-door Clubman, small crossover Countryman, a two-seat coupe and sport roadster for a total of nine versions. All except the new Hardtop continue as before and likely will eventually receive many of the Hardtop’s enhancements.
Happily for MINI fans, the 2014 model retains its styling. Likely only aficionados will immediately identify the new touches. Most other folks will simply see another MINI. As before, the MINI Cooper can be endlessly customized with different paint jobs, wheels, interior upholstery and embellishments, and exterior bits and pieces, to the point where theoretically the combinations could reach into the millions.
The big news for 2014 is the turbocharged three-cylinder engine, which until now has been thought of as power for flimsy economy cars. But this is a fully developed and powerful engine that performs so smoothly anybody would be hard put to identify it as a three. It delivers 134 horsepower from just 1.5 liters of displacement and uses internal balance shafts to minimize vibrations. With the easy-shifting standard six-speed manual gearbox, it has strong acceleration and cruises smoothly and quietly at freeway speeds.
A quick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission is available and, if you want more power and amenities, you can order the S model, with a 162-horsepower four-cylinder engine in either a manual or automatic.
Watch the debut of the 2014 MINI Cooper hardtop:
And here is the fun and informative TFLcar first drive video of the new original MINI Cooper:
Without skipping a week, Frank A. Aukofer has written a motor vehicle review column since 1975. It is distributed to newspapers and web sites around the country. He spent the bulk of his career as a mainstream newspaper reporter and Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal. The column started as a sideline at the Journal and over the years spread to other newspapers and web sites. He is a member of the judging panel for the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year. Aukofer is the author of two books: “City with a Chance” (1968), a history of civil rights in Milwaukee, and “Never a Slow Day” (2009), an autobiography/memoir. With the late Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, a decorated former Vietnam POW, Aukofer co-authored a Freedom Forum study of the military-media relationship called “America’s Team: the Odd Couple” (1995).