Note: this review focuses on the new 2014 Mini Cooper. For our drive impressions of the new 2014 Mini Cooper S, please Click Here to read our first drive review.
You wouldn’t suspect it by the forced merriment in which Mini wraps itself -- more so than ever with the latest version -- but the third iteration of Mini-by-BMW has grown up. The more grown-up Mini no longer cuts the same dashing figure it once did, but it’s significantly more pleasant to spend time with.
Extra inchesThis latest generation sees its overall length grow by 4.5 inches, while width increases by 1.7 inches and wheelbase by 1.1 inches. Nearly half of the extra length is added ahead of the front wheels, as the car’s once ultra-trim front overhang has ballooned to that of a more typical front-wheel-drive small car. Similarly, the windshield, originally very upright and close to the driver, is now more raked, and the dash has grown longer. The new Mini still looks like a Mini, but it is creeping inexorably toward the small-car norm.
The battle of the bulgeMini engineers have had more success fighting weight gain, the true scourge of adulthood. Despite the new car’s significantly larger size and increased level of equipment, the third-generation Mini carries at most only 70 more pounds than its predecessor. Base curb weight now ranges from 2605 to 2795 pounds (up from 2535 to 2712 previously). The better news for both the Mini Cooper and Cooper S is that new, BMW-sourced engines provide enough additional grunt to easily obliterate any additional pounds.
More power, better mileageThe Cooper S now uses a BMW 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder making 189 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 8 hp and 30 lb-ft. That shaves 0.2 to 0.3 second off the car’s 0-to-60-mph sprint, which is now down to 6.5/6.4 seconds (manual/automatic). At the same time, city/highway fuel economy jumps to 23/37 mpg for the manual and 28/40 mpg for the automatic (preliminary estimates).
When three beats fourThe bigger news, though, concerns the base Cooper. In place of the previous naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, the standard Cooper switches to a turbocharged three-cylinder. Essentially the Cooper S engine with one cylinder lopped off, the three-banger displaces 1.5 liters and features the same direct injection twin-scroll turbocharger and BMW’s Valvetronic variable valve timing and doubleVANOS camshaft phasing. With one fewer cylinder to feed, it’s not surprising that the new Cooper easily tops its predecessor’s fuel-economy ratings—by a lot. The outgoing model was rated at 27/35 mpg city/highway (1 less in both cycles for the automatic); the new car is expected to post ratings of 30/41 mpg (with the automatic reaching 42 mpg on the highway).
Rough riderOne area where we might have wished for a little more refinement is in ride quality. A harsh ride has always been the Mini’s dirty little secret, the price you paid for its super-responsive handling (as well as a side effect of its run-flat tires). With an all-new suspension—albeit in the same damper-strut/multilink configuration—there was an opportunity to make some improvement here. That’s particularly true now that the Mini offers the option of variable dampers ($500) with three levels of firmness. The switchable dampers are controlled by the standard three-mode driving system: Sport mode (“Maximum go-cart feel”), default Mid mode (“Typical Mini driving fun”), and Green mode (“Low-consumption driving fun”). Besides affecting throttle mapping, automatic transmission shift points, and steering effort, the three modes also can increase the damper firmness by ten percent or relax it by an equal amount. Alternately, sport mode can be configured to call up only the more aggressive chassis calibrations or drivetrain calibrations. Even with the dampers in standard mode, though, impacts are sharp, and the firmer sport setting adds a high-strung busyness on relatively smooth pavement.
Shades of the 3-seriesThe chorus of creaking interior plastic one often found in past Minis was conspicuous by its absence in the two cars we drove. It no longer feels as if the interior’s bold, circular styling is trying to keep you from noticing the cheap plastic bits. The cabin materials are much more BMW-like; the brand’s rubberized, soft-touch black plastic—familiar to anyone who has spent time in a 3-series—has replaced the hard surfaces on the dash, the door panels, and the center armrest. At the same time, Mini has made several welcome moves toward normalcy in the interior layout. The window, door lock, and power mirror switches can now all be found on the door panel; you select the temperature and fan speed with three round knobs; and the speedometer joins the tach in front of the driver.
Still silly if you want to beWhile the brand has given up some of its goofy ergonomics, that doesn’t mean Mini’s quirky idea of fun has disappeared. If anything, it has been expanded. A new LED light ring around the central instrument glows in different colors in reaction to various inputs. Mini’s mission control returns (in which the car bursts in with cheery thoughts like, “Remember, always be Mini!”). There’s also dynamic music and other oddities. Mercifully, they all can be called up or shut down via the new iDrive-style controller. The greatly enhanced suite of connected capabilities—integration of Twitter, Facebook, and other apps along with the more traditional music services—is either ridiculous or essential, depending on one’s demographic. Other available new technologies include adaptive cruise control with braking assist, a backup camera, automatic parking assist, adaptive LED headlights, and a head-up display.
2014 Mini Cooper
|On sale:||March 2014|
|Engine:||1.5-liter I-3 turbo|
|Power:||134 hp @ 4500-6000 rpm|
|Torque:||162 lb-ft @ 1250 rpm|
|Transmission:||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|Curb weight:||2605/2675 lbs (manual/automatic)|
|Cargo volume:||8.7 cu ft|
|EPA fuel economy:||30/41 mpg city/highway, 30/42 mpg city/highway (manual, automatic)|