2014 Mini Cooper - Four Seasons Wrap-Up
Miles to Date: 18,504
When the reboot of the classic Mini Cooper first arrived on our shores in 2002, the sharp-handling, cute-looking German-owned Brit wowed us and won over a legion of loyal fans. Despite relatively high pricing, a wicked harsh ride, and mixed reliability, it proved that people—even Americans—will happily pay more for a fun-to-drive small car with a big personality.
But times have changed, and the third generation of the modern Mini now faces more competition than ever from a plethora of premium small cars. In a bid to be taken more seriously, the new Minis are bigger and better-equipped, roll on revamped underpinnings, and are powered by a new engine family. We wondered if the latest Mini had become a real car we'd want to live with every day and if it was still as enjoyable to drive as its marketing team made it out to be. Only one way to find out—a Four Seasons test.
Mini's maturation is most evident in the base model, so we went that route. Its new turbocharged, 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine boasts 40 mpg on the highway while also producing an impressive 162 lb-ft of torque. At just $20,745 to start, the base car is also relatively affordable. Of course, that's before options. We decked out our Blazing Red Metallic 2014 Mini Cooper with a load of creature comforts many of today's drivers expect, including navigation, heated seats, and a panoramic sunroof. The option action blew up the price of our budget-minded subcompact to $29,795—suddenly, we were near luxury car territory.
The first thing we noticed about our new Mini is—wait for it—it isn't all that mini anymore. Although its 2,763-pound curb weight isn't far off from the last-gen model, the new car is nearly 6 inches longer and 2 inches wider than our last Four Seasons 2007 Mini Cooper S. Classic Mini styling cues such as the big, round headlights, oversized chrome front grille, and boxy rear end look a bit bloated on the enlarged body. Senior editor David Zenlea likened it to "the former high school jock who's gotten a little thick in the midsection."
No one commented on the maxi Mini when we went to Mini's equivalent of a high school reunion, the semiannual Mini Takes the States tour. We blended right in with hundreds of fanatical owners. Few of them commented on the new Cooper's styling, which is probably the point. This Mini still looks like a Mini.
So while its retro song largely remains the same on the outside, the new Mini's interior received a thorough and much-needed redesign. Not only is the new cabin roomier, but it also features heavily revised, more logical controls—a welcome improvement from the strangely placed toggles and gauges that plagued past Minis. The speedometer relocates from the center of the dash, where it frequently blinded drivers with reflected glare, to a traditional position in front of the steering wheel. The window switches take their rightful place on the door panels, and an intuitive iDrive-style controller replaces the small joystick that operated the last Mini's infotainment system. Cheeky details such as pinball machine-inspired accent lights and greeting chimes remain, but they're easier to appreciate (or at least tolerate) given the overall ergonomic improvement. We also appreciated the uprated dashboard plastics and leatherette upholstery befitting a car in the $30,000 range.
Sadly, the Mini's build quality, or lack thereof, detracted from this premium impression. While hardly anything went wrong with the car over its 18,504 miles with us, save for a faulty brake pad wear sensor, plenty of nasty rattles and vibrations reared their heads early in our test. "If the Mini is already rattling with less than 4,000 miles on the clock, my commute is going to sound like an African rain stick by winter," worried daily news editor Eric Weiner. His prediction came true, with Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa noting at 12,960 miles: "The car rattles like something that's just come out of warranty."
We almost can't blame the interior for rattling, given it was consistently pummeled by the Mini's unforgiving suspension. We'd hoped the longer wheelbase would address the Mini's historically horrible ride quality. And actually, it does feel better on the highway, where the Mini speeds along with the stolid confidence we'd expect of an entry-level BMW. "The new, larger Mini is a better-riding car than previous iterations," opined New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman after cruising up I-95 to Boston. But once we started driving the Mini every day around town, those tentative compliments were drowned out by a chorus of complaints. The 2014 Mini Cooper, with its harsh-riding run-flat tires and 17-inch wheels, crashed over every bump harder than a Wall Street market correction. Perhaps we should have ordered up the standard 15-inch wheels without the run-flats, but they'd have looked puny.
We probably would have kvetched and moaned less about the stiff ride if the trade-off was another traditional Mini trait—great handling. But when we pushed the Cooper on back roads and at a local autocross event, we found it decidedly less chuckable than previous Minis. Artificially heavy steering, lazy throttle response, and compromised sightlines all detracted from the experience we've come to expect from Mini Coopers. "The overall impression is very un-go-kartlike," said Zenlea.
Even in the city, where a small hatchback like this should excel, the Mini didn't exactly make things easy. Daily news editor Jake Holmes took the car on a trip to Chicago and quickly tired of the car's high-effort six-speed manual gearbox in stop-and-go traffic. "Combine the lazy throttle tip-in with an over-damped clutch and tall gearing, and you have a recipe for either over-revving or lugging the engine each time you pull away from a stop," he said.
Other staffers complained about the six-speed's gearing, which makes the three-cylinder mill feel less impressive than its specifications suggest, although others enjoyed working to keep the surprisingly sonorous engine on the boil. "Those who complain about the gearing should learn how to work a manual gearbox," quipped one editor. Touché.
One thing the tall gearing did help with was overall fuel economy. We regularly hit 40 mpg on the highway and averaged 33 mpg overall, right on par with EPA combined rating (a number that was officially revised down from 34 mpg).
While mileage is important for some drivers, many cars achieve 40 mpg these days. How they go about their business is just as important for enthusiasts. The truth is several other compacts and subcompacts in the space offer the sort of sporty feel and luxury appointments that once made Mini unique, and they do so with fewer compromises. "Besides styling, why would someone buy this car instead of a better-driving Mazda3 or Volkswagen Golf?" asked Holmes near the end of our test. It's a fair point.
Given the stiffening competition, it was probably the right idea to make the Mini more practical, but the execution—at least in this specification—proved lacking. The car still rides like a rock, and it didn't hold together as well as we hoped. Worse, the Mini has lost some of the vitality that once made it possible to overlook such shortcomings. Owning a Mini Cooper still makes a style statement and grants you entrance into a vibrant Mini community, but to us, it's lost too much of its primary redeeming quality: driving fun.
Pros & Cons
+ Bubbly, distinctive styling inside and out
+ Punchy, efficient three-cylinder
+ Vibrant owner community
- Harsh ride quality it breaks
- Annoying squeaks and rattles
- Less fun to drive than past Minis
2014 Mini Cooper Running Costs
12-yr rust perforation
4-yr roadside assistance
10,967 mi: Oil change, oil filter
16,996 mi: Replace brake pad wear sensor that incorrectly reported worn front pads
10,967 mi: Replace non-self-locking spare tire nut with secure nut
16,612 mi: Replace incorrect label for maximum capacity weight with updated one
10,967 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Bridgestone Blizzak LM60 run-flat winter tires, $952.64
11,474 mi: WeatherTech DigitalFit FloorLiner mats, front and rear, $169.90
16,612 mi: Reinstall Pirelli Centurato P7 all-season tires, $180
Observed: 33 mpg
Cost Per Mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires)
*Estimate based on information from Intellichoice
- Our Test Results
- 0â60 mph 7.4 sec
- 60-0 mph 127 ft
- 1/4âmile 16.0 sec @ 87 mph
- Skidpad 1.07 g
- Body style 2-door hatchback
- Accommodation 4-passenger
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest. ) $20,755
- As tested $29,795
- Engine 12-valve SOHC I-3 turbo
- Displacement 1.5 liters (91 cu in)
- Power 134 hp @ 4500â6000 rpm
- Torque 162 lb-ft @ 1250 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed manual
- Drive Front-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 30/42/34 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
- Steering Electrically assisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.4 turns
- Turning circle N/A
- Suspension, Front Strut-type, coil springs
- Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs
- Brakes F/R Vented discs/discs
- Wheels 17-inch aluminum
- Tires Pirelli Centurato P7
- Tire size 205/45R-17 88V
- Headroom F/R 40.3/36.9 in
- Legroom F/R 41.4/30.8 in
- Shoulder room F/R 50.6/47.8 in
- Wheelbase 98.2 in
- Track F/R 59.1/59.1 in
- L x W x H 59.1/59.1 in
- Passenger capacity N/A
- Cargo capacity (seats up/down) 8.7/38.0 cu ft
- Weight 2605 lb
- Weight dist. F/R 62%/38%
- Fuel capacity 11.6 gal
- Est. fuel range 442 miles
- Fuel grade 91 octane (premium unleaded)
- 15-inch aluminum wheels
- Multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel
- 4-speaker audio system
- Power windows
- Interactive LED ring
- SiriusXM satellite radio w/3-month trial subscription
- Cruise control
- Tilt-and-telescopic steering column
- Auxiliary audio jack
- USB port
- Mini driving modes
- Leatherette upholstery
- Premium package- $1775
Automatic climate control
Harmon/Kardon premium audio
Mini wired pack- $1750
Navigation w/real time traffic
8-in center screen
17â Cosmos Spoke silver wheels- $1250
Park assistant package- $1000
Park distance control
Cold weather package- $600
Heated front seats
Power folding mirrors
Rear view camera- $500
Satellite radio- $300
Fog lights- $250
Blazing red metallic paint- $250
Chrome line exterior- $250
Sport seats- $250
Storage package- $250
Headliner in anthracite- $250
Interior surface Firework- $200
Bonnet stripes in white- $100
Color line glowing red- $100