2014 Mini Cooper - Do Big Wheels Ruin the Mini?
Miles to Date: 14,783
Big wheels. Automobile designers and consumers alike often fall for the way a car looks when its wheelwells are full of cast-aluminum and rubber. Unfortunately, life is full of compromises. Larger wheels look fantastic but bring along extra weight that can affect ride quality. They are also more susceptible to damage from road hazards because they wear low-profile tires.
In the case of the Four Seasons 2014 Mini Cooper, we opted for 17-inch wheels with run-flat tires (a $1,250 option). The base car is fitted with far more conservative 15-inch wheels with conventional tires (along with a fix-a-flat tire repair kit). At the risk of sounding like Mr. Obvious, the Mini isn't a large car. As we have observed before, the car's short wheelbase and large, heavy wheels fitted with run-flat tires do not make for a cosseting ride.
Hindsight is 20/20, but instead of mounting 205/45R-17 Bridgestone Blizzak LM60 winter tires on the 17-inch wheels for the last few months, we should have picked up a set of the Mini's base 15-inch wheels and fitted them with 175/65R-15 winter rubber. The crashing and banging of the suspension with the large wheels are really annoying during a long drive. Plus, the 15-inch tires are 1.2 inches narrower than the 17-inch ones, so they would more readily cut through deep snow.
Not that the 2014 MINI Cooper is ever really wanting for winter traction. The front-wheel drive hatchback is excellent in the snow, and huge fun if you're feeling naughty. With ever more manufacturers switching to electric parking brakes and non-defeatable stability control, the Mini's traditional handbrake and easily disabled safety nannies are most welcome. The pedals are nicely arranged for left-foot braking, making it easy to rotate the rear end to help the car through high-speed corners, while tugging the strong handbrake handles low-speed directional changes nicely. My neighbors must think I'm a lunatic, but the two-door Mini offers the most fun I've had in the snow outside of a proper all-wheel-drive toy like a Subaru WRX.
Sadly, the childish smiles and laughs quickly dull when the roads dry and the shortcomings of the 2014 Mini Cooper come back to light. Poor ride quality rears its ugly head once again, not to mention the far too many rattles from the overly contrived interior. The first BMW-era Mini that came along in 2002 had a better balance of design and function in the cockpit. Now we're in the third-generation modern Mini, and there is just too much going on inside.
The 2014 Mini Cooper is littered with buttons and switches scattered randomly throughout the interior, along with colored lights blinking wildly around the large central infotainment screen. Sure, you can go into the settings menu and dim some of this Las Vegas-style entertainment, but the overall theme is just a bit too cheeky for me. For the as-tested price of $29,795, I can't stop thinking about what else I could have for nearly $30K, such as a Mazda3 or a Volkswagen Golf. They're bigger, better to drive, and far more refined.
Not that there isn't a lot to like about the 2014 Mini Cooper. The 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine is impressive, especially for its displacement. Yes, you need to get used to the soggy throttle response off idle -- tall transmission gearing makes it even more annoying -- yet the throbbing turbo three-banger sounds a bit Porsche-like and returns impressive mileage, even when you're beating on the car like a rally star. You learn to drive the Mini like it's a diesel, riding the wave of torquey punch at midrange rpm by short-shifting the six-speed manual gearbox.
Meanwhile, the optional sport seats are very comfortable and supportive, and the heated seats are incredibly quick to warm your backside on a cold winter's morning. The navigation and infotainment system (included in the $1,750 Wired package) offers a plethora of entertainment options above and beyond basic terrestrial radio: satellite radio (an extra $300), a USB plug, a 3.5-mm aux-in plug, and a near-endless number of music options via the free Mini Connected app on your smartphone. With all those choices, I never missed our Mini's lack of a CD player. If you insist on living in the past, a six-disc changer is a $500 option.
All these positives can't stop me from returning to the fact that there are better-driving, more accommodating, and less expensive hatchbacks on the market. Before I make that my final assessment, I'd really love to spend time in a Mini Cooper in a more basic spec than this 2014 Mini Cooper that is our Four Seasons test car. A 2015 MINI Cooper starts at $21,300, and I'd only add heated seats for $500 and satellite radio for $300. At $22,100, you could have a fun, fuel-efficient hatchback. Sure, the little 15-inch wheels might not offer the aesthetics that you or an automotive designer are looking for, but the improvement in ride quality would surely be worth it.
- 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