Of the trio of retro brigade – the MINI Cooper, Fiat 500 and Volkswagen Beetle, the MINI is indisputably the most successful. Since its reintroduction as a modern take on the cult British classic in 2000, the MINI Cooper has carried on with the tradition of bringing fun and agility on four wheels in a somewhat practical package.
No, you won’t be able to fit two kids and a dog in the backseats without the threat of a nuclear war, nor can you carry any more luggage than a Louise Vuitton handbag. But if you must, the smartly dressed salesman at the showroom would be more than happy to direct you to the recently launched MINI 5-door.
Underneath the 3-door MINI’s oh-so-familiar styling is BMW’s new UKL front and all-wheel drive platform that will also underpin the next-generation BMW 1 Series. It is bigger in all directions compared to the outgoing model.
The 2014 model range kicks off with the $26,650 MINI Cooper, and tops out with the sporty $36,950 Cooper S on test here. The sole diesel variant, the Cooper D, is also the mid-range model, coming in at $31,800.
Significantly, all three new models are cheaper than the old cars; with the entry-level Cooper costing a considerable $5,000 less than before, while the Cooper D and Cooper S are $3,000 and $3,750 lower, respectively.
So, the all-new MINI is cheaper, and bigger, but does it still possess the fun to drive and agility so synonymous with the model? We spent a week with one to find out.
The third-generation MINI, like the previous two, rolls out of BMW’s Oxford plant in the United Kingdom. While it may not look wildly different to the previous models, the 2014 MINI hatch has undergone significant changes.
Its hallmark proportions have largely been preserved, but those with a keen eye will notice a longer front overhang housing an enlarged hexagonal grille and more bulbous headlights. The longer front overhang – to our eyes – is less pleasing than the old model, losing that “wheel-at-each-corner” look which is very much part of the allure of the MINI.
Elsewhere though, the MINI’s trademark elliptical wing mirrors and the black periphery around the bottom edge of the body are reinterpreted and instantly recognisable.
Our Cooper S stands out further with a honeycomb grille bearing an “S” logo, a bumper strip in anthracite, an additional opening in the bonnet (non-functional), brake air ducts integrated in the lower air inlets and a separate rear apron with exhaust tailpipes arranged at the centre.
Unlike the car’s exterior, the designers have spent a little bit more time and effort in the interior. The circular and elliptical themed interior are now sensibly laid out, while the large contentious central speedometer has been moved in front of the steering column, flanked by a rev counter and fuel gauge.
There are hardly any conventional buttons in the cabin, with most functions operated by sturdy little chrome toggle switches, including the start/stop button, which lights up red on entry.
Space and Practicality
The new MINI is 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm higher than its predecessor. The wheelbase has been extended by 28mm to 2,495mm, while the track width has been enlarged at the front by 42mm and at the rear by 34mm to a total of 1,501mm in each case (MINI Cooper S: 1 485mm).
All these translate to an interior that is roomier than before, with greater shoulder room and more kneeroom in a wider driver’s footwell. Luggage compartment volume has also increased by 51 litres to 211 litres – still meager compared to other small hatches in the segment.
The front seats now have better under thigh support and the driving position is comfortable. At the back, the rear backrest is not only 60:40 split foldable, its tilt angle can be adjusted, too. Numerous cup holders and storage facilities ensure all occupants are well catered for. There is even an additional storage compartment behind the decorative strip on the passenger side.
Our MINI Cooper S Automatic is powered by a new generation 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine with a peak output of 141 kW which goes on stream between 4,700 and 6,000 rpm. It delivers its maximum 280Nm of torque at 1,250 rpm – which can be briefly increased to 300Nm by means of an overboost function.
The move from a 1.6-litre to a 2.0-litre engine has done this car a power of good. Its theatrical pops and crackles induces an instant smile, while acceleration response is crisper at low revs and much meatier at mid-range. As a result, it stopped our clock at just 6.61 seconds in the zero to 100km/h test – which impressively, is almost 0.1 seconds quicker than MINI’s claim, and almost 0.2 seconds quicker than the Mk7 Golf GTI we tested earlier this year.
While the rapid-fire 6-speed automatic transmission is responsive, it lacks steering wheel-mounted flappy paddles. We would save ourselves $2,350 and go for the 6-speed manual for better control and driver engagement.
On test, with a good mix of urban and freeway traverse, the Cooper S returned a combined average of 8.1L/100km of 95RON fuel – 2.6L/100 off MINI’s rather optimistic claim of 5.5L/100km and despite being equipped with engine stop/start (auto only). There is also a Drive Mode Select ring at the bottom of the gearshift lever that allows the driver to select either Sport or Green Mode. The former sharpens the throttle response and quickens the shift time, while the latter is optimised for economy.
Ride and Handling
Brilliant! That perfectly describes the handling of the MINI Cooper S. While the ride is on the firm side (without being harsh), our sports suspended Cooper S delivers delightfully sharp turn-in with excellent body control.
There is almost zero body roll and the strong grip let you savour every country B-road you could find. The chubby steering wheel is beautifully weighted and delivers glorious feedback, a rarity these days.
Its chassis is superbly balanced and its acrobatic agility allows you to feed power early out of an apex with hardly a hint of understeer.
Matched with a perfectly tractable engine and the fun factor in the Cooper S is satisfyingly high.
Unlike the previous car, all these are delivered in a more civilised and matured setting. The cabin is generally quiet – despite the MINI’s frameless windows – with wind and road noise well suppressed.
Equipment and Safety
While our Cooper S is relatively well equipped out of the box, with dual zone climate control, cloth/leather combination Diamond upholstered sports seats, MINI Navigation system with 6.5” screen and voice control (the best in the business), Bluetooth and LED interior mood lighting all standard; in typical Germanic fashion though, the list of optional equipment is even longer.
The test car is fitted with $6,300 worth of options, including the 6-speed automatic ($2,350), MINI Head up display ($700), sports suspension ($440), reversing camera ($470), white bonnet stripes ($200), anthracite roof lining ($300) and DAB tuner ($300), amongst others.
On the safety front, there are six airbags, Dynamic Stability Control, ABS with Cornering Brake Control and Electronic Brake force Distribution, active pedestrian protection system and cruise control with braking function.
What’s not to like?
The Cooper S’ Bluetooth audio streaming is patchy at best, and the passenger side doorsill trim came loose in our test car.
The 2014 MINI Cooper S has lost none of its fun and chuckable appeal. Its grin inducing allure is now complemented by a lower price, better refinement and larger cabin.
It is the car for those who places driver appeal on the top of their priorities.
|Price (Excl. on-roads)||From $26,650 – $36,950|
|As tested: $43,250 – MINI Cooper S|
|Engine:||1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol|
100kW @ 4,500-6,000rpm, 220Nm @ 1,250rpm, front-wheel drive
|2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol|
141kW @ 4,700-6,000rpm, 280Nm @ 1,250rpm, front-wheel drive (Tested)
|1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbo-diesel|
85kW @ 4,000rpm, 270Nm @ 1,750rpm, front-wheel drive
|Transmission:||6 speed manual/6 speed automatic|
|0-100km/h (seconds):||Cooper||Claimed: 9.9 (M)/10.2 (A)|
|Cooper D||Claimed: 9.2 (M)/9.2 (A)|
|Cooper S||Claimed: 6.8 (M)/6.7 (A)|
Tested: 6.61 (A)
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Cooper||Claimed: 4.7 (M)/4.9 (A)|
|Cooper D||Claimed: 3.7 (M)/3.9 (A)|
|Cooper S||Claimed: 5.9 (M)/5.5 (A)|
Tested: 8.1 (A)
|Dimensions: L/W/H/W-B (mm):||Cooper||3,821/1,727/1,414/2,495|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||Cooper||1,085 (M)/1,115 (A)|
|Cooper D||1,135 (M)/1,150 (A)|
|Cooper S||1,160 (M)/1,175 (A)|