Larger: that’s what slaps you in the face with the third-generation Mini Cooper. What was once the small urban brawler has grown into a larger version of itself, and it feels much more like a regular car.
That might not be such a bad thing. Regular cars usually have an array of agreeable traits, and this Mini does too.
Minis are everywhere in San Francisco. Feels like there’s at least one on each block.
Much of the Mini’s popularity hinges on its extremely short and parkable overall length. The Mini that debuted in 2003 was a revelation; previously, tiny cars were tinny econoboxes with barely an ounce of style.
When the upscale Mini hit the scene with its 142.8-inch length, it undercut typical two-door hatchbacks by a good 20 inches and instantly defined a new kind of luxury car, one that combined premium appointments with a fundamental parking advantage over just about every car around it.
The second generation that debuted in the US in 2007 grew 2.8 inches, partly because incremental growth was needed for tightening safety standards. That also marked the expansion of the Mini line to long wagons and SUV-like tallboys.
For 2014, the Mini Cooper crested the 150-inch mark at 151.1, which is an 8.3-inch increase over the initial 2003 Mini, and it’s 1.5 inches wider, too. This is where the new Mini feels like a different car; it’s now a little bigger than the smallest cars around it – actually a lot bigger than the 139.6-inch Fiat 500, to which Mini seems to have ceded the chic-and-tiny crown.
Morphing the Mini into something bigger has shifted its styling; it has more of a snout now.
In back, the new one is bolder and wider.
Mini is going bigger because that’s where the buyers are. Make it too small and it will generate a core urban following; go larger, and you’ll lose some of the core but might pick off some of those Civic and Mazda3 buyers.
In fact the Hardtop is now big enough to have a four-door variant, which debuted in November 2014 at the LA Auto Show.
The Mini Cooper has always been priced a cut above other smaller cars, and the tested 2014 Cooper Hardtop started at $19,950, not including the mandatory $795 delivery charge. The 2015 increases those figures to $20,700 and $850, making it just $450 off the price of a mid-sized 2015 Hyundai Sonata SE. The myriad of personalization options rocketed the as-tested price up to $33,095, a full $13K over the base price.
Engine performance, in this case with the test car’s standard 1.5-liter “TwinPower Turbo” three-cylinder, was not bad at all.
It’s one of the better three-cylinder engines out there – not as smooth as the Fiesta SFE’s but still a far sight less thrummy than the paint-can shaker in the Mitsubishi Mirage. When paired with the $1,250 six-speed automatic transmission, this engine felt pert and peppy, and it was hard to catch the Mini off its mark.
That is, unless the flawed stop/start function was making itself known. Stop/start there to save gas and reduce emissions, but the best thing about this system is that you can shut it off.
You’ll want to shut it off in a rainstorm, for instance. This is the first stop/start car I’ve driven in a torrential downpour – maybe you’ve heard about California’s terrible drought, and the Mini was the car I was evaluating when the skies finally opened up – and a left turn across a busy four-lane road had me reaching for the switch.
In that situation, I proceeded into the intersection with other cross traffic approaching, and the engine shut off. That cued the wipers to dial back to low speed, which let the rain muddy the front view. Then when it was time to proceed, the wipers momentarily froze in place as the engine sparked to life. Ridiculous. A new car should never make you feel insecure, but this stop/start sure did then.
Stop/start also did a weird thing in my garage, which has a long passageway to reach the parking spots from the street. Backing out means aiming the car and squirting the throttle, and then backing off as the car rolls up the slanted path to the street. This confused the hell out of the Mini’s stop/start, which stalled the engine in a dragged-out stumble and then, like a pinball machine that goes TILT, the Mini would not go without a full shutdown and restart. It’s probably just an odd situation off the margins of the stop/start’s operating code, but it was disconcerting nonetheless.
Handling has that nimble Mini edge, and the new one’s extra size pays dividends in lending a broad-shouldered confidence the previous generations didn’t have. The Mini has a pleasingly direct steering response and a compliant yet buckled-down suspension. It does feel bulkier, but the Mini still has its mojo.
Inside, the test car’s “Leather Lounge Satellite Grey” color scheme ($1,750) was impressive to my riders.
The rear seat is habitable if the front-seat passengers compassionately choose their own positions, but 30.8 inches of legroom goes only so far.
Controls are complex, but you’ll recognize the function of it if you’re coming from a BMW, Mini’s parent company.
Mini is right when it says that no two Coopers are alike, and the ability to make them unique is a continuing pull for Mini buyers. Although it has made some concessions in its move toward the middle of the road, the Mini Cooper Hardtop still has style and sportiness to spare.
So maybe the best part is that it retains a version of its distinct flavor; as new cars become more homogeneous, the Mini still stands out.
2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop
Base Price: $19,950
Price as Tested: $33,095
Leather Lounge Satellite Grey Interior: $1,750
Premium Package: $1,750
Automatic Climate Control
harman/kardon Premium Sound
Mini Wired Pack: $1,750
Sport Package: $1,500
White Turn-Signal Lights
Automatic Transmission: $1,250
Park Assistant Package: $1,000
Park Distance Control
Deep Blue Metallic Paint: $500
17″ Tentacle Spoke Silver Wheels: $500
Satellite Radio With One Year Subscription: $300
Storage Package: $250
Headliner In Anthracite: $250
Chrome Line Interior: $250
LED Fog Lights: $250
Mirror Caps In Chrome: $100
Destination Charge: $795
Comfortable seats and ride
Trademark Mini zippiness
Many options for personalization
Options add up fast
Added length and width are noticeable