2014 MINI COOPER REVIEW
What’s hot: Brilliant new engines, great handling, and new low prices.
What’s not: Interior plastics are awful, noisy on-road.
X-FACTOR: It has still got it: so cool it transcends price segments and such fun to drive you’ll forgive it any failing…
Vehicle style: Small sports hatch
Price: Cooper $26,650, Cooper S $36,950
Cooper - 100kW/220Nm 1.5 3cyl, Cooper S - 141kW/280Nm 2.0 4cyl
Transmissions: 6spd manual | 6spd auto (with sports-shift)
Fuel consumption l/100km listed: 4.7 (Cooper), 5.9 (Cooper S)
Fuel consumption l/100km listed: 9.3 (Cooper), 8.7 (Cooper S)
It’s bigger, wider, roomier, gutsier, faster and more fuel-efficient. The handling is still brilliant, but more so, and it costs considerably less than the outgoing model.
That’s the new MINI Cooper and Cooper S. What is there not to like with that story?
Well, the interior. It’s overdesigned and plasticky. And the road noise - it can be a bit of a chore in the bigger-wheeled Cooper S.
With new engines, including a potent three-cylinder turbo and a larger (than the outgoing model) 2.0 litre turbo petrol, the new MINIs, both Cooper and Cooper S, are fast and superbly balanced cars.
Each is, through-and-through, a driver’s car and impossible not to enjoy tossing through a set of corners.
Now priced up to $5000 less than the car it replaces, at $26,650 for the MINI Cooper with six-speed manual, the new model is firmly in Corolla and Mazda3 territory.
That’s never happened before, and it’s going to have the new car speaking to a whole new set of buyers.
It goes on sale at the end of the month; we joined MINI Australia in Queensland to put both new petrol models through their paces. The road circuit and wide skid-pan at Mt Cotton showed just how capable these cars are.
Is the new MINI the car for you? Well, that will depend on your priorities and what you look for in a car.
But if you like driving, there’s a nice little adrenalin surge waiting for you in a MINI showroom.
- Three spoke multi-function steering wheel
- Air-con with micro-filter
- Ambient LED interior lighting
- Bluetooth, with USB interface, CD/MP3 audio (with aux-in connection)
- Remote central locking, keyless start (with stop/start function)
- Cruise control and park distance control
- Rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights
- Fine-weave cloth fabric seats
Cooper S adds:
- Dual-zone air-con
- Cloth/leather seat trim, sports seats for driver and passenger
- Satellite navigation (with 6.5-inch screen)
- Bluetooth with audio streaming
- Mini ‘excitement package’ with custom LED mood lighting
- Fog-lights front and rear
While BMW makes such artful interiors, it is a letdown that the new MINI interior is, simply, pretty artless.
It is trying too hard to be funky, and not trying hard enough to be cohesive. I’m not sure it’s an improvement over the old.
The pizza tray in the middle of the dash however, I like.
It’s huge: in its middle is an 8.8-inch screen and there’s a disco light that rings it and changes colour according to what you might be dialling-up on the iDrive-style controller.
And the functions displayed - there are lots of them - are easy to find and use; so no complaints there.
But the rickety plastics all around look cheap and rattle-prone and there is a mish-mash of surfaces and textures everywhere.
The Cooper S we drove had a recurrent rattle that wasn’t ‘ours’ (ie. not a bottle or a misplaced key), and the white trim highlights added little to the overall feel.
The instrument binnacle, which is attached to the steering column and lifts up and down with the wheel, is clear and legible.
But it has a Fisher Price look about it and the plastic joins are really not up to par. (The fuel gauge, a strip of lights attached to one side, looks especially naff.)
But try it on, you might like it, it certainly feels sporty at the wheel and there is no shortage of information or features. (The market though has moved beyond such obvious plastic bits and pieces.)
Otherwise, looking further around, you’ll find the seats are good; in leather or fabric they are nicely supportive and easily adjusted for any size and shape.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is also good; it’s great to hold and with a very direct go-kart feel.
Now with a longer and wider body, there is noticeably more shoulder-room in the new MINI, and a little more legroom for rear seat passengers (though still a bit lacking with the front seats pushed back).
The 211 litre boot is also now more useable; there’s ample space there for a two airline bags for a holiday away or for a set of golf clubs. And it will easily swallow the Saturday bloodletting at the local supermarket.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.5 litre three-cylinder twin-power turbo: 100kW/220Nm
- 7.9 seconds 0-100km/h
- Six-speed manual or six-speed sports-shift automatic
- 15-inch alloys and rear spoiler
- Electro-mechanical power steering
- Electronic differential lock
- Brake energy recuperation
- Three driving modes: MID, SPORT or GREEN
- Single-joint spring strut front suspension, multi-link rear
- Stabilisers front and rear
- 2.0 litre twin-power turbo; 141kW/280Nm
- 6.7 seconds 0-100km/h
- 17-inch light alloys
- Dynamic damper control, dynamic ‘go-kart’ mode
Since its rebirth as a retro-classic last decade, the MINI has been all about style and performance in equal measure.
The new 2014 MINI alters that slightly. It’s certainly stylish; who could not like those iconic lines and its purposeful squat on-road stance?
But now it’s the performance and handling that’s getting really serious. In technical terms, it’s a gut-busting hoot to drive.
Whether sliding through a skid pan, pointed round a circuit or being chucked around a mountain road, few cars offer the same visceral driving pleasure and on-road competence of these MINI twins.
Turn-in, in either model, is electric. Get on the power too early, and it will understeer, lift off, and the back will step around, neatly tightening the line to fire to the next apex.
The handling is so good, it’s hard to find the point at which either model will bite the ham-fisted. Cars that handle as well as these twins make good drivers out of ordinary drivers.
The Cooper S is much faster. We drove both manual and auto, six-speeds both, and both equally rapid. On up-shifts in ‘go-kart’ mode, the auto model responds with an F1-style ‘whump’, but the manual is rapid-fire slick.
The question with the Cooper S is whether you would tire of the uncompromising sports suspension and the noise from the wider, bigger alloys below. It’s pretty noisy on coarse bitumen, so noisy you can’t hear the engine.
But it’s very quick and makes those 141kW feel especially robust.
The smaller alloys and larger profile tyres of the Cooper make for a much quieter and more comfortable on-road experience.
A full $10k cheaper than the Cooper S, it is surprisingly lively - the three-cylinder twin-power turbo up front is a gem.
It has that nice off-beat thrum common to three-cylinder engines, but is amazingly smooth thanks to counterbalancing of the crankshaft.
It has no trouble lifting its skirts and bolting when overtaking; peak torque chimes in at a low 1250rpm, though it runs out of puff from around 5500rpm (where the power curve flattens).
We only drove it in automatic configuration, but the sport-shift gear lever (with the right ‘pull-for-upshift’ plus/minus plane) is a peach, and it fires through the ratios like a DSG.
But, pick either of these MINI twins and you will love the drive.
Interestingly, while giving each a thorough spanking, the Cooper S returned the better fuel consumption, 8.7 l/100km as opposed to 9.3 l/100km for the three-cylinder Cooper. (You will do far better than these readings.)
- Six airbags, driver and front passenger, side and curtain
- ABS braking, dynamic stability control, EBD, differential lock
- Active pedestrian protection
- Crash sensor, cruise control with braking function
- ISOFIX child-seat tethers, among a suite of dynamic and passive safety features.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
On reflection, the cheaper MINI Cooper is the model that appeals most.
It is considerably more refined on-road than the leather-trimmed premium-buying Cooper S. And there is not so much in the bragging rights of the more powerful Cooper S to make that $10k jump.
Your choice will depend upon where you place your priorities.
The new MINI is a car you will simply love to drive, whichever twin you choose. And each time you slide behind the wheel, you will discover again and again its sublime balance and the joy of a set of a bends.
Yes, in the new MINI, Cooper or Cooper S, the drive is such fun you will forgive it anything.
I would love one of these in the garage. I can forgive it a less-than-par interior (drive it, and you will too.)
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- MINI Cooper - $26,650
- MINI Cooper D - $31,800
- MINI Cooper S - $36,950