2014 Mini Cooper S. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Brendan McAleer
“She’s a real beauty, isn’t she?”
I froze, mumbled something vaguely agreeable, tried to avoid direct eye contact in the manner of Diane Fossey. The passerby circled the bright yellow Cooper once again on his bicycle, clucking in admiration. “Yep, a real beauty.” I remained extremely still.
Beauty? The man was clearly deranged.
After a while, off he went, leaving me alone with my camera and the new 2014 Mini Cooper S, a car that looks like Wallace after being handed Gromit’s vet bill for hip dysplasia surgery. If once the Mini had a sort of retro-cuteness that looked progressively better the more stripes n’ checkerboard you added to it, now it gawps like a mutant goldfish.
However, some folks like the Cooper’s new, “Eeee, Wensleydale!” new looks, its front end now festooned with LED mascara. I’d want a darker colour (British Racing Green, naturally) to absorb the visual impact of that huge grille, but the other three angles on the car look much the same as the old one, and that’s a good thing.
This new “MINI” is quite a bit larger than the previous generation, a fitting end result of BMW’s caps-lock approach to the 1960s original. It’s still fairly low, and looks small next to modern crossover-behemoths, but has swelled by 44 mm in width, 114 mm in length, and 7 mm in height. Not too bad, I suppose, given constantly increasing safety and consumer demands, but can a bigger Mini really be said to be an improvement?
It can if two more important things shrink: curb weight and price. The Cooper S now tips the scales at 1252 kg, which is a very slight improvement. Even better, the base MSRP now starts at $25,490, which seems actually quite reasonable in the market. Of course, you can still option your Cooper S up to the sort of price point that’d have Alec Issigonis, designer of the no-frills original, spinning in his grave at 6,500 rpm.
Atypically for a press loaner, the options on this particular Cooper have been kept light. The “Loaded” package adds dynamic dampers and Mini’s version keyless entry, along with automatic climate control and a slightly irritating armrest – this last you can click into a lower position so it doesn’t interfere with shifting, but every time you put the parking brake (turning brake, heh heh) up, it snaps back into shifter-blocking mode. It’s probably just fine with the automatic transmission.
On the inside, the Mini’s new swollen dimensions have added a bit more space to an already usable machine. For a two-door hatchback, it’s actually not that cramped, although the trunk, at just 211 L, is pretty tiny. Interior options on this tester include Bluetooth audio and satellite navigation for $1,850. The system is essentially identical to BMW’s, large and relatively easy to use. Between the seats, Mini has received the BMW’s iDrive controller, which now incorporates a touchscreen pad on top so you can draw letters or numbers with your finger. It’s an improvement, and makes the MINI feel like a little front-wheel-drive BMW. Which it is.
2014 Mini Cooper S driver’s seat, 2014 Mini Cooper S cabin, 2014 Mini Cooper S cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Like the exterior, the Mini’s interior is very slightly less cartoonish while still retaining some of the earlier models’ originality. The centrally mounted disc, now larger than a 1960s Cooper’s entire steering wheel, no longer incorporates the old useless speedometer, but contains a multifunction screen. It also has a circular series of LED lights that, for instance, crank up like a tachometer when you twist the volume knob on the stereo.
The speedometer and tachometer now live directly in front of the steering wheel, where they belong, and both driver and passenger settle in to nicely bolstered seats. Down lower on the dash, the bright red ignition switch pulses like a heartbeat, flanked by aircraft-style switches that do interesting things like turn off the traction control. A brief, satisfying push, and we’re off.
2014 Mini Cooper S engine bay, 2014 Mini Cooper S navigation, 2014 Mini Cooper S centre stack switches, 2014 Mini Cooper S HMI controller. Click image to enlarge
The Cooper S is up in power this year, thanks to a 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged engine that makes 189 hp at 4,700 rpm and 207 lb-ft from just 1,250 rpm. Sidebar please, your honour.
How, in 2014, is a 2.0L turbocharged engine punching out this little power? I know numbers aren’t everything where a Mini is concerned, but the Cooper S is outpowered by everything from the GTI to 1.6L cars like the Juke and the Fiesta ST. No doubt there are more expensive, more powerful Mini models in the development pipeline, but with that size of an engine, this little machine could have been much more of a terror. It’s almost as though they detuned it to remove a tendency to torque-steer, or to hit certain fuel-economy targets. Understandable? I suppose, but given how competitive this segment is, holding back can’t be a good idea long term.