2014 Mini Cooper
2014 Mini Cooper
2014 Mini Cooper. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt, additional photos courtesy Mini

San Juan, Puerto Rico – Meet the new Mini Cooper. Yes, we’re sure. No doubt, it looks a lot like the prior new Mini Cooper, especially if you don’t opt for the snazzy semi-circular LED headlights, thanks to the well-known hatchback body shape and near-identical wheel designs. But underneath that familiar-looking skin, and especially inside, the Mini Cooper and the quicker Cooper S have done a whole lot of growing up – even if its base engine as well as the base price has shrunk considerably.

There’s no doubt that this is a critically important vehicle for Mini – essentially, this car is their brand. Very much like how the slowly evolving Porsche 911 lends its design ethos and sporting personality to the rest of the lineup, so too does the Mini Cooper. Thus we found ourselves trying out the new Mini Cooper in sunny Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory a long stone’s throw over the Caribbean Sea from the Dominican Republic.

Perhaps to counter the army of Mini specialists flown in from Munich’s BMW Group headquarters to answer questions about the car, a flashy introduction performance on the beach extolled its British-ness. The brand may be owned by a German company, but the cars themselves are built in Oxford, England. The performance was highlighted by frolicking jet skis and wow-inducing “water-boarders” (no, not that kind of water-boarding – this was Peurto Rico, not Guantanamo) standing on boards propelled high into the air by serious water pressure, soaring and dipping above the water like aquatic Green Goblins.

Mini customers and various auto critic types made it clear that two areas of the Mini needed improving, said one Mini insider: interior functionality and the quality of materials. He didn’t go into specifics on what exactly “interior functionality” encompassed, but judging from the fact that it’s now notably larger in all dimensions, seems a safe bet that more room was on that list.

So the Mini grows 98 mm longer, 44 mm wider and a slight seven mm higher than its predecessor, with a wheelbase extended by 28 mm to 2,495 mm for notably more interior space overall than fellow smallish four-seat hatches like the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ. That works out to two and a half feet longer, seven inches wider and two inches taller than the original Mini of 1959, reported the UK’s Daily Mail.

Yes, the new Mini is not quite so Mini anymore.

2014 Mini Cooper2014 Mini Cooper2014 Mini Cooper2014 Mini Cooper
2014 Mini Cooper. Click image to enlarge

Compared to more current rivals, the Cooper’s still quite a bit smaller than sporty two-doors such as the Volkswagen GTI, Beetle, the Honda Civic coupe or even the Hyundai Veloster. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom up front, though the Cooper’s sporty (and likely optional) seats seemed to pinch my medium-sized torso surprisingly tightly. That same feeling felt right in the speedier Cooper S, where the snugness helped clamp down on the driver’s body shifting in corners.

While the Mini Cooper’s shape itself is very familiar, it does look larger and more substantial. Both my driving partner and I thought it looked very much like Mini’s Countryman crossover, especially from behind. Actually, that mini-SUV look can be furthered by adding the optional roof racks, available for the first time from the factory, which may come in handy given the Mini’s still minimal 211 litres worth of cargo space.

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