2014 Mini Cooper road test review - same spirit, modern edge
HARK back to the originals, and Minis from more than five decades ago made a name for themselves for two good reasons.
They were cheap to buy and to run. Fast forward to the modern day resurrection and it is a vastly different scene.
BMW has been behind the renaissance with an eye on a unique niche. Those who like a contemporary take on a classic with a chic edge.
Until recently you also needed deep pockets, but Mini has dropped prices across the range which now starts from a far more appealing $26,650 - down five grand.
The third-generation modern Mini has increased interior space after growing in every direction, lost weight and also made big strides in functionality.
Retro inspiration maintains a presence, but thankfully this new variant tones things down somewhat.
In a nod to generations harking back 50 years, the recent iterations saw the speedometer located central on the dash. While that may have worked when the Mini was far more "mini", nowadays it's a functional faux pas.
The cabin is still littered with the retro feel throughout, and the circular central computer system is controlled via a console dial - much like offerings from parent company BMW.
While still a pint-sized car, it doesn't feel like the walls are closing in around you. Much of the plastics have been replaced by softer materials and another new internal design positive is the electric window controls on the front doors rather than the centre stack.
In the S model, front pews gently hug you into place. They are particularly good with lateral support and on the outer thighs.
On the road
Fun remains at the forefront of getting behind the wheel.
You sit low, with a steering sensation that has a racy persona. It's a car begging to be driven hard.
From the moment you look to set off it's clear this is no run-of-the-mill steer.
Starting the car is done via a toggle. By having the key in the car you just press the toggle down for start and stop.
Sampling the Cooper Automatic and S variants, both exuded the traditional go-kart qualities expected of the marque.
The ride is firm, you feel the road bumps and lumps more than traditional sedans and hatches, but this new Mini does a better job of soaking up the road interruptions than previous modern-day offerings.
In base guise with the self-shifter the Mini is an engaging drive. The turbocharged three-cylinder may not be a firecracker, but the essence of the brand is alive and well with enough excitement to keep a smile on your dial.
While solid in just about all aspects, the fuel saving stop-start functionality feel somewhat strange at slow speed with the automatic model and it felt a like Fiat's weird robotised manuals on occasions.
Yet it's the Cooper S which is the pleasure machine. It's a seriously punchy little thing that feels like it bites into the bitumen at every bend.
You can choose between drive modes at the base of the six-speed box. Slide it into "green" to keep the hippies happy with mundane performance , or option for "sport" and get the Mini snarling to test its ability to reach the national speed limit in less than seven seconds.
That may not sound quick on paper, but combined with a well-weighted steering in-car it certainly feels fast.
Going quickly is when the Mini feels at its best. It feels most natural when you punch the throttle and lean into a bend.
What do you get?
Basic kit includes 15-inch alloys, four-speaker stereo with USB/auxiliary ports along with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, colour display, cruise control and air-con.
Safety remains five-star across the range with the usual list of safety equipment incorporating traction and stability control, along with anti-lock brakes.
There are some good offerings getting around now in the three-door realm, including the Kia Proceed GT (from $29,990), Renault Clio RS 200 EDC (from $28,790), Ford Fiesta ST (from $25,990), Peugeot 208 GTI (from $29,990), VW Polo GTi ($29,190), Citroen DS3 DSport (from $29,740) and Skoda Fabia RS ($27,990).
Space in the back, as with virtually all three-doors, is tight.
Adults can fit, although anyone above 180cm would find head room an issue. Two kids posed no issue and there is easy access to the child seat anchorage points.
With both rear seats being able to fold it creates a useful stowage space, although equipment like bikes and boards are still a challenge.
There is also a centre armrest which can house your smartphone or audio device, but it can only be deployed on the highway as it gets in the way of manual shifts.
Each rear seat has its own bottle/cup holder and there is another pair up front.
There is a great little storage spot in the front near the USB, auxiliary and 12-volt plug.
Boot space is larger but still limited, and a large grocery shop requires some strategic packing - but the two-stage boot helps.
There is no doubting Minis have presence. This new range comes with enlarged dimensions, yet it still looks quintessentially Mini.
A cool new function is the circular lighting function which glows various hues which match the drive mode and air-con control movements.
We find the Mini is difficult to drive slow, the brilliant steering feel and hearty acceleration response is a constant lure to enjoy its ability.
There are plenty of tradeoffs, like limited space and the firm rides, but the personality of the Mini has an amazing ability to let you overlook the shortcomings.
What matters most
What we liked: Vastly improved interior layout, start and stop toggle, still great fun to drive.
What we'd like to see: Slightly shorter throws between gears on manual models, improved stop-start fuel saving functionality.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometres warranty, and all Minis have condition-based servicing. With built-in sensors, it can record the state of the brake pads or brake discs as well as engine oil or brake fluid levels so you only replace things as required.
Model: Mini Cooper Automatic and Mini Cooper S.
Details: Three-door four-seat front-wheel drive hatch.
Engines: 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 100kW @ 4500-6000rpm and peak torque of 220Nm @ 1250-4000rpm (230Nm with overboost); 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 141kW @ 4700-6000rpm and 280Nm @1250-4750rom (300Nm with overboost).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic; six-speed manual.
Consumption: 4.9 litres/100km (combined average); 5.5L/100km.
CO2: 115g/km; 127g/km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.8 seconds; 6.7 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: Cooper $26,650 (auto adds $2350), Cooper S $36,950.