During its time in production, the MINI Cooper hatchback has always had a knack for providing buyers a healthy dose of the unexpected during its long run in production. While originally designed 50 years ago as a minimalist interpretation of basic transportation, the Cooper slowly evolved from this meager role into a symbol of automotive rebelliousness thanks to its cheeky styling, go kart-esque handling, and its quirky interior design which helped it earn many fans and supporters. That said, does the 2014 MINI Cooper S have what it takes to walk in the lofty shoes of its R56 platformed predecessor, or has its new-found maturity robbed it of its unique identity? Read on to find out.
The exterior styling continues the basic mellow bad boy motif that prior MINI’s have been known for. Howeve,r unlike the previous generation which was brash but a bit rough around the edges in certain aspects. The 2014 MINI Cooper has been redesigned from the ground up, and that has brought a new-found sense of refinement and freshness to the overall design. The front fascia is much more composed and assertive than before and while I was not personally a big fan of the black bar in the lower part of the front grille, I did like the new LED daytime running lamp ring in the redesigned headlamps which not only adds a dash of elegance to the Cooper’s face, but also doubles as a turn signal for passing maneuvers which is a nice feature.
The slightly tweaked rear fascia is a bit bland in comparison, but new tail lights do an admirable job of sprucing up things and look great doing it. Thankfully some elements from older models (such as the trademark white roof and blacked out B-Pillars) have been retained amid the flurry of changes which should please MINI enthusiasts seeking familiarity with past models, while the pushed to the corners placement of the wheels gives it a purposeful yet compact profile.
The interior of the 2014 MINI Cooper S has also been reworked, but unlike the exterior and its rather modest redesign, MINI designers went all out in their efforts at redesigning the cabin and have transformed it into a luxurious yet inviting place to spend time in. This is a nice change from the interior of the previous generation which had chintzy material quality, frustrating ergonomic issues with buttons and switches scattered randomly throughout the cabin, as well as a stereo interface that only a mother could love but required a tech savvy teenager to operate it correctly. Thankfully I’m pleased to report that much of the ergonomic chaos has been eliminated with switches such as the window controls moved to their traditional places on the doors, while the overall quality of plastics and materials has gotten much better. The 1.1 inch longer wheel base and wider front and rear track leave their mark on the cabin with overall room increasing by a lofty 8 cubic feet. This allows the car to have commendable head and leg room though the backseats are still a realm left for small children or friends of short stature. The cloth/leatherette seats in my tester had good lower and upper back support and also did a good job of keeping me planted in place during spirited driving (leather clad seats are available as an option). As a neat bonus, cargo room also goes up by an extra cubic feet which aides in overall practicality.
A key change that MINI enthusiasts may notice is that the giant dash-mounted gauge no longer houses the speedometer and fuel gauge in its immense space with MINI designers kindly moving those items to their traditional location behind the steering wheel. This allows the driver to read information from these gauges at a glance which reduces driver distraction, as well as remove excess clutter from the center stack. The gauges are pleasing to look at, but the rim of the steering wheel does obscure the upper half of the speedometer and tachometer for taller drivers which requires a seat adjustment to remedy the problem. As for the fore-mentioned Big Ben sized gauge, it is still present but now serves as a key component of the new stereo system which utilizes a 8.8 inch screen to display features such as navigation, climate, and infotainment options. The screens image quality was very good and crisp though the controls do take a moment of acclimation to use efficiently especially the oddly placed controller for MINI’s version of I-Drive which is located in an awkward spot below the center armrest. The stereo also houses a ring of LED lights which change color for a wide variety of functions. While I personally think its an unnecessary piece of visual gimmickry, it is a neat idea and should do a good job entertaining buyers with its swath of colors and uses.
Performance for the 2014 MINI Cooper S comes from a new 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine which is good for a healthy 192 horsepower and a solid 206 lb-ft of torque (221 lb-ft via overboost). This engine is smoother than the old 1.6 liter four cylinder that it replaces with less of the gritty coarse soundtrack that defined the old S model. Furthermore while there is still some turbo lag, it is less prevalent than before and acceleration is brisk and snappy with the turbo fully spooled. All of this power is routed to the front wheels through a standard six speed manual or my testers optional automatic gearbox. Shifts were smooth though the fuel efficiency minded shift program (which tended to race towards sixth gear) did rob the car of some off the line punch. Thankfully this minor quibble is defeated by putting the car in sport mode and using the strategically placed steering wheel mounted paddles.
Handling is also crisp with plenty of feedback from the steering as well as minimal bodyroll though the suspensions jittery behavior over sharp divots is still present and is a reminder of similar behavior with the old model. That said ride quality is otherwise quite smooth and absorbs many road imperfections quite well which should please buyers that still want a bit of comfort in their purchase.
Pricing for the 2014 MINI Cooper S starts at $23,600 though options and extras do continue with MINI tradition and quickly inflate the overall price with my “Thunder Gray” metallic tester ringing in at a lofty $32,695. For this price, the MINI is undercut in price by many competitors such as the Volkswagen GTI, Mazda 3 hatchback, as well as indirect competitors such as the Ford Mustang, and the Buick Verano Turbo which brings more power and luxury for a few thousand less, and even throws in the automatic as a no cost alternative to the six speed manual (mine rang in at just under $30,000 thanks to GM incentives). As is the case with other MINI models, strategic selection of options does trim the financial impact to a degree and helps reduce the cost of entry by up to $4,000. Overall the 2014 MINI Cooper S is a vastly improved car, and while its ability to deliver sticker shock is still intact. Its refined styling, more powerful engine, and host of interior improvements should please MINI loyalists while also opening the brand to a broader range of customers at the same time and that’s a win in our book.
( A special thank you to the folks at Motor City MINI in Southfield Michigan for allowing me to check out the 2014 MINI Cooper S as well as the opportunity to drive the one featured in this review).