Written by: Calvin Chan
Photography by: Calvin Chan
The MINI is no longer so mini. Though it retains its iconic hatchback shape and wheels, the 2014 MINI Cooper has grown 98mm longer, 44mm wider, and rides 7mm higher than its predecessor. The wheelbase has been stretched by 28mm for more interior legroom and rear passenger space. Cargo space in the trunk has also increased by 85 litres to fit an extra suitcase or two. The magic blue pill doesn't work everywhere though. For example, MINI has shrunk the Cooper's engine down from the 1.6L naturally aspirated four-pot to a more fuel-efficient turbocharged inline-three. Additionally, the price-tag has been slashed down a couple thousand dollars. You can now snatch one of these base model Coopers for a starting price of $20,900. Add a few light options and you've got yourself an affordable little hatch, but with all the mechanical downsizing and appendage enlargements we can't help but wonder if the quality has gone down with it? We're here to find out, as we test a 2014 MINI Cooper 3-door Hatchback dressed up in Blazing Red Metallic.
The first stop is what's lying under the hood. As we mentioned before, it's been downsized from the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder to a petite turbocharged inline-three. Three you say - there is a reason why you don't see many of these in today's cars. It's odd number structure means the force moving in one direction almost always imbalances the force moving in the opposite. This makes the engine rock back and forth and creates unpleasant engine noises. Three cylinder engines are notoriously rough, raucous, and unrefined but MINI has managed to smoothen out the harshness. Countershafts were added to help reduce noise and vibration, and although there is still a lot of noise to be heard from the cabin, it's miles better than its predecessor. You might ask then, what's the point of a three-cylinder engine? Simply put, they get amazing fuel economy, use fewer parts, have a compact size and it also weighs less, of all which contribute to improved handling and braking.
As they say, great things come in small packages, and this new engine delivers 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. That's 13 horsepower and 50 lb-ft more than the previous generation Cooper (the perks of turbocharging) and is enough to launch it from 0-100 km/h in 7.9 seconds with a top speed of 210 km/h. The turbocharged inline-four is still available in the Cooper S model which has also elevated its numbers to 189 hp and 207 lb-ft. The three-cylinder picks up with a decent amount of punch at low revs thanks to the turbocharger but you can't help but notice the lag that comes with it. Get the revs going past 3000 RPM and you're in the clear.
Every journalist's favourite moment is stepping into a test vehicle and finding three pedals instead of two. This MINI Cooper is fitted with a proper six-speed manual gearbox that feels chunky and gives a satisfying clunk as you punch it into gear. The clutch is very forgiving but also rewards quick shifts and rev-matching when switching gears.
Anyone who drives a MINI never fails to mention its swift handling and go-kart-like steering, and the same applies to the new Cooper. It's incredibly light weight and nimble structure allow it to accelerate quickly and zip through corners without too much understeer. You will find yourself in first gear more often than second at low speeds - the turbos don't spool up fast enough and there just isn't enough torque for second gear to handle smoothly below 20-40 km/h. It's not a deal breaker, the base Cooper never feels like it needs more torque past 2000 RPM, but I can see why some would opt for the turbo-four from the Cooper S instead - more power, as Jeremy Clarkson famously states.
On the plus side, traction is brilliant and the four wheels always feel planted and quick to change direction. Note that we are rolling on 16-inchers while 17s and 18s are also available. Also equipped on our tester was the $500 Dynamic Damper Control option that allows you to adjust the stiffness of the suspension. By toggling the knob at the base of the gear shifter, you can switch to a more comfort-oriented setting where the suspension is soft and easy on the spine, or to a sportier setting that gives more weight to the steering and delivers a rigid ride. Mind you that the SPORT setting stiffens up the suspension to the point where you'll feel every bump and imperfection on the road. Even in the softest settings, sitting in the petite MINI Cooper can get extremely rough and uncomfortable. Handy tip - make sure to grab the optional Sport Seats for those side bolsters to keep your back from falling apart.
The real gem of the MINI Cooper is the incredible fuel economy. I've been driving the MINI for a few days now and the fuel gauge light hasn't budged at all. A faulty light? Probably not. The Cooper has a fair sized tank ringing up at 40 litres, but we're also averaging 6.2 L/100km. Ironically, that's exactly half the number of our V-6 powered 2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 4MATIC that gets 12.4 L/100km (double the cylinders, double the fuel).
On the outside, the MINI retains its cute British looks with new buggy-eyed headlights that remind us of a P̶o̶r̶s̶c̶h̶e̶ ̶9̶1̶1̶ Volkswagen Beetle. The contrasting white top and mirror caps is one of our favourite combinations with the exterior red. Racing stripes on the bonnet are a must and if you want to go full Italian Job, you'll need the rally-inspired additional head lights for $742.15.
The interior is where the MINI has truly grown up. Hints of BMW influence are littered everywhere from the navigation interface to the center console knob (our tester wasn't equipped with the Navigation package so you won't see that here). There are still plastic materials being used for the panels and knobs, but they feel solid and durable.
One of the biggest changes of the MINI interior is the replacement of the enormous center speedometer with a flashy LED light that responds to button input. It brings a little bit of life to the car when every one of your button mashing inputs lights it up. In case you were wondering, the speedo has been moved to a more useful location, yes the dash in front of the steering wheel. Another slight adjustment is button placement. The original toggle switch layout in the center console has been replaced by a fancy START/STOP switch that looks ready to launch something radioactive. The window and door-locking switches have also been moved to a more intuitive location... the door panel. Even the UFO-styled car-key has gone through a slight makeover and now looks beefier and chunkier, and it's not for the better - it bulges and fits awkwardly in my pocket, hopefully it won't bend my iPhone.
Interior space has improved over its predecessor. Front headroom and legroom were never an issue, but they were for the rear passengers. You can comfortably fit two 5'7 adults back there, but don't expect anyone taller than that to be complaint-free on your rough ride through town. Cargo space has also improved for the 2014 - an extra 85L of trunk volume.
As with every MINI, the options list runs rampant and will suck every dollar out of your pocket. Our tester is running with the $2100 Loaded package that includes a beautiful panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, front and rear fog lights, comfort access, auto dimming mirrors, sport seats, rain sensors with automatic headlamps, and automatic climate control. The anthracite roofliner costs $250 extra, the bonnet stripes are $130, the metallic paint was $590, and the 16" Victory Spoke Black tires set us back another $150.
MINI Coopers have never been the best valued hatches on the market. It's rough ride and premium price-tag was always overshadowed by the more affordable Volkswagen Golf and Ford Fiesta. But with the price-tag for 2014 models lowered by a couple thousand dollars to a starting MSRP of $20,900, it's hard not to justify the MINI over its rivals, let alone over a Cooper S that costs $4500 more. The base model Cooper has more than enough power under its hood and is also more frugal on the fuel. I'd rather take the extra cash and spec it up with 18-inch wheels, fancy LED headlights and a Harmon Kardon speaker system.
型号 Model: 2014 MINI Cooper 3-Door Hatchback
顏色 Paint Type: Blazing Red II Metallic ($590)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $20,900
試車售價 Price as Tested: $24,620
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2495
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 3837 / 1727 / 1414
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1182
引擎 Engine: 1.5L TwinPower Turbo three-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 134 hp @ 4500-6000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 1250 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
煞制-前 Brakes-Front: Vented disc
煞制-後 Brakes-Rear: Solid disc
油耗 Fuel Consumption (Combined)- L/100 km: We averaged 6.2 L/100km
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Pirelli Cinturato P7 - 195/55R16 Victory Spoke Black