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MINI Cooper: New for 2015 S Hardtop

By Frank A. Aukofer, February 7th, 2015

Influenced by similar growth by parent company BMW, Britain's MINI set out to expand its model lineup, including introducing its first modern four-door hatchback, the MINI Cooper Hardtop.

BMW has established itself as perhaps the most comprehensive niche player in the business, with an array of sedan and crossover utility vehicles across the size, power, and price lineups. It drew the same map for MINI.

In 2000 only the two-door, front-drive MINI Cooper was offered. Since then MINI has added a convertible; bigger two-door Paceman, available with all-wheel drive; the now discontinued three-door Clubman; four-door crossover Countryman; two-seat Coupe; two-seat Roadster, and today's 2015 four-door Hardtop. High-performance John Cooper Works versions are available across the lineup.

MINI miscalculated demand for so many models, so the Paceman, Roadster, and Coupe reportedly will be dropped. At the same time, MINI has said it will re-introduce the Clubman with four doors instead of three; its rear cargo doors, which open sideways, will remain.

Even with fewer models, Alec Issigonis, the designer of the original MINI in the late 1950s, likely would be amazed. His tiny original was designed as an austere and roomy economy car. With its BMW revival, it has been christened as a "premium small car."

Though it is a UK product, the MINI Cooper has been thoroughly infused with BMW personality, premium pricing, and cutting-edge technology. For example, the three- and four-cylinder engines now are all BMW designs.

Tested for this review is the S version of the 2015 MINI Cooper Hardtop, which in generic nomenclature is a four-door hatchback. It is powered by a 189-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 207 lb.-ft. of torque, plenty given its 2,895-pound weight. MINI claims a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 6.6 seconds.

The entry-level base car delivers 134 hp and 162 lb.-ft. of torque from its 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine, which claims to reach 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and has a starting price of about $20,000. Buyers can choose a six-speed automatic transmission or, as on the test car, the more entertaining six-speed manual gearbox.

The test car came with a city/highway/combined rating of 24/34/27 mpg and a $34,350 as-tested price tag. Even though they are tiny and functional, MINI Coopers should be viewed more as sports cars. With their small size, tight steering, and stiff suspension systems, they deliver dart-like handling.

Ride and handling were standout impressions of the four-door Cooper Hardtop. The tradeoff, as with the two-door, is a stiff ride that punishes the bum and hips.

From a size standpoint, there's not a huge difference between the new four-door and its two-door counterpart. At 13 feet 2 inches long, it is just 4 inches longer, weighs 110 pounds more, and has 12 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the rear seat compared to less than 9 cu.-ft. in the two-door.

More important, the four-door has 96 cu.-ft. of interior volume, 6 more than the two-door. The extra space is divided between 84 cu.-ft. for passengers and the 12 cu.-ft. for cargo, but it delivers usable room in both areas.

Though the back seat is almost useless in the two-door, the four-door actually can accommodate two modest-sized adults in back. Entry and exit are tight. Forget the impossible center rear seat.

Like other recent MINI Cooper models, the new Hardtop delivers a quality, busy interior that does away with the old-fashioned giant speedometer in the center of the dash. The circle now hosts other functions like the backup camera and navigation system, with the speedometer moved to its proper place on the steering column.

A bunch of traditional English toggle switches still reside on the dash, but the power window controls have been thankfully moved to the armrests. Seat adjustments are manual.

Assessing overall performance, the four-door MINI Cooper Hardtop gives up nothing to its two-door sibling. It changes directions with a flick of the steering wheel, stops authoritatively, and the linkage of the six-speed manual gearbox is only slightly balky.

If you're willing to spend the extra bucks to get sports car performance in your economy car, then this is a fine choice. Given its accommodations, it's likely to be MINI's best-seller.

Specifications

Base price $25,950 (as tested: $34,350)
Curb weight 2,895 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbo 4-cylinder w/DI
Epa mileage rating 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 11.6 gal.
Horsepower (net) 189 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 158.0 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 207 at 1250 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Vehicle type 5-passenger compact FWD hatch
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