DRIVEN ➤ 2014 MINI Cooper S: 100 smiles per gallon
By Wayne Gorrett. Article commissioned by Solent Life Magazine.
✔ A cracking drive, classy cabin, much better ride and refinement and the blistering performance justifies its ‘S’ badge. ✖ Cockpit remains fussy with its over-designed switchgear, but little else.
☀ ☀ ☀
It’s the 2014 model-year, third-generation MINI Cooper S hatchback, built at Plant Oxford, the heart of the £750-million MINI manufacturing triangle which includes Plant Swindon and Plant Hams Hall.
Over the years, smaller cars have been getting bigger – just park a 1998 Focus alongside the current incarnation and it’s not hard to see who ate all the pies.The new 2014 MINI hatch is another – but in a good, oxymoronic way.
This third-generation MINI is 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller than its 2006 predecessor. The wheelbase has been extended by 28mm, while the track width has been extended at the front by 42mm and at the rear by 34mm.
A cursory glance will reveal little if any changes from its predecessor. But be assured, this is a completely new car from the rubber up. Every component was dispatched back to the drawing board in an effort to optimise its function, performance and style. The visual result is a predictably familiar car, but one enhanced in so many ways that simply go unnoticed – until you drive it.
A confession before I continue…I owned and regularly drove a 1959 Mini. Its engine and chassis numbers were in three digits, meaning it was one of the first 1,000 cars ever made. Readers of a ‘certain era’ may understand my dogged determination to fend off the charms of the BMW-built MINI over the past decade or so.
However, thanks to one very fundamental component, there has never been a latter-day MINI more dynamically true to the Mini marque of old. Simply put, the new MINI is a cracking car to drive and I doff my cap in deference.
In appearance, the 2014 MINI may well have consumed a few more pies, but it was a purely mercenary act, undertaken with the sole purpose of accommodating its trump card – the new UKL1 modular platform. It alone is responsible for a raft of knock-on improvements in technology, engine efficiency and power delivery, driving dynamics and build quality.
The new and widely-acclaimed chassis is largely constructed from steel. However, light-weight aluminium and tailored blanks in high strength steel are used throughout the inner body structure to increase rigidity, thus retaining the distinct driving character and precise handling that has appealed to MINI buyers over the past 13 years.
Courtesy of Partridge MINI Hampshire (as commissioned by Solent Life Magazine), I recently spent a few hours tootling around The New Forest in the Cooper S – the current flagship of the 2014 MINI line-up.
What about the inside?
Inside, the new MINI is quieter than the outgoing model, with improvements to acoustic refinement throughout. Thanks to a seemingly unimpeded raid on the BMW parts bins, overall interior quality is much improved and the cabin is notably more spacious. Revised exterior dimensions result in better shoulder, leg and head room, more evident in the rear which can finally accommodate a couple of grown up chums with some degree of comfort for extended periods of travel.
Historically, the MINI cockpit ergonomics have been its Achilles heel. While it remains unnecessarily fussy, good things have happened here. The electric window switches have found more traditional homes on the door armrests and the speedo has been relocated from the oversized centre dial to a new instrument cluster directly in the driver’s line of sight, which also displays the fuel gauge and rev-counter. The former centre speedo dial now becomes a new 8.8-inch TFT display console, housing the new MINI Connect, the excellent satellite navigation system and a dearth of car and ambient settings.
The boot has an adjustable floor and luggage space at 211 litres is 30 percent better. Rear seat backs now split to a more practical 60/40 ratio, replacing the previous 50/50 setup.
Overall, the new cabin conveys a sense of playfulness and fun, but MINI has missed a trick by not tidying up the over-designed and fussy switchgear in the driver’s cockpit.
What about on the road?
The 2014 MINI Cooper S takes the new-found excellence of the standard hatch and builds on it. With a great chassis and new four-pot 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine lifted from the BMW 3-Series, it’s a brilliant hot hatch.
The new engine with its ‘TwinPower’ turbo technology delivers 192bhp (141kW) and 280Nm of torque between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm (with over boost). Fuel economy is given at 48.7 on a combined cycle (subject to driving style, of course), and emissions are a reasonable 136 g/CO2/km.
At the off, acceleration is smooth and evenly delivered. With that ‘wheel-on-each-corner’ feel, the car is set menacingly low and feels very planted. The sharp and precise steering responds to the smallest of driver inputs as before, but, because of the new chassis and dynamic setup, its response instils loads more driver-confidence. During some ‘spirited’ driving it stayed planted and sure-footed on twisty roads, retaining its much-famed ‘go-kart’ handling character.
On the road is where you will notice just how good a job the engineers have done in the area of noise, vibration and harshness. The car is audibly more refined and the ride quality is less harsh and welcomingly more supple than before.
The new six-speed manual gearbox is a delight, making shifts quickly and responding smoothly. A 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds places the new MINI Cooper S firmly in the hot hatch bull pit. Accompanied by high-tech turbo whistles, waste gate flutters and pops and crackles from the exhaust on the overrun, it’s a grin-inducing thrill to drive.
What else is to like?
Cosmetically, there’s plenty on the MINI Cooper S to attract. As expected, the air scoop in the bonnet remains. There is a new and chunky lower front bumper with bigger air intakes (including brake cooling ducts), which adds visual distinction, along with the roof spoiler and twin central exhausts. The test car, finished in ‘Volcanic Orange’ and bearing black ‘go-faster’ stripes looks great.
In our fiercely competitive market, the new Mini Cooper S is one of the most entertaining small cars available. Its ability to deliver infinite smiles per gallon along with engaging driving characteristics will continue to make it a popular choice for a wide range of buyers – many of which may well be new to the brand.
All told, the minor, chassis-induced growth spurt, a cracking new engine and other changes have boosted practicality, performance and efficiency without affecting the lovable hatch’s personality.
Besides, it’s usually only premium sports cars with high-end price tags such as Jaguars and Porsches that deliver such entertaining exhaust notes – it’s fantastic than a sub-£19k MINI Cooper S can now do the same.