We admit we've been scanning the city in our 2014 MINI Cooper S test car, aiming to find an original Mini for a brief comparison. Now that we're looking at Sir Alec Issigonis' creation, it all feels like we're doing this from inside a crossover. Yes, that's how large the 2014 MINI has gotten.
Still, this third modern reincarnation of the British icon somehow stands for the same concept as the original and it's all about packaging. While the 1959 mini started a revolution by making innovative use of its dimensions, the new MINI comes to reinvent not itself, but parent company BMW.
Looking past MINI's British Bulldog marketing statements, we find BMW's all-new UKL platform. Yes, Bimmers are turning to front-wheel drive. There will be a whole family of UKL-based BMWs, starting with the 2-Series Active Tourer
we've already seen.
To say that the move brings controversy would be a... maxi understatement, but, as far as MINI is concerned, this means all-new everything.
The chassis is a fresh design. Gone are the PSA co-developed engines, being replaced with all-new units signed by BMW. The cabin has also been deeply reworked, though still packing a lot of references to its predecessors. Nevertheless, the only area which strongly connects the 2014 MINI to the 2001 R53 and the 2007 R56 models is the exterior. We'll start from here then.
The 2014 Mini Hardtop was revealed ahead of schedule, with a set of leaked images
exploding over the world wide web. The opinions on its looks were divided to say the least. MINI responded with a press release
bragging the images did not do the car justice.
Yes, it is true that the leaked photos weren't using the best angles. More importantly, it is also true that the new MINI looks better in the flesh. Nonetheless, had the car been a styling masterpiece, such discussions would have never existed.
For us, the MINI Hardtop has matured nicely, employing quite a lot of visual changes, but staying true to its visual DNA. There's a catch though.
Alas, this conclusion doesn't apply to what it is arguably the most important part of the car, its front fascia.
The 2014 MINI's face just isn't all that memorable. Perhaps the best example to illustrate this is the comparison between the Cooper S and the standard car. We prefer the latter's simpler lines to the first's commercial mesh grilles and lower apron. We're pretty sure many of you agree too.
In spite of this, the wow factor is definitely here. Throughout the drive, our tester, which was dressed in Volcanic Orange, gathered quite a high number of thumbs up moves. Something like the real life version of getting many likes on Facebook. And we swear we didn't pay those people a cent. The idea here is that this remains a MINI.
Oh and if you opt for it, this MINI can go all-LED. The taillights, headlights (with the optional adaptive feature) and even the fog lights.
Underneath the new skin, we find the aforementioned BMW UKL platform. The MINI has grown by a full 4.5 inches (114 mm) in length, 1.7 inches (43 mm) in width, while the hatchback is now 1 inch (25.4 mm) taller. By the way, there's an even longer, five-door MINI coming.
And while the wheelbase was elongated by 1.1 inches (28 mm), the front track has grown by 1.7 inches (43 mm) and the rear one by 1.3 inches (33 mm). The resulting structure is also stiffer and, having covered that point, we must also talk weight.
MINI claims "virtually all variants of the new MINI are lighter than their respective predecessor models". They do not offer a certain value, perhaps because when presented with a scale, the 2014 model proves the contrary. Weighing in at 2,755 lbs (1,250 kg) for the Cooper S Automatic model we tested, the new MINI is actually a bit heavier. Given the serious increase in size, you won't hear us complaining.
Not when the interior comes with what feels like the greatest change brought by the new generation. MINI owners have always had to put up with a lot of impracticality for all the style the cabin had to offer. Well, not anymore.
As we enter the 2014 MINI, the typical visual boldness is still here, but everything comes in a friendlier package. Take a seat and the car reveals the extra space, both up front and in the back.
By the way, you don't have to master yoga techniques in order to access the back seat anymore.
As for the seats in our Cooper S tester, these are more generous in size. Unfortunately, they're a bit on the firm side. Moreover, the perforated leather parts may be artistic, but they're only there for the show. The centers of the seat base and back are still non-perforated. Not exactly a dream during the hot season.
Right in front of us, sits a dashboard that's been seriously revised. Gone is the center speedo, with the same round housing now being used to accommodate the navigation display. The outer circle, where the "needle" used to travel, is now home for an infinity of LEDs. This is the MINI's way of expressing its feelings. For instance, this lit circle uses blue and red to show when you're adjusting the temperature. While some members of our team found this as a rather cheap trick, others liked the blushing cheeks of the car.
Nonetheless, everybody in our office agreed on how much good the button population migration has done. The window switches are finally on the doors, while the center console marks its middle point with the help of an engine start switch. Not only is this switch the most tempting in the industry (you heard that right Aventador
), it also comes with a glowing red light. We'd push it even if we knew it was a self-destruct button.
The speedometer has landed in front of the driver, part of the new instrument display. The new arrangement feels just as pleasant, with the only drawback targeting the rev counter. This is placed on the side of the speedometer and looks a bit like an add-on feature. Moreover, on the other side of the speedo, sit the fuel level LEDs, which have been given far too much importance. Heck, if a pedestrian is keen-eyed, he can tell how much fuel you've got left from the sidewalk. This is a MINI, people should have fun in it, not worry about fuel.
Like a magazine's cover. Glossy. That's how you could describe the 2014 MINI's cabin. The material quality has gone up and you can feel it. Since we're here, we have to tell you that the "wooden" trim on the dash of our tester was just as much of an opinion splitter withing the office as the aforementioned light circle.
Despite this, you'll still get a bit of a claustrophobic feeling. Many attribute this to the typical MINI windshield, but this is not the issue. Instead, it seems that, no matter how much you play with the infinity of cabin configurations, you still end up with dominant dark colors. There's your problem...
In fact, we quite like the dramatic view on the world given by the MINI's windshield. On the other hand, the cabin also comes with a few elements that try too hard. The Harman Kardon (optional audio) branding on the A-pillar tweeters is an example as good as any.
If you want to stay positive, you should ignore the whole center area of the interior.
The armrest is a bit too high and the gearshift lever has the looks of a gardening tool. While you can overlook these, it's difficult to not be bothered by the positioning of the new infotainment controller.
As with Rolls-Royce, BMW has fully introduced its updated iDrive inside the MINI, complete with the touchpad rotary controller. While the move does bring larger infotainment possibilities, the controller itself is a pain to access, being placed too low.
The big rotary dial's new party trick, its handwriting recognition, can be used, but the implementation feels inferior to the system offered by Audi.
If you ever have to do a more complex infotainment operation while you're driving, the lack of a touchscreen means you'll have to use this rotary controlled. Pray that there's no feminine presence around, because you will look like a knob.