The MINI Cooper family might not be all that much like the Alec Issigonis-designed Austin originals, but they're exemplars of compact, practical motoring in the modern era.
Zippy, fun, and, in Clubman and Hardtop form, surprisingly practical, the current MINI Cooper soldiers on for the 2014 model year with only minimal changes--even pricing remains steady across the Cooper range.
A new MINI is due soon, but we don't expect the design to wander too far afield--the current MINI is successful on many fronts. The shape and details that make even a modern MINI instantly recognizable will remain, blending the classic with the current in a compact and, sometimes, cute design.
A short hood, "floating" roof, and big, round headlights are among the characteristic elements shared among the Coupe, Convertible, Roadster, Clubman, and Hardtop (hatchback) models.
Inside, much is the same between the various models, at least in the front row. The center-mounted speedometer puts the sporty side of the MINI at the fore, while quirky buttons and switches sit in a funky design that shows the Cooper's lighter side. It's a busy look, but it all works within the MINI's palette.
Under the hood, the MINI range shares its engines: base models get a 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder; Cooper S models a 181-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four; and John Cooper Works models use an even hotter 208-horsepower version of the engine.
For base and Cooper S models, a choice of six-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic is available; the same is also true of the John Cooper Works models, with the addition of the automatic option in 2013. Despite their sporty nature, the MINI range can also be efficient, with gas mileage of up to 29 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
Despite their small size and sharp handling, the many MINI variants ride surprisingly well. Road noise raises its head, and as you climb the sport spectrum, choppiness and harshness rise, most noticeably in the John Cooper Works models.
All MINIs have issues with rearward visibility, thanks to the high beltline, low seating position, and somewhat chunky rear roof supports. In Clubman models, the center-opening rear door further hinders visibility.
Comfort and space are surprisingly good--in the front seats. Even those well over six feet tall should find plenty of leg and head room, though the low roof of Coupe and Roadster models may make it harder to get inside.
The rear seats of Clubman and Cooper Hardtop and Convertible models are usable, but not spacious. Materials are good throughout, but perhaps with more hard plastic than you'd expect at MINI's price point.
The 2014 MINI Cooper and crew haven't yet been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the 2013 model earned top marks of "Good" in moderate-overlap front-end crash tests, and "Average" in side-impact and roof-strength tests. Standard safety equipment includes: six airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, hill-start assist, run-flat tires, and parking sensors.
Customization straight from the dealer is one of MINI's strong suits, and there is a host of aesthetic tweaks that can be made to any MINI, whether Hardtop, Clubman, Roadster, Coupe, or Convertible, including paint options for the car, side mirrors, and roof, plus vinyl graphic packages.
Standard equipment is a bit spartan though Bluetooth and USB/iPod integration make the grade, but upgrades like MINI Connected with Apps, a 10-speaker audio system, and navigation can add the near-luxury factor if that's what you're after.
For 2014, there's just one premium package, now including a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, rain sensor / automatic headlight control, and automatic climate control.
A new City Pack will be offered, including: alarm system, power fold mirrors, heated mirror and wash jets, auto dimming rear-view mirrors (interior and exterior), rear park distance control and comfort access