2014 Mini Hardtop Cooper S First Test
Still Funky. Still Fun.
Sitting inside the vastly upgraded Volcanic Orange 2014 Mini Hardtop Cooper S had me reaching into the depths of my memory, accessing moments from December, when the last-gen limited-edition Mini Hardtop John Cooper Works GP occupied a spot in our garage.
I concluded that it would be unfair to base my entire judgment of this new Mini Hardtop Cooper S' performance on my experiences had in the GP. It was the one Cooper, after all, which opened my eyes to the astounding degrees of stick and speed that could be eked from a street-legal, front-wheel drive city car. In doing so, it raised my expectations for future product assembled in Oxford.
As I pressed the bright red Engine Start/Stop nubbin (okay, it's a toggle) set behind the Getrag's lever, I hoped that, at the very least, some semblance of the GP's cornering cunning trickled down to its mass-made kin.
Well, realizing the GP's influence on the Cooper S required just a handful of canyon curves. The relatedness was definitely present, except, not to the astounding amount most of us here would have preferred. But to truly grasp the Cooper S' handling persona, one must first take into account the many changes put into effect for 2014.
The Cooper S (codenamed F56) is physically larger than any MINI Cooper Hardtop ever. Length, width, and height grew some 5.1- (to 151.9), 1.7- (to 68), and 0.3-inches (to 55.7). Its wheelbase extends a further 1.1 inches to 98.2. It weighs 2734 pounds — 64 more pounds than the last 172-hp Cooper S we tested way back in 2007. It's a bigger, heavier, albeit still smallish car that boasts roomier rear space and an extra capacious cargo hold (up 3 cu-ft to 8.7 with rear seats up).
Its looks barely diverge from those of the outgoing R56. Designers wielded their scalpels to carve a mature reinterpretation of their existing new age design. The Cooper's lights, side scuttles, and hexagonal grille received ample attention, though the massive taillights stood out as the most outrageous update. Given its sportier S designation, our Cooper donned a unique honeycomb front grille, hood scoop (non-functional), brake ducts, and center exhaust set inside a rear diffuser, not to mention, S badges on its blunt nose and perky backside. It remains all Mini. Just a little less mini. And nearly borderline Paceman in physical gravitas.
The duo seated in the rear will find it easier to climb aboard, and once belted, will revel in the bigger seats and added leg (up 2.9 inches) and shoulder room (up 3.1 inches). Front riders experience an entirely redesigned dash having that aforementioned toggle switch (no more fob insertion needed) and climate controls at its lower section, and above them, a smallish 4-line TFT display surrounded by plastic cladding. (The optional Mini navigation system with 8.8-inch screen and Mini Connected Services would likely add flavor to the bleak landscape.) As is the trend for Minis nowadays, window switches are thankfully located on the doors and not the center stack.
Behind the thick three-spoke wheel sits a new instrument cluster, which prompted both questions and complaints from staffers, such as, "Why would you not place the tachometer smack-dab in the middle of the cluster" Yes, it would make sense given the sportier designation of this Cooper. Or, "What's with the digitized fuel readout to the right of the speedometer?" Ever since we said goodbye to our long term 2010 Nissan 370Z convertible, most of us have been wary of such fuel indicators (the Nissan's was inconsistent). It's funkiness for the sake of being funky. Typical Mini. And for that, the interior's motif, like its exterior, is superb in its commitment to its timeless oddball character.
The highly adjustable sport seats wrapped in carbon black leatherette were comfortable, and visibility from the massive front and side glass was superb. In reality, it feels huge inside, even compared to the nearly empty GP which only had two front seats and a gigantic rear strut bar. Against our long term Cooper S Coupe, it's enormous. Like the Coupe, there's an unfortunate lack of small item stowage.
For our hot-shoe-on-retainer, Randy Pobst, the space was still smallish, but now with vast acreage at the nose. Said Pobst: "I have this sense of sitting in a pillbox, halfway back. Almost like I'm sitting in the backseat…The windshield seemed to be a long way off, supported by these (thick) vertical A-pillars, which is fine, but it was a unique view from the driver's seat. There was a lot of car in front of me."
For the best rearward view, one must consider two caveats: you'll need no rear passengers and the rear split seats' headrests must be folded. Our S arrived with one option we'd gladly redact from the Monroney: panoramic moonroof. Aside from pricey $1000 MSRP, it's covered by mesh that lets in sunlight and heat even if it's fully closed. We'd kept the rear spoiler ($250) and black hood stripes ($100) because they're cool. Those 17-inch Tentacle Spoke wheels will set you back another $750.
Now the juicy stuff. Attached to the oddly-named shoes is an array of upgraded muscle. There's an entirely new front axle with steel supports and wishbones; revised aluminum swivel bearings up front; and more high-strength steel in the rear axle.
The electromechanical power steering -- called Servotronic -- received a recalibration to further reduce torque-steer, while the programming of the Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC) more effectively directs the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder's 189 horses and 207 pound-feet to the front 205/45R-17 Pirelli PZero rubber. (EDLC directs torque to the drive wheel with the most grip using the brake system.) Engineers vigorously tuned and tested the latest S, giving it sharper turn-in and aggressive kinematics.
Putting around on city streets, with Southern California's abundant sunshine piercing the moonroof's laughable cover, the cabin hardly cocooned my passengers from the cacophony beyond its glass and below its sheetmetal. Its squad of underpinnings, though reinterpreted for use on curvier environments, felt as if it transmitted the depth and width of every crevice passing under the tires. It's not absurdly rough, just very communicative.
Selecting Sport mode from the rotating ring of Mini Driving Modes (Mild and Green join it) makes for a livelier throttle, slightly throatier exhaust growl, and heavier Servotronic tug. The new mill felt its burliest at 2500 rpm (though Mini quotes peak torque arrives at 1250 rpm) and gets the S to 60 mph from nil in 6.3 seconds and through a quarter-mile in 14.7 seconds at 95.8 mph. Stopping from 60 mph took 111 feet, and on our skidpad, it stuck with an average 0.86 g.
In other words, the Cooper S is empirically fun. And, in fact, toss it into a corner and you'll lay witness one of the snappiest turn-ins and even-keeled chassis around; the latter showing little lean the farther you dip its overly-weighted helm. All that is very GP. Just hope for Autobahn-grade pavement or else you'll ricochet off.
The updated six-speed Getrag (new synchro rings, gear sensor, and weight optimization) lacked a certain mechanical crispness as each cog was called upon, especially at near ten-tenths exertion, but remained quick and accurate. The new-for-2014 rev-matching function is nice for a little while. You'll need to completely disable DSC to do your own unassisted heel-toe rev-dancing (which is a letdown). The little 2.0-liter's power surged low in the revs and continued its pull into the meaty 4000 rpm middle. But it grew anemic the closer it stretched toward its 6500 rpm redline.
Upon examination of its limits on the Streets of Willow, Randy experienced the same superb GP-esque turn-in and an absence of smooth, consistent power.
"The steering response is really quick and that reminds me of the Mini before this. When I first turn the wheel, the front is responding rapidly, before the limit really. I liked the torque, but I miss the high-rpm power since we're driving on the track," Pobst noted. "There might have been a little bit of wheel spin, but, it's not bad. Again, it's a front driver."
Regarding its handling, he said "it had minimal intervention (from the EDLC). The handling was not as much one piece (as I'd like), so the front had more of a front-to-bottom bounce on the big bumps at Streets; the rear would jump out a little sideways. This is in the extreme fast kink where we're going 100 mph and we're turning and braking all at once."
"I didn't feel as confident because both ends of the car are bouncing and moving around a little bit. But I braked earlier, and it didn't seem to have (a lot of) braking grip…It was a wild ride down to that bumpy fast kink…The new Mini is not as much a rotator as the old Mini. It went from a little bit of understeer to a snap oversteer and then back again. Still, though, it's a fun ride."
The Cooper S has its tradeoffs. It's entertaining, but rough-around-the-edges. It's amazingly efficient (29 mpg combined!), but at nearly 28 grand, you'll be wondering who hid your navigation system and why you're raising your voice to carry a conversation. This much is clear: The Cooper S Hardtop is still funky and fun, regardless if a direct link to the brilliant GP – aka "King Mini" – exists or not. And to its pool of unique buyers, that's all that matters.
Want more on the 2014 Mini Hardtop Cooper S? Stay tuned - the sporty compact competes in a Motor Trend comparison coming July 7.
|2014 Mini Hardtop Cooper S|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$27,595|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.0L/189-hp/207-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2734 lb (63/37%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||151.9 x 68.0 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.7 sec @ 95.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||111 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.6 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||25/38/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||135/89 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.66 lb/mile|