LITTLE GUY MAINTAINS EDGE, STYLE FOR 2015
BASE PRICE: $24,100
Combining off-the-charts cuteness with a practically unrivaled ability to shoehorn itself into the meagerest of parking spaces, every new Mini Cooper I’ve driven in the last 10 years has been an official Great Car. Each new model is an expert 4-wheeled bobber and weaver that looks swanky, gets respect and maneuvers like a quick, giant metal mouse. Sure, you may have Beetle or Miata aspirations, but the Mini shouldn’t really be compared to those two cars as it’s in a class all its own.
Then and now, I can do without the bowling-ball sized gauge in the center of the console, but other than that, when you’re inside the MINI, it’s all there – the singular, tight, stylish layout, the comfy seats and the feel in your hands and feet that you’re driving a very well-made machine. You climb in, start off and you immediately get that feeling of a well-tailored suit – everything just fits, from seat to feel of the wheel to shifting and seeing behind you.
Two power units featuring MINI “TwinPower” Turbo Technology are available to choose from. The Mini Cooper has a 3-cylinder engine with a peak output of 134 horsepower, while the 4-cylinder engine of my tester, the MINI Cooper S, packs 189 hp. Another new feature is a standard 6-speed manual transmission, along with an optional 6-speed automatic transmission. You’ll get something like 30 MPG combined if you take it easy on the accelerator.
You’ve got three driving modes you can switch to as desired. For extra punch, Sport Mode lets you automatically adjust the engine, steering and transmission for a stiffer, sportier ride. For softer, more fuel-efficient motoring, switch to Green Mode. With optimized fuel delivery, tweaked shift points and a coasting feature that disengages an automatic transmission when your foot’s off the gas, Green Mode squeezes the engine for miserly fuel consumption. When you want the best of both worlds, kick it into mid-mode.
Here’s an interesting twist; a launch control option helps those who never really mastered that smoke-the-tires art (me) to burn rubber. The idea of hastening the end of one’s tires was always lost on me, and having such a mechanism on the pint-sized MINI seems like hooking up a Marshall amplifier to a toy piano. But if you want it, you got it.
With all 4 wheels pushed to the corners for a wide, go-kart stance, and ideal front-to-back weight balance, the Hardtop has plenty of iconic MINI swagger and go-kart handling, if you will. For even tighter control, the new Dynamic Damper Control (DDC) option actually lets you control the stiffness of the suspension. Want a softer, more fuel-efficient ride? Done. Or feeling hungry and in the mood to devour a few sharp turns? The DDC happily complies, stiffening your suspension for even more aggressive cornering.
Another great aspect of the car is its sharp, fun handling. Unlike many other cars in this class, Mini’s standard Macpherson suspension system features multi-link rear suspension to help keep your wheels at their optimal angle to the road and your tires in full contact with the surface; it’s an especially handy feature for high-speed cornering or unstable road surfaces. The system also has front and rear anti-sway bars and lightweight aluminum rear trailing arms that reduce unsprung weight and increase agility to provide top performance when attacking sharp curves. For even more customizable performance, adjustable driving modes and optional Dynamic Damper Control vary dampening rates and the tightness of handling. It’s hot.
The Mini’s a retro winner with four tires placed squarely in today, and should be on your short list of great cars for beginning drivers, those of smaller stature or those who just love well-made machines.