Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: 2015 MINI Cooper S 4-Door Hardtop

2015 MINI Cooper S 4 Door Hardtop front 3/4


If you’re familiar with the MINI brand, you’ll know that they’ve been trying a host of different formulas in order to entice buyers. Coupes, convertibles, roadsters, subcompact crossovers, and now this: The four-door MINI. It’s not a Countryman crossover, it’s a five-door hatchback. It’s offered in front-wheel drive only in both Cooper and tarted-up Cooper S trim. Our tester is the hot Cooper S.

Since its inception, MINI has always been upscale, and pricing has always said this, despite the car's subcompact size. And while I usually wait until the end of the review to mention pricing, our MINI Cooper S four-door hardtop has a sticker price of $36,050. Now, this seems like a lot of money for a little car, and by little I mean physically small. At least at first.

When I first laid eyes on the four-door MINI hardtop, I thought it was a bastardization. How could they offer a MINI four-door? It’s just wrong! Then I actually thought about what I was silently complaining about. The company can’t survive on only making two-door cars, a host of oddballs, and the Countryman. And let’s face it: a five-door hatchback is about as practical as it gets. And frankly, MINI has done a good job keeping this car looking like, well, a MINI. Its proportions aren’t strange and you won’t mistake it for anything other than what it is.

From a size perspective, yes, it is bigger (duh). In fact the four-door is 161.8-inches in overall length—10.7 inches longer than the two-door hardtop, and a wheelbase that’s three inches longer. So it’s not a hulking behemoth by any standard. It also only weighs about 135 lbs. more than the two door.

MINI Cooper S engine 2015

Under the hood is the company’s new 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged four cylinder making 189 horsepower and a stout 207 ft/lbs of torque at a very low 1,250 RPM. Our model was mated to the company’s dual-clutch six-speed automatic driving the front wheels with a torque-vectoring limited-slip differential.

Flip the aircraft-like start/stop toggle, and the car comes to life. Power is abundant, and you really feel like this thing moves out well. Shifts are quick, and smooth, and the car sounds great. While it’s not as boisterous as the little Fiat 500 Abarth’s exhaust note, it still sounds racy, and you can hear and feel the turbo, too. This is what driving a hot hatch should feel like—automatic transmission or not. It’s fun, it’s scrappy, it feels like a go-kart. And while that kart reference is fairly cliché, it’s the honest-to-god truth with the MINI. It’s a kick in the pants and it all feels remarkably refined and composed.

There are three driving modes that can be selected by rotating a large ring around the gear selector. Each click yields a new mode, including “green” and “sport,” followed by a fun phrase on the dashboard like “Let’s Motor Hard!” when you’re in sport mode. By the way, the car also has a start/stop function to save fuel. When we had the car, the weather was quite hot, so the A/C was on most of the time. And when that happens, the start/stop feature is disabled. However, I did manage to have it engage a few times. When in the sport mode, this feature is also disabled.

4DR MINI interiorOnce under way, the Cooper S four-door rides stiffly—this isn’t a cushy cruiser—it has sporting intentions. You feel the bumps and cracks in the road. Thankfully, you’re rewarded with excellent handling that’s right up there with the Ford Fiesta ST. The driving experience really does feel premium. And man, this thing is a riot, especially in the previously mentioned sport mode.

Inside the MINI Cooper S four-door, you’ll find a host of unique interior quirks. There’s a large, circular, center-mounted infotainment system that’s operated by a large knob on the center console that MINI calls the Touch Controller. It does take some time to get used to, and I’m not a huge fan of the interface. Why reinvent the wheel?

Another thing I’m not a huge fan of is the heads-up display, which rises from the dashboard when the vehicle is powered up. I’m generally not a fan of heads-up displays, and this one didn’t change my mind. I’d rather just look at the speedometer. The display, however, also can project navigation and other info, not just speed, which is pretty neat.

The gauge cluster is greatly improved over the previous generation MINI Cooper S, which I didn’t very much like in the MINI Cooper S Convertible from a few years back. Our four-door tester, however, had easily readable gauges in addition to a chunky steering wheel with audio controls, cruise, and paddle shifters.

2015 MINI Cooper S four door back seat

With four doors you’d figure there’d be more room in the back seat. Well, there certainly doesn’t feel like it; I wouldn’t want to spend more than about 20 minutes back there. If you’re looking for a spacious MINI, you’ll want a Countryman. The MINI Cooper S four-door is more practical because you can get more stuff in it. However, we’d recommend more cargo than people. There is quite a bit more space behind the rear passenger area compared to a two door, however.

Other things I liked about this MINI were the ginormous panoramic moon roof, the very nice Harmon/Kardon stereo system, and the overall feel of the car. It just felt fun, fresh, and well, just right. Did I mention how fun this thing is to fling around? What a blast.

2015 MINI Cooper S 4 Door Hardtop

You can get into a MINI Cooper S four-door for $25,950 including destination. But again, our version was $36,050. For you that are math-challenged, that means our tester had a staggering $10,100 worth of add-ons. This included things like the $4,500 “Fully Loaded” package (nav, that huge moon roof, Harmon/Kardon stereo, “comfort access keyless entry”), the $1,500 automatic transmission, $500 park distance sensors, $500 for the Electric Blue paint, $750 for the 18” alloy wheels, and $650 for the Cold Weather package. Yes, the options can really add up.

But again, this is a premium car that just happens to be small (yes, it also runs on premium fuel). And while earlier MINI Cooper S models felt a bit less refined and had worse ergonomics, the ’15 MINI Cooper S feels more refined, more premium, and more sporting—even with two more doors.

THE BASICS: 2015 MINI Cooper S 4 Door Hardtop
MSRP As Tested: $36,050
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder, direct injection
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
 Horsepower: 189
Torque: 207 lbs/ft
Curb Weight: 3,208 lbs.
Wheelbase: 102.2"
Overall Length: 161.8"
Suspension: F: MacPherson Strut Front Suspension
R: Multilink
Brakes: F: Disc w/ABS
R: Disc w/ABS
Wheels: 18" alloy 
Tires: 205/40/18
Range & MPG: 26 city, 33 highway, 29 combined


Anonymous said...

It's a 2.0 liter engine, not 1.6

Andy Lilienthal said...

You're 100% right. Sorry for the typo. It's been corrected.