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2015 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 MINI Cooper S 4-door

The newest Mini Cooper S 4-Door combines fun, frugality, and functionality with a useful bit more room inside and the flexibility and accessibility of four doors and a hatch.

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY

         • SEE ALSO: Mini Buyers Guide


With two more doors, a nearly three-inch stretch in wheelbase, and over six inches more in length and looking even longer, is the 2015 Mini 4-Door still mini? Looking at my test car next to the other vehicles -- mostly crossover SUVs and a few sedans -- in a restaurant parking lot during my week with one, the answer is yes, definitely.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 MINI Cooper S 4-door

It's bigger than any previous Hardtop model, but those were in turn much larger than the original Austin / Morris Mini made from 1959 through 2000. That car was one of the most influential automobiles in history, being the first to successfully use a transversely-mounted engine driving the front wheels for maximum interior space on a minimal footprint. At just over ten feet long, 55 inches wide, and 53 tall, it held four people and a bit of luggage and was economical to buy and operate. And was most definitely mini, even compared to other British and European cars of its day. Compared to American cars of the day, no comparison…

Minis disappeared from US sales in the late 1960s, and returned in 2002 after ownership of the marque had passed to BMW. The two-door Hardtop was the original model, and was very much in the mold of the original. If larger than the original, it was tiny by contemporary measures. A one-product lineup is not the way to success, and the first expansion was a convertible in 2005. A second generation Hardtop appeared in 2007 with structural and engine changes, and the lineup expanded further with the debut of the longer, three-door Clubman in 2008. Since then, the larger four-door Countryman crossover and smaller Coupé and Roadster have been added, as has the Paceman, a two-door form of the Countryman.

We're now into the third generation of the new Mini Hardtop, again with structural and engine changes. In two-door form, it's a bit larger to meet ever more stringent safety standards. The 4-Door replaces the first-generation Clubman (as a new Clubman, even longer than the 4-Door, has recently been announced), and its two rear doors offer much easier access to the rear seat than the old Clubman's single passenger-side rear-opening door. The 4-Door's 101.1-inch wheelbase is marginally longer than the Clubman's 100.3, and its 158-inch length is a bit more than the Clubman's 155.8. Compared with a Cooper S Clubman I tested in 2008, this week's similarly-equipped 4-Door has gained 170 pounds. Offsetting that, it's gained 17 horsepower and a healthy 30 lb-ft of torque in the engine compartment.

Originally, the most notable difference between regular and S models was that the S had forced induction, supercharging in the first generation and turbocharging in the second. Now, both are turbocharged, and use direct fuel injection, parent BMW's VANOS variable cam phasing for both intake and exhaust, and Valvetronic variable valve control to optimize fuel efficiency and power. The regular Cooper powerplant is a 1.5-liter inline three-cylinder with 134 hp and 162 lb-ft; the S gets and extra cylinder for its increased power. Both are mounted transversely, of course, and drive the front wheels through a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

So yes, in 4-Door trim the Mini is not so mini, but it's still small. Smaller in size than hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Golf and GTI, Mazda3, and Ford Focus. Still easy to slip into tight parking spaces, and with easier access than the Clubman and a bit more interior space. On the road, it still has the quick reflexes and sharp response that has always characterized the Mini. The extra wheelbase length makes is a bit less choppy on bad surfaces, but it's still optimized for performance over cushy comfort. It's a Mini Cooper, after all. And despite the gains in weight and power, it's still sips gas -- the 28 mpg I got during a week with minimal highway and maximum backroad fun travel was the same as I got with the Clubman a few years back.

APPEARANCE: It's not quite the Mini stretch limo, and it's only seven inches longer on a three-inch longer wheelbase compared to the new regular Mini. But its proportions and styling make the Cooper 4-Door look larger than it actually is. Its short hood, two-box, wheels-at-the-corners shape is still a linear descendant of the original of 1959, if a bit more filled out and more proportionally like the original Countryman woodie wagon of the early `60s, although that was a two-door. Like the two-door, the 4-Door has a vertically-opening hatch, not the Clubman's two side-opening rear doors. All of the details are just slightly different, but it's instantly recognizable. As always, the S has a "letterbox" air scoop on its hood, but that's now a non-functional styling device. The windows are now framed instead of frameless, for better weathersealing and lower wind noise.

COMFORT: Compared to any Hardtop two-door or the previous Clubman, there's more space in every direction in the 4-Door. Not a lot, but enough. As ever, interior design, materials, and fit and finish are premium quality. Being a Mini, it's as idiosyncratic and fun as expected, but a bit more mainstream. The speedometer is now in its expected place in front of the driver with the tach instead of the previous nostalgic position in the center of the instrument panel. That spot is used for the information and navigation display. The rack-mount switches at the bottom of the center stack have given way to vintage automotive-style toggles, here for start/stop, auto-stop, and VSC and other electronic systems. All important controls are well marked and even the navigation and audio systems are relatively intuitive.

Front seats are wonderfully supportive and bolstered sports-style, both manually adjustable including for cushion height. Why that for the passenger? Um, made in England, not the passenger seat there. This car had the optional John Cooper Works steering wheel, manually tilt- and reach-adjustable with a thick stitched leather rim and audio and cruise system controls. There are LED and light-pipe accents around the cabin, some of which change color depending on various parameters. Audio choices here were AM and FM radio, USB and jack external connections, and Bluetooth. No CD and interestingly no backup camera, although the car is small enough and visibility good enough to not seriously need one. Rear seat access is far better than in the original Clubman three-door and there is more room, although (lack of) width and the central tunnel make the center position dubious. Luggage capacity is much increased over the two-door, aided by a split-folding rear seat. Runflat tires mean no spare.

SAFETY: The Mini Cooper 4-Door meets or exceeds all safety standards and in addition to the expected impact-absorption and deformation structures and airbags, excellent maneuverability, braking, and acceleration abilities provide active safety for the aware driver. A variety of electronic systems more commonly found in higher-priced cars are available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Mini is proud of its cars' "go kart-like" handling and indeed, specialty vehicles like the Ariel Atom and or Lotus/Caterham/Etc Seven excepted, a Mini is as close as you can come to a street-legal shifter kart. If "vehicle dynamics" is a term commonly used in conversation around your house, this is your car. If you're looking for a soft, compliant ride and isolation from the world around you, that's not gonna happen here. Yes, you can get all of the current electronic connectivity, but physical and mechanical connectivity with the road and the world around you is what a Mini is all about. The MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is designed and tuned for enthusiastic driving. Quick steering, nimble and precise handling, great roadholding, and excellent brakes make it a joy on a good road, or even carving through traffic. Long highway drives, less so.

PERFORMANCE: Minis have always combined fuel frugality with surprising quickness, even in the days of the original 1960s Mini Coopers, 1275S version especially. (Ok, competition-tuned with Webers and a hot cam maybe not so frugal, but better than the larger Jaguar MK IIs and Ford Galaxies they could hound and embarrass on the track) This one proudly keeps that tradition going. Compared to the old Clubman, the 4-Door Cooper S has gained more in power and especially torque than it has in weight (see intro) so acceleration is unsurprisingly improved. Turbocharging, direct fuel injection, and parent BMW's VANOS cam-phasing and VALVETRONIC valve lift and duration technologies combine to give maxima of 189 horsepower at 6000 rpm and more importantly 207 lb-ft of torque at a low 1250 rpm --- so as soon as you step on the throttle, instant torque, no waiting. Turbo lag? What's that? Not particularly surprisingly, as contemporary automatics can shift very quickly and efficiently, the six-speed automatic produces a quicker 0-60 time --6.5 seconds -- than the stick's 6.6, and with less abuse to the drivetrain. I prefer manual, but the automatic is not a negative at all. Manual shifting can be done with the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel arms. With the torque available, gear choice is not particularly critical. There are multiple driving modes -- normal, sport, with increased throttle sensitivity, and green with decreased sensitivity. Sport suits the car's nature out in the country, normal makes life easier around town, and green maybe can save a bit of fuel on the highway. EPA ratings are 26 mpg city, 33 highway. I got 28 with more city errands and backroad fun than highway slogging. No complaints there.

CONCLUSIONS: With a useful bit more room inside and the flexibility and accessibility of four doors and a hatch, the newest Mini Cooper S 4-Door still combines fun, frugality, and functionality.




SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door

Base Price $ 25,100

Price As Tested $ 35,900

Engine Type DOHC inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection, variable cam phasing, and variable valve control

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 189 @ 6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 207 @ 1250 rpm (221 with overboost)

Transmission 6-speed automatic (opt)

Wheelbase / Length 101.1 in. / 158.0 in.

Curb Weight 2991 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 15.8

Fuel Capacity 11.6 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline

Tires 205/40R18 86W Pirelli Cinturato P7 runflat

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 26 / 33 / 28

0 to 60 mph 6.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Electric Blue Metallic paint $ 500

Cold Weather Package -- includes: power folding mirrors, heated front seats $ 600

Fully Loaded -- includes: navigation system, enhanced BT and USB connectivity Premium Package -- includes: Comfort Access keyless entry, panoramic moonroof, storage package, harmon/kardon premium sound $ 4,500

Sport Package -- includes: 18" alloy wheels, LED fog and head lights $ 1,000

MINI Yours Interior Style Fiber $ 350

Sport Automatic Transmission $ 1,500

JCW leather steering wheel $ 250

Anthracite headliner $ 250

Rar Park Distance Control $ 500

MINI Head-up Display $ 500

Destination Charge $ 850