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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

To own an iconic MINI Cooper Hardtop is to possess a fun, seducing and personalized ride. Unique jukebox-style gauges and chrome toggle-switch controls, two- or four-door versions, and peppy engines craft an experience beyond what a similarly sized compact normally achieves.

I drove a 2015 MINI Cooper Hardtop with the upgraded 189-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine featuring the six-speed automatic Getrag transmission, shift paddles, and MINI driving modes (Sport, Mid and Green). Available as base or S trims, my loaded S trim featured the following standard equipment: sport seats; interior LED mood lighting; Bluetooth; six-speaker audio system; runflat tires; and sixteen-inch alloy wheels. Total vehicle price as described came to $25,100 without options.

The MINI family has grown considerably over the years and includes the MINI Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Paceman, Roadster, and Coupe. It’s also picked up some European competition with the Fiat line; other less expensive performance compacts include the Mazda3 and Hyundai Veloster.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: Being inside a MINI is a treat, unique from every corner and angle with extremely supportive sport seats. The layout of dials and switches does take some getting used to as the brand creates its own interior script. And I do miss a more colorful interior combo that MINI often crafts. That second row is small but still was able to accommodate a regular-sized child seat. My test drive had roughly $10k in additional packages, such as a $4,500 navigation system with an impressive Harman/Kardon audio system;$600 cold weather package (heated seats, basically); $750 wheel spokes; and $350 special cloth fiber interior material.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2015 MINI Cooper Hardtop has ratings of “Good” in all crash-test areas with The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It has a rating of 4-Stars with The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The vehicle is equipped with an advanced airbag system; Corner Braking Control (CBC); electric powered assisted steering; Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD); Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPM); and anti-locking brakes.

Cost Issues: The base price for a MINI Cooper four-door is $21,700 and the S trim at $25,100. It does get expensive fast with all the options, with my MINI Cooper test drive topping out at $35,900. If you’re set on sporty and small – but want something cheaper – look into a base Mazda3 iSport hatchback with a starting price of $18,945 (or even a fully loaded iGrand Touring plus options coming in at $28,585). Another great on is the Hyundai Veloster beginning at $18,000.

Activity & Performance Ability: The MINI possesses an undeniable cuteness factor, with the 2-liter turbocharged engine folding in respectable power and really surpassing what the 118-horsepower 1.6-liter can deliver. The vehicle’s Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) continues to give it excellent grip – this car was a gas to drive to Tahoe, tackling inclines and high-speed turns without fail. Interior noise does exist. Visibility is another plus. My initial impression was the MINI was a toy and not suited for everyday driving needs – but at the end of a weeklong test drive, I found despite its cuteness it really should be viewed as a functional choice.

The Green Concern: The 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine gets 26-city/33-highway driving for a combined 29 miles-per-gallon. The Mazda3 puts out a 2-liter with 30-city and 40-highway while the 2.5-liter gets 26-city and 35-highway for a combined 29 miles-per-gallon. Also available is an optional "i-ELOOP" system that captures and redistributes braking energy turning fuel economy to 29-city and 40-highway.

Beyond being just stylish, the MINI Cooper Hardtop puts out some excellent performance, fuel economy and safety. It’s pricier than many competitors, however – especially when you tack on all the options that make it a thrill to drive. I’d test drive the Mazda3 and Hyundai Veloster to be sure, but will bet the MINI’s seductive presence wins out.

2015 Katrina Ramser

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