Republished: 02/23/2015 (Original Date: 09/17/2014)
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
With a revised Mini Clubman still in the concept stage, this 2015 Mini Cooper Hardtop Four-Door fills the somewhat confusing gap between the traditional two-door Cooper and the larger Countryman and Paceman crossovers. The four-door retains the Mini's lively spirit and improves on the formula with much more convenience.
What Is It?
Visually, the four-door Mini Hardtop is very similar to its two-door sibling. Bumper-to-bumper, the four-door is 6 inches longer, with 2.8 inches of that length added between the front and rear wheels. A longer rear overhang makes up the rest. While these measurements may not seem all that significant on paper, the advantages gained on the inside certainly are.
With more rear legroom, the four-door Mini can now easily accommodate child passengers and small adults. Cargo space increases a full 50 percent compared to the two-door hardtop. For those drawn to the Mini brand, the four-door may be more attractive than the ungainly Clubman. As importantly, it is just as fun to drive as the two-door model. When it comes to price, the four-door continues to score points, as there's only a $1,000 premium to get the two extra doors.
Prices start at $22,550 for the base model four-door hardtop that is powered by an adequate 134-horsepower 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine. The $25,950 Cooper S version gets a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that boosts output to 189 hp, along with a torque-vectoring limited-slip differential that allows it to corner with more aggression. Our Cooper S test vehicle came with almost every option available, including the six-speed automatic transmission and the aptly named Fully Loaded package, sending the price soaring to $35,900.
How Does It Drive?
With a flip of a flat toggle switch glowing red in the center stack, the engine rumbles to life with a pleasing low hum. At start-up, the Mini defaults to its Normal driving mode. A rotating collar switch around the gear selector activates the Sport and Green modes with a quick flick. Sport mode sharpens throttle response, holds gears at higher revs before shifting and increases steering effort. Green mode goes the opposite direction by dulling responses and upshifting earlier to maximize fuel efficiency. Had our test vehicle been equipped with the $500 Dynamic Damper Control option, the drive setting would also adjust the ride stiffness.
Not surprisingly, the Normal mode is a happy medium for daily driving. Green Mode makes the Mini feel as though it's trudging through a thick pool of molasses, but in heavy traffic it's not a problem. What is bothersome, however, is the automatic stop-start function that is engaged in Green mode. When the car is stopped, the engine automatically shuts off. When brake pressure is reduced, the engine restarts. The system is nothing new, but Mini's execution is significant because start-up sends a strong shudder through the vehicle. Fortunately, it can be disabled while retaining Green mode's other attributes.
Sport mode is likely of greater importance to drivers willing to step up to the Cooper S model, of course. In this setting there's more immediacy in the controls, bringing out the playful Mini personality and allowing drivers to extract the maximum performance from the drivetrain.
In Edmunds' testing, the Cooper S four-door reached 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, which is close to most competitors. There's good torque right off the line, and gearchanges are quick and smooth. There's also no sign of the torque steer that used to plague performance-focused hatchbacks. Selecting Sport mode further livens up things with quicker and more noticeable shifts. Steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles allow the driver to take full control of the transmission, and the reactions to inputs are immediate. Rev-matched downshifts are perfectly executed. Of course, you can do it yourself with the six-speed manual, which comes standard.
The brakes are also up to hot hatchback standards when you need to slow down in a hurry. From 60 mph, the four-door required 116 feet to come to a stop, which is a few feet longer than rivals, but still very acceptable. Even with a full stomp on the brake pedal, the Mini remains solidly composed, with very little nosedive and no squirm. After repeated panic stops, the pedal softened, but stopping power remained strong.
Is It Fun?
Despite the larger footprint, the four-door Mini Cooper S is just as fun to unleash on twisting mountain switchbacks as its smaller siblings. When driven with enthusiasm, the car responds with very predictable actions and even dares you to push harder. It instills trust very early on and in some ways it feels a bit more settled than the shorter-wheelbase two-door model. You won't be chasing down dedicated sports cars in a Mini, but it will deliver plenty of thrills and smiles.
If driven just past the handling limit, the stability control system does an excellent job of keeping you on your intended path. A subtle brake application on the appropriate wheel can be felt, and that's just enough to keep the car from pushing toward the outside of a turn. The fun is never interrupted by an overly intrusive system. Four doors, it seems, come with no downside.
Is It Comfortable?
The Mini Cooper S represents the middle ground of performance between the standard Cooper and the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works model. For the added handling ability, the Cooper S does sacrifice some compliance, but ride quality isn't objectionably stiff. Shoppers seeking a softer ride may want to forgo the larger wheel options.
Our test vehicle came equipped with the optional sport seats, which provide excellent lateral support when cornering and just enough adjustments to accommodate a variety of body types. Even so, the aggressive side bolstering may be constricting for wider passengers. Plush seat cushioning remained comfortable after several hundred miles of road tripping, but the thin armrest padding did create some elbow discomfort.
The rear seats are positively spacious compared to the two-door Cooper, but there are still some limitations. There's enough headroom in the rear seat for the average adult, but legroom is tight. The front seatbacks are scooped out enough to accommodate rear passenger legs, but there's no room to stretch out. Smaller passengers will fit fine.
How Is the Interior?
Thanks to the additional two doors, rear passengers no longer have to tunnel between the front seats and roof support. The doors are rather narrow, but access is significantly easier. Otherwise, the interior is just like other Mini models, with all the personality we've come to expect.
Outward visibility is as good as it gets for any vehicle. So good, in fact, that it renders the optional rearview camera unnecessary. Likewise, the gauges and infotainment screen are placed well within the driver's sight lines. With the optional head-up display, speed and navigation prompts are even easier to read.
Throughout the cabin, heavy toggle switches and unique trim elements add a lot of visual interest that is absent in other hatchbacks. Materials quality isn't much better than rivals, but the texturing and styling go a long way toward improving the overall feeling of quality. Surrounding the round infotainment panel in the middle of the dash is an array of accent lights that react to driving conditions as well as system commands. There's a certain cool factor to these lights at first, but at night they can be distracting. Once the novelty had worn off, we disabled them.
One of our main gripes with the current Mini interior is the placement of the infotainment controller. It's mounted too low in the center console to reach and operate comfortably and is further obstructed by the optional center armrest. And that's really a shame because the system, which is nearly identical to BMW's praiseworthy iDrive, is otherwise very easy to use and benefits from a wealth of features.
Interior storage also leaves a bit to be desired, as door pockets, cupholders and even the dual gloveboxes are on the small side. Cargo space does reap the rewards of the four-door's bigger profile, providing 13.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats compared to the two-door's meager 8.7 cubic feet. Folding the split rear seats increases capacity to 40.7 cubes. Underneath the raised trunk floor is an additional space for smaller items, and the panel can be lowered quickly to provide a flat load floor. Despite the cargo capacity increase over the two-door Cooper, the four-door still comes up short of both the VW GTI and Ford Focus ST.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get?
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 29 mpg combined (26 city/33 highway), which is slightly better than competing sporty hatchbacks. These estimates were confirmed by our overall average of 28.2 mpg, which included many miles of exuberant driving.
What Safety Features Are Available?
On top of the typical standard safety features found in all current vehicles, the 2015 Mini Cooper S Four-Door also includes front knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are optional.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Ford Focus ST: In terms of performance numbers, the similarly priced Focus ST outpaces the Mini Cooper S by a slim margin. Behind the wheel, however, the Focus feels more capable and even exhibits some tail-happy antics that are rare among front-wheel-drive cars. With a cargo capacity of 23.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats, the Focus handily defeats the Mini when it comes to utility. Of the few downsides, the MyFord Touch infotainment system can be frustrating to use and there is no option for an automatic transmission.
Volkswagen Golf R: Currently the top-dog hatchback, the 292-hp, all-wheel-drive Golf R takes GTI performance to all-new levels. All that power and handling comes at a cost, though, as it rings in about $11,000 more than the Focus, Mini and GTI.
Volkswagen GTI: As the originator of the sporty hatchback segment, the GTI is a solidly built performer with a more serious approach and design. It's not quite as engaging to drive hard as the Mini or Focus but it still posts performance numbers that keep it competitive. The VW's 22.8-cubic-foot cargo capacity also beats the Mini and it's available with a six-speed automated manual transmission.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
Charm has been one of Mini's strongest selling points, and the Cooper S has it in spades. With the addition of the four-door model, many of the space and cargo drawbacks are reduced without any appreciable influence on performance and entertainment. As an added incentive, Mini offers free scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles of ownership. VW offers one year of maintenance, but with Ford you're on your own.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Despite being larger than its two-door sibling, this Mini may still pose challenges to shoppers with an eye on practicality. If space, whether it's rear passenger or cargo-related, is a priority, the Mini Cooper S four-door trails its main rivals by a sizable margin.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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