2016 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door
A little money well spent really can by happiness when it comes to the 2016 Mini Cooper S.
We see it all the time. A TV or online ad, a digital advertorial designed to look like a review while scrolling through social media on our phone or tablet, or a full-page spread in a lifestyle magazine — however it gets fed to us, it’s the same basic promotion by some brand trying to tell us that whatever they’re selling will make our lives better, improve our state of well being or health, enhance our sex lives and just generally make us happier people. While most of these claims are simply not true, when it comes to anything with the winged Mini badge on its hood, just might be a case for truth in advertising.
Call it Mini therapy, but after 13.5 years of reviewing and testing Minis, I’ve done more than just drink the Kool-Aid. As if I didn’t already have a stupid grin of anticipation on my face when first seeing my test car’s Deep Blue metallic paint, white roof, white mirror caps and dual white hood stripes, Mini went and stuffed a six-speed manual between my tester’s sport seats to increase its fun factor yet more.
But hold on, it’s not all about good times. In fact the manual mixer transforms the Cooper S from a fun-loving sporty hatch into a much more serious performance model, with takeoff feeling quicker and all-round engine response more enthusiastic, the clutch take-up light yet providing ample push back and the shifter absolutely wonderful, with a short-throw flickable feel and positive notchy engagement combined with all the control that comes by modulating the three pedals below. At the opposite end of the go-fast spectrum the larger S’ brakes are strong with nominal fade even when overused to the point of abuse, whereas handling is beyond brilliant, my S loaner’s 195/55R16s certainly grippy enough for heroic feats of lateral acceleration, although I’d love to try this car with a set of summer performance tires. Either way, its new UKL1 front-wheel drive platform architecture, which underpins all new and upcoming Mini models as well as a number of BMWs, does a better job of combining legendary Mini cornering prowess with ride comfort, the longer wheelbase providing better high-speed stability with less dive and squat too.
The heart of any new Cooper S is Mini’s recently updated twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a full 400 cubic centimeters larger than the previous S mill and substantially more effective at getting up to speed. The engine puts 8 additional horsepower and 30 more pound feet of torque through the front wheels resulting in 189 of the former and 207 of the latter, while I likely don’t need to remind you that this subcompact hatch is hardly a heavyweight at 2,894 pounds as-tested or 2,930 pounds with the six-speed autobox, which incidentally makes this 4-Door 134 lbs and 95 lbs heavier than the equivalent 2-Door models respectively.
There’s no hit on fuel economy between the 2- and 4-Door models, both Cooper S cars achieving the same EPA claimed rating of 23 mpg city, 33 highway and 37 combined when fitted with the manual or 26 city, 33 highway and 29 with the automatic, which are impressive numbers when taking into account the car’s fabulous performance. Mini includes a start/stop system to shut off the engine while it would otherwise be idling, although I had it in Sport mode so much that I wouldn’t have realized it was there if it didn’t default to a more efficient driving mode each time I got back in for another stint behind the wheel.
Mini includes a toggle switch to shut the auto start/stop system off if you’d rather keep it in Green mode to save fuel while still listening to the engine percolate at the stoplight, a switch that’s situated amid a whole row of toggles for everything from turning the traction control off to starting the car, the new “pushbutton” ignition system now a bright red toggle, which is much cooler in my books. Yes, it’s not only the Mini’s performance that will make you smile, it’s the artful touches, thoughtful conveniences and refined quality of the entire package. Mini likes to consider itself a premium brand, which makes sense considering it’s owned and produced in Britain by BMW. Yet it makes more sense after taking a seat inside and having a look and feel around. It’s a phenomenal interior, with fabric-wrapped roof pillars that are beautifully finished, the A-pillars on my tester interrupted by embedded tweeters that come as part of a superb sounding optional Harmon/Kardon audio system.
To maintain that premium feel Mini finishes the dash top with a very high-quality soft-touch synthetic that continues down each side of the instrument panel, across all four door uppers, the door inserts and armrests, but not going so far as to cover the lower center console, glove box lid, or lower door panels. Still, it’s a cut above most rivals and any previous Mini. Along with the high-grade pliable plastics are lots of shiny metals, painted or textured plastics and the like. A checkered pattern across the dash combined with black lacquered trim in my tester, while the reorganized gauges are black-faced to set the Cooper S apart further from more common Minis that get less common white faces. The reorganization puts the speedometer and tachometer directly in front of the driver where it’s easiest to keep an eye on, freeing up the center area for audio equipment or infotainment gear if added, although I admit to missing the ultra-cool speedo needle that spun around the circumference of the old center-mounted infotainment display.
The Cooper S sport seats are expectedly supportive and wonderfully comfortable, although more on the firm side than cushy, while I especially appreciated how they hugged my backside in place during hard cornering, their excellent bolstering more than adequate for aggressive maneuvers, while extendable lower cushions allow those with longer legs to get some additional support under the knees and hamstrings.
All Cooper S 4-Door models get the sport seats, toggle ignition switch and idle-stop system I mentioned a moment ago, plus auto on/off headlights, LED front fog lights, brake ducts, 16-inch Loop Spoke silver alloys on runflat tires, a performance suspension, 14-mm (294-mm) larger front brake rotors, a chromed fuel filler cap cover, heatable powered side mirrors, speed-sensitive rain-sensing intermittent wipers, Comfort keyless entry, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic multifunction sport steering wheel, cruise control, an onboard computer,color-adjustable ambient lighting that cause the ring around center-mounted infotainment controls to glow in multiple colors, checkered black interior trim, auto HVAC, a climate controlled glove box, Mini Driving Modes with Sport mode, Performance Control (which counteracts understeer before reaching threshold cornering levels for more neutral, balanced responsiveness), six-speaker AM/FM/HD/AUX/USB audio with automatic speed volume control, Bluetooth hands-free, leatherette upholstery, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, hill assist, tire pressure monitoring, ABS-enhanced four wheel discs, electronic brake-force distribution, automatic self drying brakes, dynamic stability and traction control, an electronic differential lock, cornering brake control, automatic front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, all the usual airbags plus front knee blockers and more for just $25,100 plus freight and dealer fees.
My tester also featured the Cold Weather package that adds three-way heated front seats and auto-dimming side mirrors for $750 (alternatively these two are $500 apiece as standalone options); an $1,800 Premium package that includes Comfort access, the 410-watt eight-channel 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio upgrade, a panoramic sunroof, and Storage package that adds a storage net in passenger footwell, map pocket on back of front seats, variable double luggage-compartment floor in the luggage compartment, 12-volt power outlet in luggage compartment, and a cargo position for the rear seat bench; the $1,750 Wired package that adds an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with navigation and real-time traffic info, an enhanced Bluetooth system that boosts phone signal via the roof-mounted antenna while charging via a compartment in the center armrest; plus many more packages and standalone features.
Mini’s 4-Door experiment appears to be paying off, as the brand recently announced that sales of models with four doors or more have surpassed those with three or less, probably expected but good for the brand’s ongoing fortunes just the same. As for me, I simply like the unorthodox styling of the Hardtop 4-Door better, and of course prefer not having to squeeze my friends and family into the back via a coupe-like crevice. Likewise I like having the ability to take up to four additional friends along for the ride thanks to this model’s third rear seatbelt, and those in back are also more comfortable in the 4-Door thanks to about 6 inches of extra length and 2.8 inches more wheelbase, all of the latter being added to rear legroom. There’s also 2.4 inches of extra rear elbowroom carved out of the interior door panels and 0.6 inches of added headroom. What that means in real life is that my medium-build five-foot-eight frame had about four inches remaining above my head and around the same in front of my knees when the front seats were set for someone my size, so you’ve probably got about eight inches of added height to play with. In other words, if your kids are taller than John Cleese you’d better consider the new six-door Mini Clubman or Mini’s Countryman SUV.
With regards to cargo space, due to the 4-Door’s extra length you can haul 1.1 cubic feet more behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks than in the 2-Door for a total of 9.8 cubic feet, or drop them and gain an even greater advantage of 7.4 cubic feet for a maximum of 33.2 cubes. That’s a big difference in life hauling space.
As you can tell, Mini is a changing brand for an evolving world, the vast majority of its new owners having very little in common with those that bought into the original Sir Alec Issigonis-designed version way back in the early ‘60s. Then again, while the new Minis are much larger than the tiny original, the brand still adds an element of fun to everyday life that seems to be missing from so many other four-door hatchbacks. So the next time you see an ad for one of Mini’s new models, smile and appreciate that there really is some truth left in advertising. A little bit of money well spent really can buy happiness, to be enjoyed at least a couple of times a day.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press