The 2015 MINI Cooper hardtop is the third generation of the "new MINI" that launched more than 10 years ago, bringing the spunky British rollerskate-on-wheels to the U.S. for the first time since 1967. But now it comes in two versions: not only the familiar three-door hatchback, but a five-door hatchback as well. The only MINI offered that way to date has been all-wheel-drive Countryman model.
The "Hardtop 4-Door," as it's dubbed, is new for 2015, following last year's launch of the revised three-door car (now labeled "Hardtop 2-Door"). The new addition is a longer and more capacious version of the 2-Door, but it adds to the sprawling MINI lineup, now approaching 10 different models. Both the Hardtops come only with front-wheel drive, and they represent the British minicar's first complete redesign since 2007.
Inside and out, the redesign brings the classic MINI shape up to par and beyond in several areas, including refinement, interior materials, standard and optional features, and general comfort. The MINI is still a very small car, but it's one that's improving with the years, while keeping the distinctive looks, cheeky character, and rollerskate handling of previous generations very much intact.
On the outside, only the longer nose really betrays the complete redesign until you put a 2015 MINI next to an older version from 2007 or even 2002. It's gained slightly in every dimension, and visually, a longer hood and less stubby front indicate the new crash structures and stronger bodyshell underneath. But the upright windshield, long roof, horizontal window line, and oval front lights all scream "MINI," as does an optional white-painted roof. MINI aficionados may see the differences immediately, of course.
The interior is where the most visible changes have come. The ergonomics are cleaned up, with a tachometer and speedometer behind the steering wheel at last, and the large round central dashboard shape now solely a display screen (of various dimensions depending on model and optional equipment).Three rotating knobs handle the ventilation system, and overall it's simply much easier to understand how the controls work. They're in more logical places and look less as though a box of switches and dials was tossed into the interior and affixed at random.
Two all-new engines, three- and four-cylinder members of a modular family shared with BMW, power the base MINI Cooper and Cooper S models respectively. Both are turbocharged and direct-injected; the 124-horsepower three is as powerful as the base four in earlier generations, but considerably peppier and more fuel-efficient as well, while the Cooper S is powered by a 189-hp 2.0-liter turbo four. Both engines can be ordered with either a six-speed manual gearbox (our preference) or a six-speed automatic.
Handling and roadholding remain superb, with the MINI defining its urban rollerskate image and doing so more quietly and comfortably than before. The electric power steering is very good, and with a handful of optional suspension upgrades, it's pretty much impossible to disturb the car's composure on virtually any road surface. Overall, we prefer the base model to the Cooper S, given its lower price and the reduced difference in performance between the two versions--at least until the higher-output John Cooper Works versions arrive in a year or two.
One of the most noticeable upgrades in this new MINI is a higher-quality interior. The sport seats are superbly comfortable in front, and the driving position is close to ideal. More soft-touch materials are used, and combined with a more logical layout of switches and controls, it's simply a friendlier place to be. There's still a lot of black trim and upholstery, but rear-seat riders will find 3 more inches of shoulder room, meaning some adults can ride back there for the first time.
The 2015 MINI Cooper hardtop hasn't yet been rated by either the NHTSA or IIHS for crash safety, with the exception of a Good rating on the IIHS moderate-overlap front crash test. It comes standard with eight airbags, the usual suite of safety systems, and a few novel options as well. One of those--befitting its performance aspirations--is corner-braking control, in which the brake force on each wheel adjusts to accommodate changes in the car's cornering attitude to maximize traction even under hard braking.
The base MINI hardtop with the three-cylinder engine and six-speed manual gearbox carries a sticker price under $21,000 including delivery. Standard features include LED headlights and leather upholstery. The more powerful Cooper S starts at $24,395, and an automatic transmission adds $1,250 to either model. Beyond that, there are literally dozens of options, packages, trim levels, paint and upholstery colors, and appearance options to customize a MINI.
You can get a reasonably equipped three-cylinder 2015 MINI for around $27,000, although a heavy hand on the options list can take that number up to around $34,000--and around $38,000 for a top-of-the-line Cooper S. Our favorite remains the smaller-engined car, though, which is lighter, almost as quick, and has an endearing and quirky exhaust note on idle.
Either way, though, the all-new 2015 MINI Cooper hardtop--and the upcoming five-door hatchback version as well--maintain the MINI's cheerful character and urban-warrior handling while smoothing out some of the rough spots found in previous generations. For that, we're willing to trade a little added size.
For a more detailed review of the rest of the MINI range--including Coupe, Convertible, Roadster, and Clubman models--see our2014 MINI Cooper review.
For a more detailed review of the much larger Countryman utility vehicle, the only MINI version that offers all-wheel drive, see our2015 MINI Countryman review.