Emma Jayne Williams

The Mini gets better as the years roll by, but the traditional look remains the same

The Mini John Cooper Works hardtop is the high-end model in the lineup of two-door Mini models for 2015. It comes with a turbocharged, high-output 228-horsepower four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission.
The Mini John Cooper Works hardtop is the high-end model in the lineup of two-door Mini models for 2015. It comes with a turbocharged, high-output 228-horsepower four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission.

Almost everyone recognizes a Mini Cooper when they see it. There have been a few changes over the years, but the shape is basically the same – short, but tall and wide.

Last year’s model saw bigger dimensions, translating to slightly more passenger and cargo room, although neither is spacious.

Two new turbocharged engines were introduced in 2014, along with an improved automatic transmission. The interior was refreshed with upgraded materials and some new features.

For 2015, a new four-door hatchback arrived. It’s only 6.3-inches longer than the two-door (which is slightly larger than the previous two-door), but actually has seating for five, and fits into the same tight parking spaces.

The John Cooper Works trim for the two-door hatchback (AKA hardtop) models returned for 2015, new and more powerful. For the second year of the third-generation, all models now have standard heated mirrors and automatic climate control.

The two-door models come in Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works trims, while the four-door models come in Cooper and Cooper S trims.

Base prices range from $20,700 to $30,600, with a large selection of options, colors, and accessories available.

Up to 13 exterior colors are available, depending on the model and trim selected. Metallic colors add $500, and special exclusive colors add $1,000. Contrasting mirror and roof colors are available, as well as striping, decorative roof decals and mirror caps, and chrome accent packages.

My tester was the John Cooper Works hardtop, base price $30,600, in exclusive JCW Rebel Green with black hood stripes and white pinstripe details ($100); JCW sport seats in carbon black cloth with gray JCW double stripes, contrast stitching and JCW emblem, framed by luxurious Dinamica microsuede (on the upper seat back/headrest, thigh support, and bolsters); and an anthracite headliner.

It also featured 18-inch alloy wheels with a special JCW cup spoke, two-tone finish, red edging and “Mini John Cooper Works” logo on the hub, with performance run-flat tires ($750).

The sport front seats were heavily bolstered, with height control, adjustable thigh support, lumbar support, and integrated headrests – to keep driver and passenger comfortably and safely in place.

A 228-horsepower 2.0-liter Twin-Power Turbocharged four-cylinder engine is standard for the JCW, the most powerful Mini to date. A sport six-speed automatic transmission replaced the standard six-speed Getrag manual in my tester for $1,500. Formula One-inspired paddle shifters on the steering wheel made switching between automatic and manual modes easy.

EPA estimates for my Mini were 25 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, with a combined 28, which I achieved with a mix of neighborhood and highway driving. All hatchbacks come with an automatic stop-start feature that shuts off the engine when you’re stopped.

My tester had Dynamic Damper Control, a $500 option, which gives the driver control of the suspension to adjust the ride to fit the mood. A toggle-style ring around the shifter housing offers “Sport” for Mini’s signature go-kart handling; “Green” for a more-relaxed, fuel-efficient ride; or “Mid” for a balance of the two.

An Aero Kit with pronounced front and rear aprons, side skirts, a split black grille with chrome surround, red cross-bar on the upper mesh grille, solid gloss black lower grille, and black wheel arches gave my JCW Mini an aggressive, “get out of my way” look. The rear roof spoiler, painted black to match the roof and mirror caps, added to the sport-performance aura.

Chrome beltline, light housing trim (Mini stamped inside), door handles and fuel-fill cap, a faux hood scoop, and mesh-look rear bumper with low brake lights and centered dual exhaust tips were icing on the cake.

More John Cooper Works badging on the tailgate, upper front grille, front quarter panels, red front Brembo brake calipers; and the door sills left no doubt who inspired the race car spirit of my Mini. The 13.2-inch front brake rotors and fixed four-piston aluminum calipers are so large that special wheels had to be tailor made.

LED headlights and surrounding LED rings provided exceptional brightness for the bleakest weather or darkest night, while side-body white turn signals are a pure, updated alternative to the regular amber. The automatic headlamps turned themselves on as darkness approached. Heated outside mirrors and windshield washer jets, along with rain-sensing wipers (when engaged) also helped improve visibility.

Inside, the JCW was equally impressive, with still more race-inspired details such as the black checkered trim across the upper dash, and carbon-black textured details on the lower dash and door armrests; stainless steel pedals; and an ergonomic multifunction steering wheel with leather handgrips, red stitching, and JCW badge below the round middle.

Average speed, fuel consumption, distance-to-empty, and outside temperature info were supplied by an onboard computer.

A Wired Package for $1,750 brought a stunning 8.8-inch Visual Boost XL screen to replace the standard center stack and stereo controls, plus cutting edge technology with Mini Connected, Real Time Traffic Navigation, enhanced Bluetooth and a charging center armrest.

Most functions were controlled using a rotary dial on the floor console, with four buttons to select the main functions, and a central menu button for the extended list. I found some on-screen functions less than intuitive, and often confusing and frustrating.

The XL version of Connected+Visual Boost gives crucial driving data, and provides access to music, audiobooks, news, Facebook, RSS feeds (for access to news-related sites, weblogs and other online publications), and much more. A snap-in adaptor charges an iPhone, while allowing the operator to access phone services from the steering wheel.

Toggle switches operated several of the functions on the center stack and overhead console (more race car inspiration), including ignition. The ignition toggle on the lower center stack glows red for effortless location.

A standard Excitement Package placed a hidden compartment behind the checkered trim on the passenger side, adjustable multi-colored ambience lighting in several locations, and a spotlight on the door, which projected a Mini logo on the ground when the door was opened.

Excitement didn’t extend into the back seat, however. Rear passengers had three large cupholders and little else. Legroom and headroom were tight, at 30.8 inches and 36.9 inches. Front passengers had 41.4 inches and 40.3 inches.

Cargo space was also at a minimum, with 8.7 cubic feet behind the rear seatback, and 34 cubic feet with the 60/40 seatback folded flat. We were able to transport some groceries, cat supplies and a 44-inch plantation-style window blind with the seat folded flat.

A Premium Package for $1,800 included a huge dual-pane panoramic sunroof, a robust harman/kardon sound system, and convenient Storage Package and Comfort Access. The panoramic sunroof covers 60 percent of the roof, to bring in amazing sky views and fresh air for all passengers. Harmon/kardon delivers concert-like sound with an immersive digital sound processor and twelve speakers on eight channels with 410 watts of energetic sound.

The Storage Package brought a storage net in the passenger footwell, map pockets on the backs of the front seats, a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area, and a double cargo compartment floor. Comfort Access added a transceiver to the key to allow the key to remain in a pocket or purse and the doors to be locked or unlocked by touching a button on any door.

Heated front seats and auto-dimming interior and exterior power-fold mirrors were included in a Cold Weather Package for $650. Heated mirrors are standard.

For $300 extra, we enjoyed more than 140 channels, including sports, talk, news, comedy and entertainment in addition to commercial-free music via SiriusXM radio with a one-year subscription.

Every Mini Hardtop has eight air bags: two front, two side-impact, two knee and two ceiling-mounted side curtain. The two-door Cooper rated four out of five stars in government crash tests and “Good” in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing.

My Mini was entertaining from the moment I set eyes on the multi-colored race-inspired exterior, opened the door to the awesome sport cockpit, started the engine — with its distinctive growl — and drove away.

The sport suspension made the ride firm with stiffer springs, dampers and thicker sway bars, but the bolstered sport seats were very comfortable. This car is “mini” in size only — style and fun are “maxi.”

With $8,350 in options and $850 destination charges, the total delivered price was $39,800.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at emmajayne1948@gmail.com.