April 7, 2014 8:45 AM | By Michael Bettencourt for MSN Autos

2014 Mini Cooper and Cooper S first drive

2014 Mini Cooper S (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper S (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper S (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper (© Photo: Michael Bettencourt)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper S (© Photo: Mini)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper (© Photo: Mini)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper (© Photo: Mini)
  • 2014 Mini Cooper (© Photo: Mini)
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2014 Mini Cooper S

Joy. Pint-sized and turbocharged.

2014 Mini Cooper (© Photo: Mini)

San Juan, Puerto Rico – Despite spending serious dollars tweaking the Euro-chic Fiat 500 for the North American marketplace, the buying public has by and large remained underwhelmed. With that said, you’ve got to hand it to Mini for building a true success story – especially in hatchback-phobic U.S., where building small hatchbacks typically results in a direct path to the sales toilet. Mini has bucked the trend, though, becoming a major star in North America – in fact, it’s Mini’s largest market.

Mini also happens to be a pretty big deal in Canada where buyers have greeted smaller, more practical hatchbacks with open arms. The original Cooper and Cooper S spawned an entire line of models: two convertibles, a station wagon, a two-seat coupe, a two-door crossover, and a four-door crossover. But they all closely share a design ethos and varying degrees of driving fun courtesy of the light-hearted base model Cooper. It’s rare in this industry for a base model to provide the inspiration for the rest of a brand’s products in both styling and personality.

That makes the lovable Cooper the “anti-halo” car: the one the rest of the line aspires to emulate.

Cooper grows in size and refinement, but still looks largely similar

The Mini Cooper family (© Photo: Mini)

The Mini Cooper is so lovable that Mini didn’t want to risk losing the visual charm of the original "new" Mini Cooper (second to the right in the photo). They've done a fairly good job -- most folks will be hard pressed to tell the last Mini from the latest generation unless they’re parked next to each other, as even the wheel designs are similar. An easy give-away: the headlamps. They’re now outlined by LED rings.

No, the complaints from Mini buyers and various auto critics had more to do with interior foibles, said one Mini insider: interior functionality, and interior finishes. So now the Mini grows 98 mm longer, 44 mm wider and a slight seven millimetres taller than its predecessor, with a wheelbase extended by 28 mm to 2,495 mm for notably more interior space overall than fellow smallish four-seat three-door hatches like the Scion iQ and Fiat 500.

Versus larger rivals, the Cooper still gives up quite a bit of interior room to the Volkswagen GTI, Beetle, Honda Civic Coupe or even the Hyundai Veloster. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom up front for six-footers, though the Cooper’s optional sport seats will be a touch too tight for bigger-boned drivers. Said sport seats will be more appreciated in the speedier Cooper S, where the aggressive bolsters helped keep us upright through the twisty mountain roads near San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Cooper engine down on cylinder count, both engines up on power

2014 Mini Cooper three-cylinder engine (© Photo: Mini)

2014 Mini Cooper three-cylinder engine

There are a few areas of the car that have shrunk, though. Under the hood, BMW has replaced the Cooper's base-level four-cylinder motor with a brand new 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo. One company representative said that the new motor should prove more reliable and flexible thanks to big bucks put in by parent company BMW. Although it is one cylinder short and 0.1 L down, it has 13 more horsepower and almost 50 more lb.-ft. of torque, compared to the old Cooper, the new base 134-hp Cooper has a fairly worthy 7.9-second 0-100 km/h time – or just a smidge under the eight-second mark that unofficially marks sporting machines.

Even when not winding it up fully, this inline-triple is an impressive piece of engineering, only feeling somewhat lethargic if you place the new Drive Logic transmission mode to fuel-saving Green mode. And unlike the much rougher three-cylinder in the Mitsubishi Mirage, there’s none of the sputtering or harshness that a naturally-imbalanced three-cylinder engine can provide.

The Cooper S retains a turbocharged 1.6-litre four, though its horsepower and torque have been boosted. It now checks in at 189 hp and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. The S will hustle from rest to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds with the manual, or 6.7 with the six-speed automatic with shift paddles. Both engines feature direct injection and a single twin-scroll turbo.

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