New Mini Cooper S Hardtop: Enjoyable in City, Countryside

The modern Mini is not really “mini.” You could drop a classic 1960s British-made Mini inside the modern German version. It’s really the outward styling that’s lived on from that classic era.

During a recent press trip to London and Edinburgh, I got a hold of the latest Mini – the 2014 Cooper S Hardtop. The bumblebee yellow machine with its black racing stripes calls attention to itself in a playful way. In terms of that styling, it may not be the most masculine of cars – but it does tell the world you won’t settle for some dull, similarly priced Japanese hatchback.

The Cooper S arrives with a manual transmission standard (…God bless you, Mini…) or a six speed automatic. The standard engine is a 1.6 liter, 181 horsepower power plant. That might not sound like an abundance of power, and it’s true that it’s not fast by any means. But, by keeping weight down, the little four seater has ample quickness for city driving and enough power to maintain country highway speed.

The driving experience is spritely and entertaining and looks right at home on UK streets. It feels slightly faster than the similarly priced Fiat 500, but not as aggressive as a more expensive Volkswagen Golf.

That sat-nav is one of the finest I’ve used. The screen is bright, its graphic design colorful and well-planned. The directions are clear and delivered with ample time to make adjustments on course. That’s particularly useful in a city like London or Edinburgh – where the streets are narrow and lead to many one way routes.

I can serve up a clear example of the Mini’s in-dash superiority. Before engaging in a review of this Cooper S Hardtop, I spent several days testing a £150,000 luxury sports car in and around London. On my way to a hotel in Covent Garden, I used that machine’s in-dash navigation system to get me through the narrow winding streets of Central London and the West End.

As I passed through Mayfair, St. James’s Park and Pall Mall en route to Covent Garden. But, as the core of the great city swallowed me up, the countless buildings and occasional skyscrapers must’ve disrupted the satellite navigation system. First, the British female voice began to stutter and repeat itself. Then, the directions became staggered, and finally froze altogether.

I tried repeatedly to restart the in-dash system without luck. The car lost its satellite connect and froze up completely. It wouldn’t rejoin me until I was out of Central London.

The next day, I picked up the new Mini Cooper S Hardtop from the automaker’s friendly fleet staff. Again, business called me to Central London and Grovesnor Square. I traveled through many of the same neighborhoods that killed the super car, and the Mini never faltered.

When you add that technological cautionary tale to the Hardtop’s other appealing qualities, the sum is a sporty, fun, capable and appealing car anyone can take home new for around $20,000.