- - Sunday, January 18, 2015

It’s hard to find fault with the 2014 Mini Cooper hardtop. I know because a few days after Christmas I took to the road for an eight-plus hour drive from Dallas to New Orleans in the Cooper, which included the Cold Weather, Premium and Sport’s Packages.

It’s sophisticated and even if small (aka the mini part of the moniker), my 6-foot-3 travel companion was more than comfortable during the long drive.

While I was driving the 2014, let’s go ahead and take a look at what the 2015 can do.

In 2015, the Mini Cooper models have added standard automatic wipers, heated mirrors and automatic climate control so changes from one year to the next are minimal.

As a reminder for those not familiar with the Mini Cooper lingo, the hardtop essentially means it is the two-door hatchback versus the convertible.

Competition includes the 2015 Fiat 500, the Hyundai Velostar and the Volkswagen Golf. For the convertible side, you could put the Mini Cooper next to the Volkswagen Beetle or the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but it is hard to compare when the Mini Cooper enters the room.

The 2015 Mini Cooper comes only in the two-door hatchback and the convertible and in the hatchback you get options of the base Cooper or the Cooper S trims. For the convertible, it’s the Cooper, Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW) choices and the convertible has a soft top, albeit it with power, and a glass rear window that allows for a “sunroof” function that is partially open.

On the base Mini Cooper hatchback, you get 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, climate control and wipers, heated mirrors, tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with a variety of function at your fingertips as well as various driving modes, all power accessories and even a refrigerated glove box. I particularly used the cruise control and trip computer on the drive and the leatherette upholstery with the interior ambient lighting keeps the mood calm when traffic and outside worries dare to interfere with the experience. On the base as well you get the Bluetooth connect, six speakers and the USB/iPod adapter and auxiliary jack.

The S hatchback moves you up a notch with a more powerful engine, hood scoop, black mesh grille, LED fog lights, dual center exhaust and 16-inch wheels that are also run-flat tires along with sport seats.

On the convertible base, you get mainly the same as on the base hatchback, but with 16-inch wheels, whereas the S convertible is more about performance like in the hardtop version.

There are some options that can be mixed and matched on the Mini Cooper trims, such as the LED fog lights and the sport seats also on the base Cooper and there are a variety of packages like the Flash, Wired, Loaded, Fully Loaded names that include a cacophony of choices. You can choose from LED headlights, 17 or 18-inch wheels, chrome exterior, roof spoiler, power-folding mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, parking sensors and a rearview camera. You can also choose whether you prefer cloth or leather upholstery and opt for a navigation system as well as smartphone app integration, heated front seats and an upgraded sound system.

Under the hood, the base Mini Cooper hatchback has a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed manual transmission is standard along with hill-start assist, but a six-speed automatic is an option.

For the Mini Cooper S hatchback it’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that will give you 189 horsepower with 207 pound-feet of torque in a six-speed manual or automatic. On the automatic, there is also a steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifter and on all the hatchbacks expect the automatic stop-start feature to shut off the engine for better fuel economy when the car is stopped.

Safety on the 2015 Mini Cooper includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control and front-seat side airbags and, on the hatchback, there are also front knee and full-length side curtain airbags. With the convertible, there are rollover bars that pop up and front side airbags that are a bit larger than in the hatchback.

It’s certainly a fun car to drive. On my way from Dallas to New Orleans, I hit pouring rain almost the entire way, but the Mini Cooper didn’t blink an eye or miss a beat. The hardtop version has a snazzy interior and since it is so compact inside everything is well placed and at your fingertips, even so, every control I really needed was right on the steering wheel … so easy.

Since speed limits are legal up to 75 miles per hour where I was going, I put at least 83 mpg’s on the speedometer. I still got a comfortable, quiet ride, which is hard to believe at those high speeds. It was as if I was floating.

Materials inside are also high end with soft-touch and just the right curves and the hatchback’s infotainment controller is easy to use and located right on the center console along with an optional Mini Connected infotainment interface for smartphone users.

Never once while driving (and I only stopped twice) did I feel uncomfortable since the seats are firm and situated for ease. The backseat is quite small, but I could easily reach anything I needed back there with no effort reaching from the front seat. After all, the cargo capacity is only 8.7 cubic feet, but it still fit all I needed and with the seats folded down in the back the size expands to 38 cubic feet. On the convertible, there is only six cubic feet in the rear or 23.3 when the rear seats are folded down.

Easy to park, easy to drive and with a fun loving personality, it’s a road trip car that adds to the fun and an enjoyable car to drive around town. Even better, the Mini Cooper is small enough that you can fit in and park anywhere. And these days, who doesn’t want to avoid as much stress as possible when behind the wheel?

Should You Need to Know: The convertible Mini Cooper engine options vary from the base at just a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 121 horsepower to the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works convertible with a turbo 1.6-liter engine with 208 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque.

Miles Per Gallon: The 2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop I drove came in with 29 miles per gallon in the city and 41 miles per gallon on the highway.

Cost: The 2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop with the Cold Weather, Premium and Sport’s Package had a price tag of $33,095.

For more auto tips and information, follow Rita @RitaCook13.

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