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2014 MINI Cooper: 3-Cylinder Subcompact Breaks Cover

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It's the world's best-known small car, and it's all new for 2014.

It is of course the MINI Cooper, though you might have stumbled over the phrase "all new", since a quick glance won't really reveal what parent company BMW has changed--the quirky retro styling is as familiar as ever.

BMW has changed the car though--quite significantly, under the skin.

MINI mechanicals

We already knew the new MINI would feature a three-cylinder powerplant for the first time, but now we know more details. The 1.5-liter, turbocharged unit develops 134 horsepower, 13 hp more than the previous Cooper. There's also 162 lb-ft of torque, 170 with an overboost, from just 1,250 rpm--which should dispel any notions of three-cylinder engines being a little weak.

Performance is more than respectable, reaching 60 mph in 7.4 seconds--or 7.3 if you opt for the automatic transmission--while both transmissions will take you to 130 mph flat-out. Cooper S models get a 2-liter turbo with 189 hp, chopping a second off the acceleration figures.

Both gearboxes should be pretty fun too. MINI has introduced a feature only previously seen on the Nissan 370Z and a couple of Porsche sports cars--rev-matching on down-shifts. With a lighter bodyshell and revised suspension, it should be as fun to drive as ever, and MINI once again promises that "go kart feeling".

We'll have to wait a little longer for EPA fuel consumption figures, as only the European numbers are available so far.

They're predictably lofty--52 mpg for the Cooper, 45 for the Cooper S--but it's better to look at them in comparison to the previous models.

Those numbers are 19 and 11 percent better than the European figures for the previous model. If EPA numbers see similar gains, economy could rise from 32 to 38 mpg for the Cooper, and from 29 to 32 mpg in the Cooper S.

A new 'Green' driving mode should help drivers achieve better economy--though a Sport one is also available to help maximize the fun.

2014 MINI Cooper

2014 MINI Cooper

Enlarge Photo

Spot the difference

Just don't ask anyone to tell the new and old cars apart in the street--because unless they're parked side-by-side, it may prove a struggle.

At the front a set of LED daytime running lights rings each headlight, and at the back the rear clusters have grown quite significantly. There's more front and rear overhang in side profile, while various worldwide safety regulations have pushed the line of the hood upwards, so there's a little less glass than before.

The shape is also smoother--contributing to a 0.28 drag coefficient and the front grille has grown.

If you weren't a fan of the MINI before the new model's changes are unlikely to impress--but the uncomfortable proportions may put off even a few MINI diehards.

The same could be said inside the car. BMW quality remains, as does the MINI's traditional retro-inspired dashboard. The speedometer has finally moved to the instrument cluster behind the wheel, but its huge circular receptacle has remained in the center of the dash.

Here you'll instead find display screens--up to 8-inches in higher-spec models--and buttons with which to control them. A large roster of technological features will also appear on the new car, from camera-based active cruise control to adaptive headlights.

The new MINIs will make their debut at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show.

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