The Mini is one of the most iconic vehicles on the roads, but the car has changed--and grown--rather a lot since its introduction in 1959.

Most of that change has happened since BMW took the reins and launched its MINI brand in 2001, and we're now on the third generation of the BMW-developed subcompact.

It too has grown over the previous generation. But importantly it's also quicker, higher-quality, more advanced and of course, more fuel-efficient.

Motor Authority has driven the new 2014 MINI and thankfully, the qualities listed above outweigh any increase in size the new model has gained.

The biggest news with the latest generation of MINI is the use of three-cylinder engines.

It's a new, BMW-developed unit also seeing use in the upcoming 2-Series Active Tourer, as well as being mounted in the back of the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.

Displacing 1.5 liters and boosted by a turbocharger, it develops 124 horsepower and up to 169 pounds-feet of torque.

That may not sound much, but it's enough for a peppy 7.4-second 0-60 mph sprint, or one tenth quicker with the optional automatic. And that's a whole second quicker than the old naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter engine.

Unfortunately, the other main benefit of the turbocharged engine, economy, is difficult to quantify right now.

No official EPA figures have been released, but the expected numbers don't look too bad at all--combined numbers in the mid-30s are expected, with up to 42 mpg highway for the automatic-shifting Cooper.

That's around 6 mpg better on the highway than the 2013 Cooper automatic, and 5 mpg better than the manual. Previous combined figures sat in the low 30s, with the manual transmission car reaching 32 mpg combined.

City mileage could contribute too, thanks to a new stop-start system. Motor Authority suggests it's not the smoothest of systems, but drivers who face busy, trafficked commutes each day could see real-world improvements in their gas mileage.

An economy-biased Green driving mode also helps, adjusting the throttle and steering to be more conducive for eco-friendly driving. 'Mid' and 'Sport' modes are also available, the latter bringing back some of the MINI's infectious character.

And all-round, the latest MINI's improvements make it a better car.

It rides better than before, there's more space in the cabin and cargo area, a host of improved options and a $20,745 starting price (including $795 shipping). That makes it a much better car than before, but only a little more expensive.

Bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient, the new MINI has grown up--but not lost its sense of fun.


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