2014 MINI Cooper Automatic: Quick Drive

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The all-new, third-generation 2014 MINI Cooper three-door hatchback--now called "Hardtop" by MINI--sports a longer nose, a new 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, and an interior that at last cleans up some of the disastrous ergonomics of the previous cars.

Specifically, the round display in the center of the dashboard is now solely a display screen, with proper instruments at last in a conventional cluster behind the steering wheel.

DON'T MISS: 2014 MINI Cooper First Drive

That round display in the center of the dash harkened back to the single central speedometer on the original Morris Mini-Minor of 1959--a nod to heritage that had long since passed.

2014 MINI Cooper S

2014 MINI Cooper S

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Automatic only

We were looking forward to driving this latest MINI Cooper, but were startled to learn that the test car available last month at a drive day at the scenic Bear Mountain State Park in New York was one of the very first automatic-transmission models to be imported.


ALSO SEE: 2014 MINI Cooper - full review

Still, in our brief tour of the hilly roads in and around the park, the new MINI Cooper proved to be a notable improvement on the last generation.

2014 MINI Cooper automatic, Bear Mountain, NY, May 2014

2014 MINI Cooper automatic, Bear Mountain, NY, May 2014

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Loooooooooooooong nose

Visually, the long nose is glaringly obvious from some angles, only slightly obtrusive from others. It's a shame, but it's also a requirement of modern crash-safety requirements, including European rules about pedestrian safety if the car hits a person in the street whose head then hits the hood.

Otherwise, the 2014 MINI is instantly recognizable, complete with white roof.

The new engine is a 134-horsepower 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo, driving the front wheels in our car through a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission with paddle shifters behind the wheel.

We would have preferred the standard Getrag six-speed manual gearbox, and we hope to drive such a car later this year.

2014 MINI Cooper automatic, Bear Mountain, NY, May 2014

2014 MINI Cooper automatic, Bear Mountain, NY, May 2014

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The MINI offers three drive modes, as do most BMW products these days: the default Mid mode, a Green mode that dials down power and shift points for better fuel efficiency, and a Sport mode that dials them up in the other direction for fastest driving response.

We're glad the MINI rep pointed out how to change them, though: It's via a rotating ring around the base of the shift lever. It's a neat touch, but definitely non-obvious.

Upright, narrow

The MINI remains a large minicar or small subcompact, and it has the most upright windshield we've seen on any 2014 model short of a Jeep Wrangler.

That gives it character, but it does reinforce the smallness of the cabin. There's enough room in front for two U.S.-sized adults, but the MINI remains a narrow car--although all the glass is slightly further away than in earlier generations.

Headroom is generous even with the large panoramic moonroof installed--it lightens the cabin, of course--and the seat can be adjusted to reduce the "sitting in a bathtub" feel and get a proper sitting-up driving position.

2014 MINI Cooper S

2014 MINI Cooper S

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Still, there's no denying: Inevitably, the third-generation MINI is somewhat less mini than its predecessors.

We found the optional sport seats in our car superb--properly bolstered, adjustable on all the right axes, and probably well worth the $1,500 cost of the Sport Package into which they're bundled.

The rear seats are considerably larger in the new body, however. Adults may not want to spend day-long road trips back there, but they're at least usable.

Raspy idle for rollerskate

We liked the slightly rough, growly, irregular idle note of the three; it was distinctive and somehow added to the sporty-car image. Under power, it smoothed out but roared pleasantly.

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