2015 Mini Cooper Hardtop: Up Close
I agree it's unsettling when a "redesigned" car doesn't look much different from the one it replaces. That's definitely the case with the "new original" 2015 Mini Cooper Hardtop (that's what the original two-door is now called). On the other hand, people would complain if Mini changed it too much and missed the mark.
What matters, along with the new engines we're eager to test, are the changes inside.
The modest increase in exterior size has provided notably more space inside. For one thing, the driver's seat travel is outrageously long. When I pushed it all the way back, I was too far from the pedals to drive. I'm 6 feet tall with much of my height in my legs, so taller folks should be fine, providing there's no one in the backseat.
Not that there's a legroom deficit in the backseat. Granted, this is the regular hardtop, not the extended Clubman, but I found the rear seat workable, both for headroom and legroom. If you don't mind clambering back there, it now seems comparable to the extended Cooper Clubman, which has a rear access door on the curb side.
The two cars at the auto show reflected a clear quality improvement over the previous generation. The styling has grown up a bit, but there's still some of the whimsy that characterized the model since it launched. The Cooper S' front seats included extendable bottom cushions, a staple of cars from Mini's owner, BMW. The seat controls have migrated from inboard to outboard, a change that didn't upset some Mini club members who attended the unveiling.
They were grateful to see the power lock buttons and window controls moved to the doors themselves rather than the center control panel. The characteristic toggle switches remain low on that panel where they control things like the engine's stop-start and parking sensors. They flank a larger, centered glowing-red toggle switch that serves as the standard keyless engine start button.
I'm glad to see the default location for the speedometer and tachometer is atop the steering column. I never minded the center-of-dash location — some folks loathe it — but in the previous generation the gauge face became cluttered with other information, and the mph number markings were too small. Now the hardtop reserves that center circle for displays. The cars on-hand had the larger screens, which featured impressive color graphics to support the car's various driving modes as well as navigation and Mini Connected features.
As for the exterior, there are differences: The grille is larger, which Mini designer Anders Warming pointed out brings it closer to the classic Mini of decades past. There are now creases over the wheel arches, and the regular Cooper has a splitter-style chin spoiler for improved aerodynamics. LED lights now halo the headlights, and the taillights are larger and have a continuous soft glow that recalls Kia's recent efforts. The car might look "the same," but at least it doesn't look bad.