It’s a Mini world | VailDaily.com

It’s a Mini world

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Rob Duda, director for Mini USA communications, takes the new Mini Cooper S Hardtop Four-Door for a spin around Golden Peak with Patrick McKenna, head of product planning for Mini USA, Thursday in Vail. Mini is the main sponsor for the Burton U.S. Open with a booth at the sponsor village.
Dominique Taylor | Special to the Daily |

Mini at the Burton U.S. Open

Check out the newest line of Mini Coopers at their tent in the sponsor village. Take some photos with your friends at the photo booth, win prizes that include goggles and snowboards, and take a peak inside the vehicles.

VAIL — It’s a blindingly sunny and clear day in Vail, and the roads are still thawing out after a frigid night and 7 inches of recent snow — it’s a good day to go motoring, as the Mini Cooper folks would say.

Specifically, I am test-driving the brand new Mini Cooper S Four-Door with pro snowboarder Kelly Clark, who found some time between her semifinal and final runs to take a spin. Clark is already the owner of a Mini — a 2013 all-white Countryman, the biggest car in the Mini Cooper line. It’s her second Mini Cooper, in fact. She won her first one for winning the Burton U.S. Open in 2011 and has been a fan ever since.

“I had a truck forever, and it’s so nice to have a car that gets good gas mileage and is fun to drive,” she said. “When I walk up to my car, I smile every time.”

Breaking the Mini misconception

The four-door is Mini Cooper’s answer to anyone who says that Minis are too small. When the designers went to work to find something that landed between the longer all-wheel drive Countryman and the classic two-door Mini Cooper, the challenge was to come up with a car that didn’t end up looking like an adolescent puppy, with paws too big for its body.

The beauty of the four-door, which just hit the market in January, is that it’s bigger while still looking like a Mini. The four-door is 6.8 inches longer than the two-door, with slightly more backseat room (your long-legged friends won’t exactly be sprawling out, but they’ll be less cramped) and 3 additional cubic feet of trunk space.

Perhaps even more important, this is first in a new generation of Mini Coopers. BMW has owned the Mini brand for a few years now, but this is the first year that it has designed and built a whole new engine and platform.

That was welcome news to me — I owned a 2007 Mini Cooper S for three years, and while it was criminally fun to drive, it also ended up spending more time in the shop than in my driveway after a couple years. The overhaul addresses some of the problems from the old generation, and the new Mini, the company promises, drives like a whole new car.

“This is completely new Mini Cooper like you’ve never seen it,” said Patrick McKenna, head of product for Mini USA. “It’s a totally different car.”

Clark rolled onto the on-ramp of Interstate 70 to test out the car’s sport mode. The engine rumbled and hummed as it easily accelerated to highway speed.

“I can definitely feel the sport mode. It’s got some get-up-and-go. I can tell it’s happy to be on the highway,” said Clark.

The car also has a “green” mode, which conserves gas, and a start-stop feature, which will turn off the engine when you’re at a stoplight or stopped in traffic. All that contributes to a nice 40 miles per gallon average for highway driving.

Looks, brains and brawn

The Mini four-door has a trendy, sleek interior to match the classically cool exterior. You can customize the interior however you want, and the paneling, screens and controls make you feel like you’re in a fighter jet. Cool bells and whistles that are new this year include the “heads up” feature, a screen above the dashboard that allows you to see your speed and navigation directions while keeping your eyes on the road. There are dual climate controls for the front seats, and a toggle in the middle console lets you control the LCD “Mini Connected” system with either a push of the button or the touch of your fingertips.

You can also add features that you’d normally see with larger luxury cars, such as the self-parking option, collision avoidance and pedestrian warnings. Those features work with technology that measures the distance between you and what’s in front of the car. If you get too close, then the car warns you and begins to engage the brakes.

Clark was impressed, although she says she’s probably sticking with her Mini Countryman so she can keep toting her sports gear around.

“My Countryman’s pretty amazing, With those seats down in the back, I can fit my snowboard bags, my surfboard, duffel bags, guitars. I even put my road bike back there. It’s really amazing what you can fit,” she said. “I think people have this idea that the Mini is too small for that stuff, but I’ve never been limited in what I can fit in it.”

With the three-cylinder, four-door Cooper starting at $21,700 and the four-cylinder, four-door Cooper S starting at $25,100, the new Minis certainly offer luxury features at mid-range prices. With these additional models, the new generation of Mini Cooper is out to prove that little cars can do big things.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.