The seemingly endless wait is finally over, as the next-generation Mini Cooper Hardtop has been unveiled at the birthplace of the original - the Mini Plant Oxford in England - and now moves on to make its simultaneous public debut at the Los Angeles and Tokyo Auto Shows. On sale in March, this fully redesigned "core" model will set the standard for all subsequent variations on the Mini theme, which are slated to be rolled out during the next couple of years. While retaining the brand's fundamental fun-to-drive essence, this recast Hardtop introduces new levels of style, sophistication, and yes, even size, to one of the world's most iconic vehicles. 

Dimensionally, the new Hardtop has undergone a "mini-scaled" growth spurt. Roughly five inches longer, 1.7 inches wider and 0.3-inches taller than the current model, it also adds 1.1 inches of wheelbase and extends the front and rear track stats by 1.7 inches and 1.3 inches, respectively. Collectively those changes endow the car with even more people and cargo space while helping improve its overall handling and ride compliance. Although larger, the more extensive use of high-strength steel and lightweight aluminum in the unitized body structure and suspension of the new Mini Hardtop have helped trim curb weight while upgrading its strength, rigidity, agility and passenger-protection prowess. 

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The exterior of the new Hardtop displays a similar kind of focused rethink seen in its selective reinterpretation of numerous classic Mini design cues. They extend from the car's edgier body contours to the more evocative character and elegant detailing of its front and rear fascias. Greater attention to aero optimization - including supplemental underbody fairings - helps trim the drag coefficient to a segment-leading 0.28. The hotter Cooper S variant amps up the look one more notch with a unique grille insert, center-mounted twin exhaust outlets and a larger 16-inch wheel/tire fitment in place of the 15-inch forged alloy rims that are now standard on the 2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop. This new Mini also will be the first vehicle in its class to offer full LED headlights. LED foglamps and roof rails are other new additions to the option roster. 

Like its exterior, the interior of the 2014 Mini Hardtop has been completely redesigned but maintains clear heritage links. There's a new sense of style to accompany the added space and improved materials, but the most notable changes are found in the dash area. While the recasting doesn't go quite as far as that seen in the Mini Vision Concept, overall ergonomics have been significantly improved and a new pushbutton starting system no longer requires a key to be inserted in the ignition. The Hardtop's remade instrument cluster containing the speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge mounts directly to the steering column while its reengineered and far more user-friendly center screen display facilitates quicker, easier toggles between infotainment, communication, navigation and Mini Connected data. It's linked to a new console-mounted multifunction controller on Mini Hardtop models equipped with Radio Mini Visual Boost or the Navigation package. 

The 2014 Hardtop also will be the brand's first model to be available with a Head-Up Display. Like the system offered in the new Mazda3, it presents the driver with a full spectrum of pertinent data on a pop-up screen located between the steering wheel and the windshield. As always, personalization remains paramount in the Mini philosophy. In addition to standard leatherette upholstery, buyers will be able to choose from a variety of fabric/leather full-leather seat coverings as well as from various color and trim lines plus loads of accessory items including a John Cooper Works rear spoiler. 

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In U.S. trim, motivation for the 2014 Mini Hardtop will come from a pair of BMW-engineered TwinPower Turbo gasoline engines. The base Cooper gets a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder that makes 134 horses -- 20 more than the 1.6-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder in the current Cooper Hardtop -- and a stout 162 lb-ft of torque, which represents over a 35-percent bump in that critical output figure. Those twist units are on call at just 1,250 rpm and can be momentarily raised to 170 lb-ft using an overboost function. The new 2.0-liter inline-4 in the Cooper S Hardtop makes 189 horses - eight more than the current 1.6-liter turbo - and 207 lb-ft of torque at 1,250 revs. That reflects a comparative gain of 30 lb-ft, which also can be pushed via the overboost function to an even stouter 221 lb-ft.  

Both engines incorporate start/stop technology to enhance their operating efficiency and can be paired with a new generation of 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions. The manual gearbox now offers rev-matching functionality, while the autoshifter will be able to optimize gear-selection choices using traffic and terrain condition data culled from the selected driving route on Minis equipped with navigation. As for performance, the Cooper Hardtop is projected to scramble from 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds with the manual and 7.3 with the automatic while the Cooper S stats clock in at 6.5/6.4 ticks, respectively. 

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Underpinning the new Mini Hardtop is an all new front-strut/rear-multilink suspension teamed with an equally new and more precise electromechanical power steering unit and model-specific brakes. This next-gen remake also can be had with Mini's first adjustable damping system that offers driver-selectable Comfort/Sport settings as well as standard Mini Driving Modes - Green/Mid/Sport -- that contour the throttle/steering responses and engine acoustics as well as the shock mapping and shift programming on models with Dynamic Damper Control and the automatic transmission.  The new Cooper S Hardtop also adds a Performance Control system designed to help counteract potential understeer in corners. 

In addition to all of the familiar electronic control functions, the new Mini Hardtop features a new drive-off assistant and a brake-dry function, Fading Brake Support and a Dynamic Traction Control mode that allows for controlled slip of the drive wheels on loose sand or deep snow. Notable upscale options include Driving Assistant with adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, a rear-view camera, parking assistant function and Mini Connected that now offers apps for both the iPhone and smartphones using Android operating systems. Pricing for the 2015 Mini Cooper and Cooper S Hardtop models will be announced closer to their actual on-sale date. 

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