Everywhere I drove the 2015 Mini Cooper Hardtop 4-door, people noticed. The first memorable instance happened when I was donating several bags of closet relics to Goodwill -- a task made easier thanks to this Mini's expanded cargo area. The worker stared quizzically at the Mini, pointed at the rear, then looked to me for an answer. Yes, this new model has twice the number of side doors as you're used to seeing on a Mini. 

Such would be the norm over the coming days as I drove 4-door version of the Mini Hardtop. One passenger in another car two lanes over even hailed me down at a stoplight. "We saw that car in the commercial!" he shouted. Dressed in the optional Electric Blue metallic paint, this test car was indeed a spitting image for the one starring in the current ad campaign.

This isn't the first time a modern Mini has come with four full side doors. The Countryman that debuted several years ago has them, but that's kind of expected in the beefier crossover-inspired "Big Mini." Double the doors on the Mini Cooper Hardtop that we've now become accustomed to for over a decade, and it indeed warrants double-takes.

Why the 4-Door works

Judging from the reactions of my fellow Southern Californians, people dig it. For the most part, so do I. The new Mini Hardtop 4 Door brings all the great traits of the regular Hardtop -- amazing handling, striking styling, and premium fit and finish -- in a more practical package. As the de facto replacement for the Clubman, which has a rear-hinged back door on the passenger side, the 4-door is 6.3 inches longer than the 2-door. That extra space allows seating for up to five passengers instead of four, additional rear legroom, and more cargo room in the hatch. Of course, the Countryman also offers all of this, but 4-door Hardtop stays truer to the original in its looks and handling.

This particular model was the Cooper S variant, which means it packs a turbocharged, 189-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder instead of the standard 134-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder. As expected, the engine is more than powerful enough to motivate this still-small car. The Cooper S Hardtop 4 door was a pleasure to drive on canyon roads. There is some slight turbo lag under hard acceleration, though, and on some rougher freeways the Mini felt jittery as higher speeds. 

Also: Video Review of 2015 Mini Cooper

Otherwise, this new model is more planted and solid than the 2-door. The 4-door was equipped with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, and while it's not as smooth as those of some competitors, it matched well to the engine and was especially competent in Sport mode. Beyond the commendable powertrain, it's the details that impress. Things like adjustable thigh support in the seat, a side sun visor in addition to the front one, and a standard middle arm rest. I accrued hundreds of miles in the Mini and never felt worse for the wear.

A Little Bigger Mini

The extra space in Mini's new 4-door is helpful, but don't expect miracles. With 32.3 inches of rear legroom (vs. 30.8 in the 2-door) adults can fit more easily in back, but they won't be spreading out. Rear cargo space is also enlarged, relatively speaking.

My biggest nit with this test car was its not-so-Mini price tag. Loaded with features such as navigation, head-up display, folding side mirrors and heated seats, this 2015 Mini Hardtop cost just shy of $36,000. That's about $10,000 beyond the S model's base price (4-door models with the 3-cylinder engine start around $22,500). This tendency for prices to climb quickly with options isn't unusual for Mini -- it's also a reminder that this is a premium brand owned by BMW -- but it is something to beware of if you're lusting after one of these new cars

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