By Shari Prymak

2015 Mini Cooper Hatchback - In the old days, it was not uncommon for a car company to have only a small handful of models in its lineup. Today though, one’s car lineup isn’t complete unless it has two dozen sedans, crossovers, hatchbacks, coupes, convertibles and so on.If you’re the type of consumer who likes choice, chances are you’d feel right at home in a Mini showroom.

The Mini Cooper, a model that consisted of only one body style back in 2002, is now offered as a Hatchback, Convertible, Coupe, Roadster, Countryman, and Paceman. And that’s just the beginning. Once you’ve decided on which variation of the Cooper to go with, you’ll likely drown in what appears to be an endless list of optional extras, accessories, and personalized add-ons before you settle on a final build configuration.

Now I’m all in favour of choice, but when it comes to Mini’s, my feeling is that the original Cooper Hatchback remains the purest expression of the brand. Even after all these years on the market, the charm of the Cooper hasn’t seemed to diminish one bit. It remains as attractive and soulful as ever, particularly in a bright paint finish with a few stripes here and contrasting colours there.

The real genius of the original 1950s Mini, however, was not its design, but its packaging. Thanks to a uniquely clever transversely-mounted engine and front-wheel drive arrangement, the original Mini was able to fit four people and some luggage in a car the size of a shoe. The new Cooper Hatch carries on the tradition of sensible packaging quite well. The 2014 redesign includes a stretch in wheelbase that has created a more spacious, accommodating interior than the outgoing model.

Mini Cooper

The Cooper has grown so much, in fact, that it has made a few wonder whether it can even be called a Mini any more. No one will question, however, the improvements that have been made in the interior design and layout. The cool novelties, such as the round instruments and toggle switches remain, but there is now an added dose of functionality and quality.

The increase in overall size, however, doesn’t seem to have diminished the Mini Cooper’s famous fun to drive character. The steering response is not quite as immediate as I remember on the old Cooper, but the agility, tidy handling, and driver confidence are all there. Tossing it around corners and rowing through the smooth shifter on the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, which can even blip the throttle on downshifts, convinced me that this is still an incredibly fun car to drive.

The other good news comes from under the hood, where the basic Cooper has been fitted with a new 1.5L, 3-cylinder turbocharged engine. Few engines are as capable of combining usable power, refinement, and outstanding fuel economy as this one can. On a long highway run, it managed to consume as little as 5.2L/100km of fuel. It’s just a shame that Mini has given this engine an irritatingly jarring automatic start/stop system that sends shockwaves throughout the cabin every time you pull up to a red light. Fortunately, the system shuts off with a toggle switch and stays off when you restart the car.

The Cooper, as a whole, has indeed improved in many areas, but none are as significant as the improvement in price. The Cooper Hatch has a starting MSRP of $21,490, an approximate drop of $4000 over the equivalent last generation model. Even after throwing in desirable options such as a panoramic sunroof, heated sport seats, Comfort Access, Dynamic Damper Control, and whole lot more, my test car’s MSRP still came in under 25 grand. That should leave some room in one’s budget for desirable add-ons, such as cosmetic goodies, performance parts, or even an extended warranty. That last one is practically a must for long-term ownership, given Mini’s lackluster reputation for reliability and high repair costs.

Quality history aside, the redesigned Cooper is an all-around excellent small hatchback. A budget of 25 grand opens one up to a number of desirable, equally sporty hot hatchbacks, such as the Ford Fiesta ST. For many though, the unique charm of the Mini Cooper will be too hard to ignore. After driving one for a week, I can certainly understand why.