I posted a spy shot thread for the new Mini Cooper HERE, but wanted to start a new thread for it now that I've driven one.

I went to the dealer with my brother as he's looking to get a car in the next few months. My brother doesn't have much practice with a stick yet, so we tested the 6-speed automatic, although whatever car he ends up with will be a stick. Here are my thoughts on the new car. I've never driven any other Mini before this one, so I came into the test with no preconceived notions about what the car would be like, other than the off-beat, sporting image the Mini marketing department wants to convey.

First off, those spy pics show the car at the worst possible angle. In person, the car looks VASTLY better. Some reviews out there have complained about how much the Mini has grown with this new generation, but again, I have no point of reference to comment on that. Make no mistake, this is still a very small car. To my eyes, though, it appears well-proportioned, and true to the traditional Mini styling lines. Halogen headlights are standard, LED high/low beams are optional, as is a "cornering" system which turns the LED headlights with the steering wheel input. Halogen and LED fog lights are available, depending on trim. Unfortunately, the hood scoop on the Cooper S is purely aesthetic, with a solid plastic "mesh" across the opening. More on that in a bit.

Engine options are the biggest change for the new model, with two small BMW mills: a 1.5L 3-cyl for the Cooper, and a 2.0L 4-cyl for the S. The 0.5L step up between engines is intentional, as these engines are designed around a common, modular 0.5L cylinder design, which is scalable to a variety of cylinder counts. This engine architecture will be trickling out to other BMW models in 3,4, and 6 cyl versions in the future. Both are equipped with twin-scroll turbos and direct injection. the standard 3-banger has a healthy 134hp, and the 4 has 189hp. Both models have front mounted intercoolers, a departure from the TMIC previously installed on the Cooper S. The engine bay is absolutely packed, which very little space to anything in there. Both models have ram-air type intake from the top edge of the grill, just like Subarus. They say the scoop on the Cooper S is an air intake, but this is false. Weirdly, the intake ducting presses up against that fake scoop mesh, so there really isn't any physical reason it couldn't be a functional air scoop, but I digress.

We drove the standard model first, and the first thing you'll notice is an almost diesel-like lumpy clatter from the 3-cyl engine. It's more the sort of noise you'd expect from a small tractor than an upscale hatchback, but it's not horrible either. Put your foot down, and you'll notice a very diesel-like torque surge as well, right from idle, as well as a pleasing snarl from the exhaust. The acceleration is actually quite brisk around town, and didn't feel taxed at all hopping around town, and pulling onto the freeway. Plenty of power for passing at speed.

Next came the Cooper S, and if I thought the standard model was good, the S turns the fun up to 11. It's downright quick. Extra-legal speeds come all too quickly, and the Cooper S begs for more. BMW has matched an excellent turbo to both engines, as spool builds pretty much immediately and the torque surge never seems to end as the RPMs continue climbing. The automatic transmission, for its part, never got in my way, and shifts came quickly without a fuss. I didn't play with the manual shift mode, as the car seemed very well in-step with the gear I wanted anyway. Both the manual and automatic boxes blip the throttle on downshifts, delivering a crisp downshift and a nice crackle from the exhaust.

Minis are advertised as excellent handlers, and this new model is no exception. Both cars felt planted, with phenomenal turn-in response. The Cooper S has a performance suspension added, but both felt reasonably comfortable around town on pot-holed and rutted roads. On the twisty backroads the salesman insisted we visit, the car divebombs apexes and instantly snaps out of the exit. The electric steering feel has three different settings, and in "Sport" mode, it felt like power steering was turned off completely, with a nice heavy feel to the wheel and zero slop. I thought such a small wheelbase car with direct steering might feel nervous and twitchy on the freeway, but that wasn't the case at all. Cruising on the freeway, the car seemed to relax from "attack mode" to "leisurely stroll", and wouldn't be taxing at all for a long roadtrip.

Apparently, the first gen Mini is even more responsive, but this model struck a very good balance between performance and ride comfort. This should be expected considering BMW designed the chassis, suspension, and engines.

Dynamic adjustable suspension is $500 option, and lets you adjust the damper rebound +/-10% from a switch in the car. Neither of the cars we drove had that option, and the salesman said you only really notice the difference if you drive the car at 10/10ths every single day. This seems like a reasonable statement considering the small amount of adjustment, but is a neat option to see on a car in this price bracket.

The interior felt like a pint-sized version of the Mini's BMW brethren. Lots of soft-touch materials throughout, excellent supportive sport seats, and packed to the gills with tech. Our test car had a gorgeous 8" display for all entertainment functions (phone apps / Bluetooth / iPhone and Android control, you name it), navigation, a head up display (more on that in second), auto-dimming mirrors (center and sides), power folding side mirrors, a Harmon-Kardon sound system, heated seats, and dual zone climate control (ironic in a car where the driver and passenger spar for elbow space). Oddly, power seats are not offered on any trim level, although there are manual adjustments for a ton of different settings. The sport seats are very nicely bolstered in all the right places and quite comfortable.

Interior space was not bad at all, even with my 6'1", 220lb frame. Other than the elbow thing I mentioned, there was plenty of room to relax. There wasn't quite as much headroom as I would have preferred, but this was a pretty minor negative amidst the excellent seats and driving position. The biggest surprise though, was the back seat. Remarkably, I fit great back there! This might be attributable to my relatively short legs and long torso, lending itself to smaller legroom requirements than most 6' tall people, but I'd be comfortable enough for a trip to the beach and back.

I thought the head up display would just be a fancy gimmick for sucking another $500 out of tech-crazed buyers, but it actually proved quite useful. The HUD has a sharp, full color display that shows navigation directions, speed, rpm, etc. It's a pop-up, semi-transparent glass that rises out of the dash with servos when the car is started. There are electronic adjustments for angle, so drivers of any height can see the image clearly. It's easily visible even in bright sun with polarized sunglasses on, but is never in your face or distracting. I thought it was a genuinely handy feature, although I could just as easily live without it.

The entertainment system was very crisp and speedy, with no lag between screens and a simple wheel interface designed around the BMW iDrive-like navigation wheel. While I had a couple issues getting the joystick to do what I wanted, this was just a learning curve I quickly overcame by the end of the drive. Whatever your thoughts are, good or bad, on the BMW iDrive system are probably still applicable here, but I didn't find it as obnoxious as the Ford Sync system, as one example.

All together, it was a very solid little car. True, there are faster and more practical cars out there for ~$25k, (plus an easy $10k more if you go nuts with the options, of which there are many) but if you're shopping for a Mini at all, outright power and practicality aren't at the top of your wish list. I could see potential BRZ buyers cross-shopping with the Mini, despite FWD/RWD difference. Both cars offer similar levels of smiling-inducing driving joy.

While the horsepower figures pale in comparison to the new WRX, the Mini makes up for it in close to 40mpg on the hwy, and the sacrifices in power are offset by much lower weight (2600lbs). My brother found the Mini more fun to drive than the 2015 Mazda3, while returning similar mileage figures. Both cars have lots of tech, but the Mazda offers everything at a lower price point. Overall, the Mazda will likely be more reliable, but Mini has worked hard to revamp its poor reliability image by offering a longer warranty than the Mazda, and free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years of ownership. Factoring in the cheaper insurance for the Cooper S compared to the Mazda (an unexpected, but consistent result across 6 major insurance companies), and the Mini ends up breaking even or beating the Mazda in 5-year cost of ownership. All bets are off once the warranty expires, as the BMW parts throughout will probably cost the "BMW price" to replace, but that's something my brother is willing to live with compared to how much fun he had driving it.

TL;DR: I'd buy one if I didn't have a kid on the way.