New Mini has a heart of old
Born-again Mini was a chip off the old block, writesGRAHAMSMITH IN A CRASH
RECREATING a motoring icon such as the Mini is a difficult task. It’s one thing to make it look like the original, it’s something else again to capture the essence of what made it great.
VW’s attempt to recreate the Beetle wasn’t successful.
The new-generation Beetle resembled the original, but it didn’t come close to capturing the character of the favourite old car.
BMW, on the other hand, did a pretty good job with the reborn Mini.
It not only looks uncannily like the original, it also captures the cheekiness that endeared it to so many back in the 1960s.
THE original Mini was conceived as an affordable car for British motorists struggling to get over the economic impact of World War II.
It was a triumph of packaging that set the pattern for car design.
The Mini’s east-west engine and front-wheel drive, with the wheels pushed right out to the corners to liberate maximum interior space, made it a surprisingly roomy car, given its modest external dimensions.
Unlike VW, which ignored the layout of the original Beetle and simply reclothed a Golf, BMW used the Mini’s original layout and updated it for the new millennium.
On top of that it’s loaded with details, such as the grille, that simply scream Mini.
The true tests of the success of BMW’s attempt to recreate the Mini comes when you first look at it, when you slip behind the wheel and when you drive it. Does it makes you smile? Make you feel good? The answer is unquestionably yes. It has the cheeky looks and the nippy handling that lets it embarrass cars with more sporting pretensions, just as the original Mini did.
Park the new Mini alongside a classic one and the new one towers over it.
It’s much bigger in every dimension — 576mm longer, 128mm wider, 58mm higher and rolls on a 427mm longer wheelbase.
Power for the new Mini Cooper comes from an 85kW/ 149Nm 1.6-litre fuel-injected 16-valve fourcylinder engine linked to either a fivespeed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission — CVT — a sort of automatic ‘‘box’’.
The new Mini Cooper is a far cry from the original, which had loads of character but few frills.
The new car is packed with standard features, including cloth trim, airconditioning, power windows and mirrors, tilt adjustment for the steering wheel, a full array of dials, AM/FM stereo sound with a CD player and central locking.
It also has anti-skid disc brakes all- round, power steering and 15-inch alloy wheels.
A few months later came the Mini Cooper S with a supercharged engine of 120kW and 210Nm.
The Cooper S could be identified by its bonnet scoop and wide 16-inch alloy wheels.
Upgrades saw the introduction of a six-speed manual gearbox in 2002 and a more powerful 125kW engine for the Cooper S in 2003.
In 2004 BMW added a Monte Carlo, which had 17-inch rally-style alloy wheels, leather seats, headlight washers and height-adjustable seats.
There were also the Chilli versions of both the Cooper and Cooper S with added features, and a sizzling Cooper S JCW — John Cooper Works — with a 155kW engine. Cabrio versions extended the range in 2004.
ON THE LOT
PAY $14,000 to $20,000 for a 2002-2006 Cooper; add $7500 for the S. For the 2004-2006 Chilli pay $20,000-$22,500; add $5000 for the S Chilli.
The 2005-2006 JCW Cooper S will set you back $35,000-$37,000.
A 2005-2006 Cabrio Cooper can be bought for $26,000-$27,000; add $5000 for an S Cabrio.
IN THE SHOP
NOT too much seems to go wrong with the Mini, but there are reports of power steering pump failures and trouble with the transmission.
Take particular notice of the power steering and the gearbox when test driving. It would be worth having an expert check them.
Other issues raised include power window problems, other electrical issues and problems with the plastic interior trim parts.
The Mini was equipped from new with run-flat tyres and these are known to have problems maintaining pressure over time, so make regular checks of the pressure.
Some owners replace the run-flats with regular tyres because they don’t like the hard ride. THE Mini’s handling and anti-skid disc brakes are its primary defences when faced with a crash.
When the metal starts crumpling a comprehensive array of airbags comes into play.
Front airbags are provided for the driver and front seat passenger, along with front head and side airbags.
AT THE PUMP
THE Cooper S averages in the high sixes in manual form, low sevens with the CVT.
Expect low to high sevens for the hot Cooper S.
LISA Manning bought her 2002 Mini Cooper in 2006 and simply loves it.
It has done 90,000km and, apart from a couple of problems with the interior plastics, she hasn’t had any faults with it.
Lisa says it handles like a go-kart, the brakes are exceptionally good, it’s very economical, the seats are comfortable and the sound system is fantastic. Her only criticism is the lack of boot space.
THE BOTTOM LINE
BMW’s reincarnated Mini is the perfect car to put a smile on your face, but it’s not a car for the family.
Super Cooper: the 1970 Mini Cooper S (left) and the 2003 Mini Cooper S JCW, which features a 155kW engine.