New Mini has a heart of old

Born-again Mini was a chip off the old block, writesGRAHAMSMITH IN A CRASH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

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.

MODEL WATCH

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.

OWNER’S VIEWS

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.

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