Three’s a crowd pleaser

Fa­mil­iar yet fresh next-gen Mini has a triple-cylin­der party starter

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - COVER STORY - NEIL DOWL­ING neil.dowl­ing@cars­guide.com.au

COULD it be that BMW fi­nally has found the essence of the orig­i­nal 1950s Mini?

“All-new” yet look­ing iden­ti­cal, the third gen­er­a­tion of the new Mini fo­cuses on econ­omy, af­ford­abil­ity and — if you pick the right model — sim­plic­ity. It gets a three­cylin­der en­gine op­tion, in­creased cabin room, a build­ing-block se­ries of me­dia con­nec­tiv­ity and the po­ten­tial for re­duced prices.

Mini is yet to nail down spec­i­fi­ca­tions and prices for the April launch but the signs are that BMW is pre­pared to pay for mar­ket share. Mini, like BMW, faces a dou­ble-front as­sault from long­stand­ing ri­vals as well as from wannabe mod­els pre­vi­ously oc­cu­py­ing cheaper mar­ket tiers. Volk­swa­gen’s Car of the Year-win­ning Golf MkVII and the Benz A‒Class are two com­pacts tak­ing money from po­ten­tial Mini buy­ers.

Ini­tially Aus­tralia gets three ver­sions — Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper D — with other vari­ants to fol­low in­clud­ing the top‒shelf per­for­mance model, the 180kW John Cooper Works. There is no talk of ex­pand­ing Mini’s string of vari­ants so the range will re­main the hatch­back and coupes, plus long-wheel­base Coun­try­man and its de­riv­a­tives.

Up to 20 mod­els will be built on the two Mini plat­forms and about half will wear BMW badges. The first BMW, the po­lar­is­ing 2 Se­ries Ac­tive Sports Tourer, will be here be­fore the year is out.

VALUE

Ex­pect the fea­tures list to ex­pand and some pricing to fall.

Op­tion pack­ages will abound. The “fun’’ as­pect of mar­ket­ing the brand con­tin­ues.

Cars shown at launch in­cluded some painted in British flags (done be­fore when BMW launched the first gen­er­a­tion in 2000) to in­di­cate the ex­tent of owner cus­tomi­sa­tion, cre­ativ­ity or sim­ply crook taste.

DE­SIGN

Yes, it looks the same. BMW and Mini share the new plat­form with Mini here in April and the first of the front‒drive BMWs be­fore the end of 2014. The Mini hatch wheel­base is up 28mm, car length by 98mm, width by 44mm and height by 7mm — in­cre­men­tal but not neg­li­gi­ble.

At 211L, boot ca­pac­ity falls far short of more prac­ti­cal ri­vals. The dash­board has the speedo and tachome­ter di­rectly ahead of the driver with the sig­na­ture cen­tre dial now con­tain­ing a colour dis­play for ve­hi­cle man­age­ment, au­dio, sat­nav and con­nec­tiv­ity tasks.

Cabin room is well up on the old model and four adults can fit. The two‒door de­sign can make rear seat ac­cess awk­ward but then this isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the pick of cars for multi‒pas­sen­ger rides. The dash­board is far cleaner than be­fore but still re­quires a lot of

fa­mil­iari­sa­tion — more so than per­haps any other car on the mar­ket — as Mini goes for pizazz rather than prac­ti­cal­ity.

TECH­NOL­OGY

All en­gines are from BMW, in­clud­ing three-cylin­der petrol and diesel ver­sions.

We start with three — a 1.5litre three-cylin­der turbo (100kW/220Nm); 1.5‒litre three‒cylin­der turbo diesel (85kW/270Nm); and for the Cooper S a four‒cylin­der turbo (141kW/280Nm)(.

Fuel use is as low as 3.5L/100km in the diesel ris­ing to a still-fru­gal 5.7L for the S. Six‒speed man­ual and new Ja­panese‒built au­to­matic trans­mis­sions are the op­tions. Sus­pen­sion too is new with alu­minium front struts and a multi‒link rear.

The steer­ing is all‒elec­tric with speed‒sen­si­tive Ser­votronic now stan­dard. Elec­tronic dampers are op­tional. There are three driv­ing modes — Sport, Mid and Green — that al­ter ac­cel­er­a­tor re­sponse, steer­ing feel, gear shift points and the elec­tronic dampers.

Aus­tralia will see a roll­out of the in­fo­tain­ment and con­nec­tiv­ity gear that will ul­ti­mately in­clude in­te­gra­tion with emer­gency call as­sis­tance for ac­ci­dents, real‒time traf­fic in­for­ma­tion, ac­cess to so­cial me­dia and apps for news, en­ter­tain­ment and mu­sic.

SAFETY

The Mini has yet to be tested but a five‒star crash safety rat­ing is likely. Base equip­ment in­cludes six airbags and elec­tronic sta­bil­ity and trac­tion con­trol. Op­tions will in­clude park sen­sors, park­ing as­sis­tant, ac­tive cruise con­trol, col­li­sion and pedes­trian warn­ing with auto brak­ing, au­to­matic high‒beam head­lights and head‒up dis­play.

DRIV­ING

So dras­ti­cally do the new en­gines en­hance the en­try mod­els that the high­per­for­mance Cooper S is no longer the “must have’’ ver­sion.

The three‒cylin­der petrol Cooper will be most pop­u­lar. It sat­is­fies the per­for­mance re­quire­ments of all but the most de­mand­ing driver while ap­peal­ing to the price‒sen­si­tive. The triple is quick, torquey, fru­gal and sur­pris­ingly smooth with a sub­tler off­beat ex­haust note. The four‒cylin­der 2.0‒litre Cooper S pumps more power to match the new car’s tauter, big­ger body.

The two cars tested — Cooper man­ual and Cooper S auto — han­dle sharper than pre­vi­ously. Changes to the sus­pen­sion de­liver a slightly more com­pli­ant ride while re­tain­ing the much‒vaunted “go‒kart” feel.

Heav­ily pit­ted bi­tu­men roads pro­duce sharp bumps but the dampers and body ab­sorb them well. The man­ual box par­tic­u­larly suits the triple but the new au­to­matic can’t be dis­missed. Pad­dle-shifters help its per­for­mance de­liv­ery.

VER­DICT

The Cooper auto is the pick.

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