Three’s a crowd pleaser
Familiar yet fresh next-gen Mini has a triple-cylinder party starter
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cooper auto is the pick.