BMW maximises Mini

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 07:01 25/02/2014
Mini Cooper S
Fairfax NZ

MINI COOPER S: Flagship car gets all the scoops and slots, as well as McLaren-like ''Volcanic'' orange paint job if you want it. There are 10 other colours for the body and white or back for the roof.

Mini Cooper S
Fairfax NZ
INSIDE: There is a familiar look bit the space, materials, textures and equipment are all much improved with the biggest improvement being in the rear space whch is much more useful with the same material upgrades.

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The third iteration of BMW's Mini has grown again, and even its makers admit that it makes room for something smaller in the future that may or may not have a Mini badge on it, but they clam shut when you press them on the subject.

AT A GLANCE
Drivetrain: Transverse front-mounted front-wheel-drive turbocharged four-valves per cylinder DOHC engines, with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
Outputs:
Cooper – 1499cc triple cylinder, 100kW at 4500-6000rpm, 220Nm at 1250-4000rpm.
Cooper S – 1998cc four cylinder, 141kW at 4700-6000rpm, 280Nm at 1250-4750rpm.
Performance:
Cooper
– Max 210kmh, 0-100kmh 7.8 secs, 4.5-4.8L/100km, 105-112g/km CO 2.
Cooper S – Max 235kmh, 0-100kmh 6.7secs, 5.2-5.8L/100km, 122-136g/km CO 2.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear multilinks; electrically assisted rack and pinion steering. 12 alloy wheel choices from 15 to 18in, standard Cooper 15 x 5.5J, Cooper S 16 x 6.5J.
Safety: Vented disc brakes front and rear; ABS; stability control; cornering brake control; front, side and curtain airbags; active bonnet; heads-up display. Expected 5-star NCAP.
Connectivity, technology: Streaming, MP3 bluetooth, aux-in USB, iOS and Android apps; available satellite navigation system, park distance control and parking assist
Dimensions: L 3821mm, W 1727mm, H 1414mm, W/base 2495mm, F/track 1485mm, R/track 1485mm, Weight 1085-1250kg, Fuel 40L.
Pricing: To be announced closer to launch in the middle of the year, but expected to be only slightly more than the current hatch model.
Hot: Massive improvement in quality, space, refinement, general performance and tactility; terrific new family of three cylinder engines. It's still a go-kart, albeit a very posh one.
Not: Overstyled front end, particularly the Cooper S; no Mini One or diesel until later.
Verdict: The Mini Cooper is no longer in the shadow of the Cooper S, so you don't need the top car to have fun. Car also makes room for a smaller car some time in the future.
Familiar though the new Mini may seem to be, it's a genuinely new-from-the-ground-up design without a single repeated body panel or interior part from a previous version.

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Compared with the Mini II, the new car measures 98 millimetres longer, 44mm wider, and 7mm taller, and sits on a wheelbase stretched by 28mm with the wheel-tracks pushed out by 42mm at the front and 34mm at the rear.

While you don't at first notice all this on the outside, a few minutes walking around the car exposes some clues that this is an all new Mini.

It has cleaner, more cohesive styling, and a new grille that has an hexagonal perimeter rather than an oval one - just as the original Mini's facelift changed that car in the late 60s. Much bigger rear light clusters with thick chrome surrounds are another giveaway.

The cars' grilles tell another story too, with the base 1.2 Mini One sporting black ribs and, the 1.5 Cooper three chromed ones, while the 2.0-litre Cooper S has more scoops in its front than a London tabloid newspaper. From the rear too, the Cooper S is instantly recognisable from its dark mesh splitter/valance, while the "lesser" cars get plain paint and grey plastic which extends along the sills and the wheelarches of all models.

It's easier to note the size increases inside, as the cabin gains are remarkable. With a fresh new seat design up front with larger adjustments and a 23mm longer seat surface in the rear, as well as increases in shoulder room and footspace, it means that backseat passengers used to the second generation New Mini, won't recognise the latest all-new version and it's good to know that owners can finally carry some full-sized friends in the back without having to surgically implant them there.

In maximising the New Mini, the car's load compartment benefits as well, with volume increasing by 51 litres. This sounds great, but it's still only 211 litres altogether and it's gratifying that there will eventually be five-door and Clubman versions for those who'd like to carry more than just shopping and a laptop or sports gear. The hatch does have 60:40 rear seat split and optional storage package including a luggage compartment floor which can be locked into place at varying points, so it's more secure than before.

The New Mini III's a little more familiar up front because the same circular central readout design is still there - albeit used now for sat-nav and connectivity info instead of being the world's largest speedometer as it was before. Owners can plug in their Android devices, iPads and iPods to play music via a cable and can control them through the Mini Connected system.

Web radio, Twitter, Facebook and foursquare are all there, as well as a raft of other available apps and calendar functions. The display also works as a "Driving Excitement Analyser" which sounds a bit naff but offers a bit of fun by offering points for perfect acceleration, shifting, steering and braking. Perhaps by linking directly with your insurance company or the police it could improve the way you drive. It's not linked of course. Yet.

Between the seats the Mini has a miniaturised version of the BMW iDrive button cluster, though it's called the Mini Controller, however it works in exactly the same way - albeit with a slightly plasticky feel.

I only mention that plasticness because the rest of the car does not display it at all. No new Mini from the BMW era has ever been low rent exactly, but the new car has textures that you don't expect, with seven different hard-surface choices ranging from plain metallics through organic textures and machined finishes, while five tones of soft-touch elements are there to mix and match with six blends of all leather, alacantara, cloth and mixtures in between. Add a dozen wheel choices from 15 to 18 inches and 11 body colours, including our Cooper S's McLaren-like orange - it's called Volcanic - and there is no reason in a market the size of New Zealand that you will ever see an identical Mini III to your own.

Among the equipment options for the New Mini III is a radar and camera monitored cruise control set-up - the likes of which were restricted to $100,000-plus cars not so long ago, while a rear parking camera and even a self-park set-up can be had if you tick the right boxes.

A new Mini Driver Assistance System can be optioned, where the car's satellite navigation works with the automatic transmission and takes account of your route profile in adjusting gear shifts. Based on available navigation data, the appropriate ratio is selected to match imminent situations, like junctions, intersections and corners. This eliminates unnecessary upshifts on twisty routes for instance.

The new Mini range of engines and gearboxes have never been in any car before, never mind a Mini.

Not only that, members of the Mini III's three and four cylinder engine lineup will also be employed in upcoming new BMW products including the new front and rear drive 1 and 2 series ranges and even the i3 and i8 plug- in cars as range extenders.

Previously New Minis used Chrysler engines built in South America and later joint-venture Peugeot Citroen units, so the new hatch's engines are the first totally indigenous units to be used by a Mini since the sorry old A-series employed by the original car, an engine that was originally drawn- up in the 40s for the Austin A30 and Morris Minor.

For its home market and some others there will be four engines for the New Mini III - a three- cylinder 75kW 1.2-litre Mini One, a three-cylinder 100kW 1.5-litre Mini Cooper, the 1.5-litre diesel- engined Mini One D and Cooper D also with three-cylinders and 70kW and 85Kw respectively, and the 2.0-litre flagship Mini Cooper S that puts out 141kW.

For the time being at least New Zealand will be getting the Cooper and Cooper S, with other variants introduced as seen to be appropriate.

Each of the engines is labelled as "TwinPower" just like BMW's mainstream four, six and V8 units and they all use switchable start- stop functions to avoid burning unnecessary fuel while idling at traffic lights. To further save fuel, the Mini Driving Modes allow the driver to switch between normal, sport, or fuel saving "green" modes using the Mini Controller switch at the base of the gearlever.

The Mini Cooper S petrol version of the car is the hotshot of the range and will accelerate from rest to 100kmh in just 6.7 seconds and on up to a top speed of 235kmh.

It's a fun car to point and squirt and not as affected by my pockmarked driving route as I expected, despite running on a set of pretty low-profile 17-inch rims. It didn't feel harsh or raw-boned when it ran over and into often 10cm-deep potholes, and though the steering was also insulated from providing kick-back, it felt accurate and well weighted - a rare achievement for electrically- assisted type steering.

While the Cooper S has a conventional sports automatic transmission, it managed slam- dunk paddle-shifts just like a double-clutch set-up and on the short straights between unsighted bends, the car gathered speed with uncanny alacrity. The previous 1.6-litre engines needed much more in the way of throttle work to liberate their performance, while the new 2.0-litre motor is a delightfully flexible unit when touring, albeit ready to explode into action at the flick of a shift pedal or a squeeze of the throttle.

Unlike in the first two generations of the New Mini, the "ordinary" Cooper does not cower abjectly in the shadow of its more powerful sibling. Previously the Cooper felt exactly as it was: an emasculated novice version of the mighty S.

Not now. In fact with its more sensible 16-inch footwear, slightly less rigid suspension and deliciously tractable three-cylinder engine, the Cooper, for me, actually stole the limelight away from the Cooper S. And this was despite giving away 41kW and 500cc.

Better insulated against the vagaries of third-world like roading and less likely to be knocked off-line by bumps and holes - Christchurch drivers will know all about this - the new Cooper and its elegantly sufficient power output is less of a handful than its all-powerful sibling and a better, more relaxed drive altogether.

Both cars display ample evidence of the extra torsional rigidity of the new car's body-in- white, through judicious use of high tensile steel and alloys. They both felt solid, and absolutely unflappable on wicked surfaces, with the fluid, shock-free Cooper impressing more and more the further I and my Australian co- driver took it. You could drive this car all day, and I don't think I've ever said that about a Mini of any vintage before.

The Cooper also has a distinctively growly engine note and its figures of 0-100kmh in 7.8 seconds bear out the feeling that it is quicker than its outputs would suggest.

The Cooper also manages a combined emissions rating of between 105 and 112g/km CO2 and consumption numbers of 4.5-4.8L/100km, the difference being the choice of manual or automatic transmission.

The Cooper S, understandably offers 122-136g/km and 5.2-5.8L/100km.

With all the talk of saving weight these days, the average model for model loss of 10kg does not seem like much. Until you count the extra kit and safety gear that is. An engineer did say they could have made it 50kg with less equipment, but it appears that the market says that bare bones Minis are a thing of the past.

BMW New Zealand says the new range, model for model, will be a little more expensive than the previous car which I guess is inevitable.

However, when the new Cooper is almost as quick as the old Cooper S and able to travel much further than the previous Cooper on a litre of gas, it is the previous bridesmaid model that for me is the pick of the new lineup.

It's a nicer all-round drive, offers 95 per cent of the fun and has a highly smug, low smog emissions factor to move out of the Cooper S's albeit impressive shadow once and for all.

Mini Cooper S

- The Press

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