A new Mini Cooper? Doesn't look that new…
It really is a new car – every body panel has changed, new engine and new interior too – although it looks familiar and CAR Online has already tested the new Mini Mk2 in hot Cooper S form. Mini's owner BMW says the Mini is a bit like a Porsche 911 – it’s a classic shape and you just can't muck around with that. So it's a new car that looks just like the old one. It's a bit longer than the outgoing Cooper (by 60mm), though height and width are identical. The key change is the engine. Goodbye to the old Chrysler four-cylinder droner – neither fast nor frugal, and always the car's weak link – and in its place comes a new BMW/Peugeot joint venture engine built in Hams Hall, not so far from the Mini factory in Oxford.
So does it drive just like the old one?
No. And this is a good news/bad news story. The new engine is quieter as well as more powerful and economical, and the Cooper now gets a six-speed 'box and taller ratios. So it's a more relaxing drive, better able to whisk along the motorway in reasonable comfort. The downside is that some of the outgoing Mini's verve has been lost. The longer gearing (to help give better fuel consumption) blunts some of the hyperactivity that has always been a hallmark of the Cooper. At times, the car feels downright slothful. Also, the new electric steering, though quick-geared, lacks the feel and sharpness of the old hydraulic rack-and-pinion set up. Mind you, the Cooper's still enjoyable to drive, helped by the terrific driving position and good handling.
OK, not quite so much fun – but how about all the sensible things?
The latest Cooper is even better made, and feels a more premium vehicle, than its predecessor. The cabin is well-finished, the vast central speedo is even bigger and the quirky toggle switches remain. Some of the new switchgear is plasticky though, and not in keeping with the Mini's premium price and positioning. As always the Mini's really just a two-seater: the back seat is for kids only, and the boot's tiny too. Prices have only increased modestly, and standard equipment, equally, remains modest. Many of the features you’d expect in a £12,995 small car are options, including manual air conditioning (an extra £660). The vast options list enables buyers to personalise their cars, one of the secrets of the car's brilliant marketing.
Cute, desirable, well-made and fun to drive, the Cooper has nonetheless lost a little of its brio. It just isn't the zestful little beast that its predecessor was. Those after a premium, distinctive, well-made little hatch will be delighted. But those who want a special driving experience may not be quite so thrilled. Keen drivers now really need to save up and pay extra for the substantially more entertaining Cooper S.