Err… New Mini? Are you sure?
Yes, it’s the new Mini. But you’ll have to be a real geek to spot the differences. If you really want to know it’s a bit longer, and the bonnet is a bit higher for crash and pedestrian protection regulations. Oh, and there’s a new engine nestling under the hood. Throw in a revised interior, some chassis tweaks and a few other details and it’s a ‘new’ car.
So you’re basically saying it looks the same…
You can’t really blame Mini for keeping the styling so similar. After all demand has been so high the production line has been playing catch up since sales started in 2001. What has always been mildly embarrassing about the outgoing car though is its engine. Built in conjunction with Chrysler, in a deal that the ink dried on before arch rival Mercedes-Benz jumped into bed with the American firm, the 1.6 unit was never the Mini’s strong point. The new 1.6, naturally aspirated in the Cooper, and turbocharged, rather than supercharged, in the Cooper S is another shared effort – this time with the French PSA group.
So is the new engine any good then?
That depends on your viewpoint. Some might complain that the new Mini has lost some of its character. If for character you read poor refinement then yes, it has, being far less raucous than the old unit. The throttle response is crisp, and although it’s got a turbo it’s rarely caught off boost. The twin-scroll turbocharger allows the 1.6-litre engine to deliver peak torque of 177lb ft between 1600 and 5000rpm. And there’s an overboost too, delivering 192lb ft when really charging hard. Peak power of 173bhp is delivered at 5500rpm. That’s more than the old Cooper S, allowing an improved 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds, and better combined consumption and CO2 emissions figures of 40.9mpg and 164g/km respectively.
Enough talk about consumption and emissions. Is it fun?
Oh yes. The Mini might be more refined, and a tiny bit more spacious but it still remains highly enjoyable. The steering is precise, if not exactly loaded with feel, the long-throw six-speed gearshift is crisp, and the handling is as sharp as ever. Sure, there’s understeer on offer if you’re overly keen on corner entry and brutal with the accelerator, but you really need to be trying to provoke it. Keep things clean and tidy and the Cooper S is a rewarding, involving drive. Overall, it’s undeniably a more mature feeling car, with refinement and comfort that’s quite a step up from its predecessor.
Comfort? Refinement? Has the Mini sold out?
Don’t worry, it’s still enjoyable, just in a slightly different way. What’s impressive is the way that the Mini is now a car that you’d happily tackle a long boring drive in, as well as a backroad blast. The suspension is far better judged, the standard set up on the Cooper S giving it real fluidity and poise, and a very nicely balanced ride. There’s a bit more body roll, but it’s a far more rounded car as a result. If that all sounds too soft for you then Mini also offers a Sport Chassis. It brings thicker anti-roll bars and stiffer dampers and springs. It’ll be quicker around a track, but compromised on the M25. It’s just one of a huge number of options that will allow you to personalise your Mini.
Some might bemoan the slight loss of character with this new car, but it’s a well-judged new model. It’s a fair bit more refined, but still a hoot when the mood takes you. So it’s bound to appeal to existing, and inevitably aging, early adopters of the original New Mini, while still enough fun to attract new buyers. That it looks much the same is no bad thing, as sales haven’t exactly been a problem with the outgoing models. In many ways it’s like when Porsche reinvent the 911. There will always be doubters, but ultimately they’re always won round. Expect the Cooper S in showrooms on November 18th. Why the 18th? Because it would have been the 100th birthday of Alec Issigonis, designer of the original Mini, of course…