BMW reinvented small car cool when it brought back the Mini in 2001. Has the all-new Mini got the same draw in the face of pocket premium rivals like the Audi A1?
New Mini? Looks like a facelift to me.
Of course it does – you don’t want to mess too much with a formula as successful as the Mini’s, do you? BMW has shifted 2.5m since the first new Mini appeared 13 years ago, so it knows when it’s on to a good thing.
Underneath the mildly tweaked styling (more raked headlamps, larger grille, huge rear lamps), this thing really is all new. It’s nearly 100mm longer, both tracks are wider and the wheelbase grows by 28mm, to the advantage of handling, cabin space and luggage room, says BMW. And to top it all there are some super-frugal new power units too.
The old Mini Cooper could already crack 50mpg. How tight are Mini buyers?
Not tight at all – this is a premium priced small car, remember. While the range kicks off with the basic Cooper at £15,300 (lower grade models will follow), most buyers will spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on seemingly endless options that now include adaptive dampers, a reversing camera and radar cruise control. And more mpg means more money to spend on trinkets like that, although poverty-stricken Mini buyers should be pleased that keyless start, air conditioning and Bluetooth are all now standard on every model.
Never mind the tepid stuff, what about the Cooper S?
The Cooper S, which kicks off at £18,650 in three-door form, adds 16in alloys, the obligatory stripes (in and out), with piano-black cabin detailing and a three-spoke sports steering wheel.
There’s no downsizing going on under the S’s bonnet. In place of the old 1.6-litre turbo, there’s now a 1998cc turbo four. Mini’s project manager told us that they could have got the required go from the triple, but that S buyers want the differentiation four cylinders bring. It sounds urgent on boost, spits like fat on a fire on the overrun and makes this Mini really good company.
Zero to 62mph drops by a scant 0.2sec to 6.8sec, but you can definitely feel the extra torque everywhere, with its 206lb ft on tap from a low 1250rpm all the way through to 4750rpm. Fortunately the front suspension is well up to dealing with that new twist, putting power down cleanly, without corrupting the quick, accurate steering.
Both Cooper and S are as fun to drive as they ever were, but feel massively more refined, isolating suspension noise and tyre roar impressively, although the ride is definitely on the firm side.
BMW has done a great job on the new Mini, retaining all the charm of the old car, but putting some real effort into fixing the things we hated. The faster, quieter, greener, roomier and just plain smarter new Mini is still the default choice for those who want more from a small car than mere transport.