Is the third generation BMW MINI as fun to drive as its predecessors? By Alison Westwood
After 14 years in production, BMW’s MINI has come of age. While it still looks remarkably similar to the old new MINI, it’s an entirely new car from the wheels up. Not a single body panel has been carried over and it has a new range of engines.
The Cooper’s 1.6-litre engine is replaced by a three-cylinder 1.5-litre and the Cooper S now has a 2-litre four-cylinder turbo. It’s had a bit of a growth spurt too, with an extra 28 mm in wheelbase and 98 mm and 44 mm in overall length and width, to comply with new crash regulations. Fortunately, it hasn’t gained weight in the process.
The consensus in the motoring world seems to be that the MINI has grown up into a small, sassy BMW. Of course, this begs the question: is it still a Mini at all?
MINI’s ad campaign claims it’s the ‘new original’. As a former owner of one of the original originals – a Leyland 1275 E – I think this is a rather far-fetched claim. Even the old new MINI was nothing like the original.
For one thing, the headlights, brakes and windscreen wipers of BMW’s version actually worked. For another, it was much bigger and a lot more expensive. My first Mini cost R6 500. My second – BMW’s first go – was an extra R150 000.
The most basic of BMW’s third generation rolls off the showroom floor for just over R300 000 – and that’s if you abstain from the incredible array of optional extras. (Annoyingly, South Africa seems to be one of the few countries where the new model brought with it a substantial price increase. And in Australia, it actually launched for $5 000 less than its predecessor.)
For this price, BMW needs to deliver something special. And, it appears, they have.
Although the 1.5-litre engine’s 100 kW may not seem like a great leap forward (10 kW up on the old 1.6-litre engine), combined with an extra 60 Nm of torque, a 32g/km cut in emissions and a noticeable increase in fuel economy, it’s an impressive piece of work. The 2.0-litre has an extra 6 kW and 40 Nm – not an outstanding improvement, but still punchy enough to deliver a fittingly sporty drive.
MINI say they’ve lowered the centre of gravity, increased track width and stiffened the suspension to keep the car’s trademark go-kart feel despite its larger size. While it’s still slightly uncomfortable on long drives, they’ve done good work on reducing road noise.
Aside from that, the drive isn’t markedly different to previous MINIs – it’s just better: more refined, better-balanced and with even better high-speed handling.
Perhaps the most exciting new option is the adaptive suspension, called Driving Modes, which allows you to adapt the car’s performance to your mood at the twist of a dial. If you’re relaxed (or running low on fuel), the ‘Green’ mode optimizes fuel-consumption while the LED ring glows green when you use economical gearing and acceleration.
Normal mode is normally zippy for a MINI, but the ‘Sport’ mode turns the LED ring into a rev counter and produces an appreciable boost in acceleration and steering – especially useful for overtaking or sticking a grin onto your face.
Noticeable changes for previous MINI drivers are the dramatic improvement in quality of the cloth, trim and plastics as well as door-mounted window switches and the speedo – now in front of the driver. The centre console has become a dinner plate of an infotainment system surrounded by what I came to think of as the LED ‘mood ring’.
There’s also a new seat design with a larger adjustment range, a bit of extra space for rear passengers and 51 more litres in the boot.
Standard features of the new model are keyless entry, Bluetooth, and iPod and USB integration. The S comes with larger wheels, fog lights and sport seats. All models also come with the full 5-year/100 000km BMW Motorplan. (Previously the standard package was 3-years/75 000km.)
Optional extras worth considering include the adaptive suspension, Harman/Kardon audio system, adaptive cruise control and collision warning with automatic braking. Less worthwhile are the heads-up display, reversing camera and hands-free park assist – which is just silly. Big as it is, this MINI is still small enough to park easily.
Let’s be honest. If you want a car that truly follows in the tyre tracks of the original original – affordable, fun, simple and tiny – you’re not going to find it in a MINI showroom. Rather look at the Fiat 500 or the new Citroën C1 and Hyundai i10.
However, if you need a car to keep you feeling young at heart even though you can no longer pretend those grey hairs are incidental, there’s probably no better way to spend the cash that gave you those grey hairs in the first place. The new MINI, even as it evolves into maturity, still delivers a jackpot of child-like joy.
2.0-liter four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo
Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power and torque
141 kW @ 4 700-6 000 r/min and 280 Nm @ 1 250 r/min.
Acceleration and top speed
0–100 km/h in 6.8 s and 235 km/h
Audi A3 1.8T SE 3-door, BMW 118i 3-door M Sport, Honda CR-Z Hybrid
#Mini #Hatch #CooperS #3-door