Mating a smaller engine with a bigger body is rarely a recipe for success, yet Mini has done just that with a new model that could be the most appealing car in its lineup.
The Mini Cooper hatchback is the most conventional model in the Mini range, free from styling gimmicks seen on the Roadster, Coupe and Clubman that were spinoffs from the tried and tested Mini recipe.
Marked by new looks that include larger headlight and tail-lap treatment along with more modern detailing, the new Cooper is intended to take the fight to Audi’s A1 compact car.
New Mini Cooper
New Mini Cooper.
Powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine with direct injection and a turbo, the entry-level Mini is a willing performer, making 100kW from 4500 to 6000rpm.
Or, at least, it was when it was running; our car suffered a problem that saw it refusing to start (see breakout at the bottom of the story), something Mini blamed on poor quality fuel.
Similarly, 220Nm of peak torque – or 230Nm with an overboost function - arrives at just 1250rpm and hangs on until 4000rpm, lending the base-model hatch with a wall of torque that will get the job done for most motorists.
The Cooper’s outstanding 4.5 litres per 100km fuel economy figure is the result of features that include weight savings, a new engine and active aerodynamics that can open and close vents in the bodywork to make the most of each journey.
Mini’s latest motor, also being tested under the bonnet of prototype BMWs, is a leap beyond the previous entry-level engine, a 1.6-litre unit that made 90kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4250rpm, meaning it had to be worked harder for lesser rewards along with inferior 5.8L/100km fuel economy.
The three-cylinder engine is a gem, effortless on the road and frugal at the bowser. It has none of the metallic thrash of other three-cylinder cars such as the Volkswagen Up or Mitsubishi Mirage, and pulls smoothly in every gear.
Performance-oriented buyers can step up to the Cooper S, which features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 141kW and 300Nm. The jump from Cooper to Cooper S cuts 0-100km/h times from 7.9 seconds to 6.8 seconds, providing the Mini with plenty of zip for a small car. If that’s not enough, high-performance John Cooper Works and GP editions should bring extra pace.
Fuel conscious buyers can opt for the diesel-sipping Cooper D, featuring a three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine that uses just 3.5L/100km to make 85kW and 270Nm.
All three engines are available with the option of a six-speed manual or six-speed conventional automatic transmission. Throttle response and steering weight can be adjusted through three driving modes including a green mode for efficient motoring, normal for everyday commuting and sports for a spirited drive.
The modes also influence the shock absorber behaviour of cars fitted with Dynamic Damper Control, a variable suspension setup used here by Mini for the first time.
The German-owned, British-built icon says it has instilled a more mature ride into the car, while retaining the “typical go-kart feeling” sought by customers.
Engineers have nailed that brief, producing a car that turns in sharply with direct steering that makes it easy to place on the road.
The Cooper has excellent body control linked to an alert ride that quickly and efficiently deals with bumps. A test drive in Puerto Rico was pockmarked by potholes large enough to bathe a Labrador, many of which had destroyed wheels and tyres during earlier stages of the car’s launch. The Cooper was firm but not excessively so, particularly when compared to the more focused Cooper S that was alarming sharp across punishing asphalt. Without the opportunity to drive the range locally, the conventional Cooper seems like the best bet on Australian roads.
A larger, more rigid body can take partial credit for the hatch’s handling characteristics, thanks to increased rigidity it brought to the package.
The latest Mini is 98 mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm higher than the previous model, retaining Mini’s signature proportions and retro styling cues.
This model uses more modern detailing, such as LED lighting, to differentiate itself from the previous-generation car. The easiest way to spot a new Mini is to check if it has ringed LED halos around the headlamps – providing that the owner has plumped for premium lighting on the options list.
Designers saved the best work for the interior, which no longer features a dinner plate-sized speedometer as its centrepiece.
There is more leg, head and shoulder room for occupants as well as 50 litres of additional boot storage.
The speedo and tacho have been moved to a more conventional location on the steering column, while the circular central screen is now used as an expanded infotainment hub. Internet-based streaming is a feature of the new Mini, with services such as Stitcher loaded into the car. App-based customisation point to a vehicle that can updated as years go by, building on the standard functionality of Mini’s 8.8-inch colour display.
The system also encourages drivers to be smoother with their inputs, while allowing occupants to control features via a rotary wheel similar to BMW’ iDrive system. A rim of LED lighting around the display serves as everything from a colour-coded rev counter to an oversize climate control indicator, depending on what the driver is doing.
Further technical options include active cruise control, a heads-up display, automated emergency braking and a self-parking system.
The new Mini goes on sale locally in April. The brand’s Australian arm has not confirmed final pricing and specifications for new Australian Minis, but it has hinted at a model restructure that could make the Mini more competitive than ever before.
When things don’t go according to plan...
Our test Mini had repeated problems with its fuel-saving stop-start system that would not restart the car after coming to a halt, even while repeatedly pressing the “engine start” button. The problem was rectified each time by exiting, locking and unlocking the car. A quick investigation by Mini suggested that low quality fuel could be the source of the problem.
2014 Mini Cooper
Price: $29,000 (estimated)
On sale: April, 2014
Engine: 3-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 100kW at 4500rpm
Torque: 230Nm at 1250rpm
Fuel consumption: 4.5L/100km
CO2 emissions: 105 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto, FWD.