“I didn’t realise you wore a skirt…” read a friend’s text message, after sending him a photograph of the New MINI Cooper I had on test for the day. Indeed, it may have that kind of charm about it, but it is often forgotten just how good a drivers’ car the iconic hatchback actually is…
The MINI Cooper is a cracking car. I had a Cooper Convertible on loan for five days last year and had a great time with that. The new hatch is wonderfully fun to drive, with an increase in power and a new chassis platform. Engines in all cars, bar the S, have lost a cylinder and 500 cc in size – becoming a 1.5 litre, three cylinder, turbo. It is very economical too.
MINI’s range has increased dramatically since BMW took over in 2001 – some of the cars aren’t exactly ‘mini’ at all. However, the hatchback has always been a great car to drive, with modest power and great handling dynamics. The short front and rear bodywork overhangs create the tight, nimble and agile feel of the chassis that the original MINI boasted.
From the outside, not many people are attracted to the new slightly chunkier styling. The general consensus trending a dislike of the tail lights. This demo car looks particularly good in Ice White with contrasting black roof, 17″ wheels and door mirror caps. The ‘go-faster’ white stripes on the bonnet complete the classic look. The new car has a longer wheelbase and looks more lardy than its predecessor with a bit more front overhang which begs the question of how it will handle. Bearing in mind the volume in which the MINI Cooper sells, I’m sure we will get used to the new look. Personally, I really don’t think it looks too bad. Yes, it is tubbier than the previous generation, but in this colour with the contrasting black, it has presence – the Cooper S in Volcanic Orange, especially.
Inside, things have matured a fair bit. Materials are higher quality and the speedometer is now in the correct place – behind the steering wheel. The seats provide excellent body-hugging support which comes in handy for how the car drives, but we’ll get to that a bit later. You could never really say the previous car was roomy in the back and not much has changed, don’t be shocked by the tiny boot either. The new central command unit is very similar to BMW’s iDrive system which is easy to operate. The click-wheel is located where your hand will fall naturally for ease-of-use. Surrounding the display screen is a horse-shoe-shaped glow LED which slowly changes colour as you drive. Although the interior has grown up, it is still as funky – if not more so. The stereo is excellent too, with pure clarity as you increase the volume. The electric window switches are now located on the doors, so taking your eyes from the road to decipher the instrument panel on the centre console is no longer necessary. As a ‘keyless-go’ car (standard across the MINI Hatch range), the flying saucer style key can be dropped into the cup holder. Press the clutch pedal, flick the pulsating jet-fighter Engine Start/Stop toggle switch and hear the three-pot motor erupt and settle into a pleasing and remarkably smooth idle.
The new engine, with a very promising 136 bhp (soon to be dropped into entry level, front-wheel drive BMWs) is a hoot, delivering a raspy soundtrack. The torque curve is strong and therefore the power delivery is pretty much linear whilst the noise becomes more of a howl beyond 4,000 rpm. A twin-scroll turbocharger provides the effortless boost without any lag to speak of whilst Sport mode is engaged. New driving modes feature on the car; Sport, Mid, and Eco are very effective at what they do and also humour you with a display on the central display screen. With Sport mode engaged, you can feel the engine loosen up and throttle response sharpen, whilst the dampers and steering rack firm. The MINI is all about having fun and the new engine allows you to revel in this emotion. The six-speed manual gearbox is precise, but ratios are tight which suit the characteristics of the engine – it struggles to pull away in second. A new feature is a rev-matching downshift, smoothing off any unwanted jerkiness. I was a little disappointed though that it did not make a little more noise, as a heel-and-toe would. It would have been nice to have seen this in Sport mode only, which would keep the engine running efficiently in normal driving modes. I did an economy run for around half an hour and managed to get 58 mpg which proves just how efficient the new engine is.
The photograph above speaks complete sense. In Sport mode, the new Cooper is as tight as a drum and reacts like a go-kart. This is where the supportive seats are very handy. The steering is sharp and precise. Although electrically-assisted, resistance increases and is easy to dial into, communicating with the front axle very well. You can carry a fair amount of speed through bends as you are confident the car will remain composed thanks to its tremendous grip levels from an even weight distribution. Overall ride comfort suffers as a result, though. The horrendous condition of British roads, complete with pot-holes and what looks like acne-scars more or less shakes your fillings loose. As you increase your speed, you seem to unlock supple character to the chassis which makes the ride easier to live with. You could of course, save Sport mode for better roads. Brakes are strong too, with a good pedal feel communicating stopping distance well – much more rewarding than the Renault Megane and Clio I tested recently.
As a package, the New MINI Cooper is a great car. It is funky but mature and drives exceptionally well. It was MINI’s intention to make the new hatchback a more mature and physically rewarding experience behind the wheel, and this is what they have achieved. OK, it may take a while for everybody to decide it actually doesn’t look as bad as they first thought as it does look considerably chubbier. I challenge anybody to sit in the new Cooper and tell me they aren’t impressed. It is virtually impossible for anybody to say they do not like what MINI have done in the cockpit. Everything is ergonomically focused to provide the driver easy operation, in an ambient and cool environment. I thoroughly recommend this car to anybody wishing to get about in a well priced hatch, offering modest performance, driving dynamics and returning respectable Miles Per Gallon.
Engine Size: 1.5 litre, three cylinder, twin-scroll turbo, 12 valve
Top Speed: 130 mph
Power: 136 bhp @ 4,500-6,000 rpm
Torque: 162 lbs ft @ 1,250 rpm
Transmission: Six speed manual
Driven Wheels: Front
0-62 mph: 7.9 seconds
Combined MPG: 62.8
Length: 3,821 mm
Width: 1,727 mm
Height: 1,414 mm
Kerb Weight: 1,160 kg
List Price: £15,300
Star Rating: * * * *