We drive the new Mini in the sunny climes of Puerto Rico, and come away suitably impressed with the third-generation of this stylish and popular hatch. But, can the new car build on the success of the previous two generations?
Its funny how a few hours of travel can change things. Early one morning, we were in frigid New York, with snow falling – making the general mood rather glum. But, a short flight later we landed in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, with its abundant sunshine, perfect temperature, and beautiful beaches – it couldn’t have been further removed from the mood in the Big Apple.
Of course, we weren’t there just to enjoy the scenery and the weather – no Sir, we were there to work. And the job at hand was to experience the new Mini – a very successful reinvention of the original concept, which has, since its introduction in 2001, been a smash hit across the globe. Buyers admire the iconic looks of the Mini, while appreciating the quality and luxury that comes from this BMW Group product. And its loyalty has steadily increased with the quirky marketing of the brand, which draws in even more customers – especially amongst the young set. This third-gen car, then, has a lot to live up to – both in terms of retaining current customers and drawing in new ones.
As far as the styling is concerned, it was always obvious that the new Mini would be an evolutionary step rather than a radical one – because, given its continued success, there was simply no reason to mess with a successful formula. However, when you look closely at the car, there are quite a few styling changes – concentrating more on the details, rather than changing the basic shape. So, the trademark hexagonal grille is now bigger and more in your face, and chrome surrounds the head and tail lamps – making both stand out that much more. And, of course, it has daytime running lights – with LED headlights, taillights and fog lamps available as an option. The basic look, then, remains the same – but there’s enough to differentiate it from the last generation machine. I personally think that the car still looks very good. But, while its squat stance is impressive, I’m not a fan of the new front – especially the headlamps, which now make the car look as if it’s permanently surprised.
However, the car has also grown in size – mainly in order to offer more room inside. So, the length goes up by 98mm, and the width by 44mm. The longer wheelbase, combined with the increased adjustment range for the front seats, means that there’s more rear seat room than ever before. The rear seat itself offers more seat surface, having been extended by 23mm. Practically though, while the rear seats might be okay for small adults and children, larger people will still find it pretty cramped in there. As a result of this size increase, though, the Mini now looks absurdly large compared to the original – and the name could almost be construed as a sarcastic take on things.
The interior, with the trademark toggle switches, has always been a strong point of the Mini – and the latest generation raises the game further. You now also get a jet plane style starter toggle switch mounted low in the centre console, while the BMW derived multimedia system gets new controls – which will be instantly familiar to anyone used to operating an iDrive system. Gone is the absurdly large central mounted speedo, which has been replaced by a screen for the multimedia system, while a normal sized speedo and rev counter move to the conventional position behind the steering. Overall, the interior feels very high quality – a major quality upgrade even when compared to the last generation car – and a good place to spend time in. A particularly interesting function is the huge LED ring mounted around the central display, which changes colour and glows green when driving in Eco mode. It even acts like a second rev counter in Sports mode, as it lights up from white to red as you approach the redline. It feels like quite a novelty, and is a fun thing to experience.
There are changes under the bonnet as well, and Mini now also offers brand new engines across the range. According to the engineers at Mini, they’ve discovered that the optimal size for an engine cylinder is 500cc. So, with that in mind, the Mini gets engines featuring multiples of 500cc’s. So, the Cooper gets a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine with 136bhp, while the Cooper S features a 2-liter turbo mill producing 192bhp. While the diesel, which we didn’t get to drive, has a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. Paired to these engines is the six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the option of a six-speed automatic and a sport automatic that offers faster shift times.
On the road, the Mini Cooper we first drove appears to be a car that has matured and mellowed over generations. It’s now a far more relaxed car to drive than the last Cooper – and will certainly appeal to a far wider audience than the last car did. It certainly rides much better than the last generation, despite being on 17-inch wheels and being run on broken Puerto Rican roads. It doesn’t tramline as much either. The manual gearbox was fun to use. And while the steering wasn’t as communicative as I would have liked, it is fast and direct. Of particular interest were the selectable driving modes. When I first shifted to Sport from Comfort, the car literally leapt forward! Till then, the Cooper felt rather lethargic and lazy – and very un-Mini like! But the Sport mode completely changed the behavior of the car, and made it feel like a go-kart once again (to reluctantly revert back to this overused cliché). If I were driving a Cooper daily, it would be used exclusively in Sport mode, as that massively quickens the throttle response and increases the steering weight – making the car feel far more alert and responsive.
The Cooper S, on the other hand, remains a completely different beast to drive. With 192bhp egging you on, it makes you drive like a lunatic. In fact, in my opinion, it’s virtually impossible to drive a Cooper S normally. I, at least, always end up driving it like a lout. In Sports mode particularly – which is, again, the best mode to experience the Cooper S in – the new sports automatic gearbox is super fast and smooth, while the exhaust makes all kinds of crackling and booming sounds the moment you lift your foot off the accelerator. Despite being turbocharged, the power delivery is linear and aggressive – while the soundtrack adds to the effect. Our Cooper S was also fitted with dynamic damper control, which stiffened the ride in Sport mode. And, while that might not be a very good thing for our road conditions, the adaptive suspension does work quite well on good roads.
Overall, the new generation of the Mini does two things. One, in the lower versions especially, it has mellowed the car down and made it more accessible to a larger audience with its improved ride and road manners. But, in the higher versions, it retains the aggressive, sporty character of the car – although you do have to fiddle with quite a few switches to bring out its inner beast. So, while the sportier versions will keep the faithful happy, the lower versions will open the market to a wider audience. A win-win for all then.
- Mini Cooper S
Engine: 1248cc / 4-cylinder /DOHC / Turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 92bhp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 209Nm @ 2000rpm
Price: Rs.9.72 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi)