Bigger is better for MINI’s motoring icon
- Credit: MINI
Third time is set to be the charm for BMW as it launches a bigger, better MINI with a greater accent on economy, performance and a premium feel, writes Iain Dooley of the Press Association.
It might have grown slightly but there's no mistaking the oversize headlights and signature grille – it can only be a MINI.
That's all that's familiar about BMW's third-generation hatchback, though. Underneath the iconic shape lies an all-new platform, engines and transmissions plus an increased focus on delivering an engaging yet refined driving experience.
And while the new car has grown slightly in all dimensions – 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 28mm longer between the wheels – the basic proportions and design cues remain.
Inside the cabin the trademark oversize central speedometer has been repurposed to house the infotainment screen and the traditional key has been ditched in favour of a funky backlit engine start toggle switch.
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BMW has blessed the car with – standard and cost-option – technology more commonly found in 'grown-up' cars, such a neat head-up display, parking camera and a self-park function, user selectable electronic damper modes, DAB radio, intelligent cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
The good news extends rearwards, as back-seat passengers now have more room – an old MINI bugbear – and the boot is a sensible size. It's still a bit of squeeze to get in the back but once installed it's noticeably more comfortable, while folding the rear seats further enhances the car's versatility.
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But what everyone will want to know is how the new car drives. Cooper and go-faster Cooper S use BMW's new 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol and new 189bhp 2.0-litre petrol engines respectively. All engines are now turbocharged, and significant economy and performance gains have been made across the board. There's also a 114bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo diesel with 80.7mpg combined in Cooper D.
In popular Cooper guise, the car's new 1.5-litre petrol engine puts out a useful 134 horsepower enabling the 0-62mph sprint in a brisk 7.9 seconds. And power now comes in much lower down the rev range which saves you much stirring of the admittedly slick manual gear shift.
And the best news? You can have all this performance while enjoying an official combined economy figure of 62.8mpg and tax-dodging 105g/km CO2 emissions rating.
It's the same cake-and-eat-it scenario out on the road. The MINI Cooper delivers an engaging driving experience while, at the same time, maintaining a high level of comfort and refinement across a wide range of road conditions.
The car's electric power steering gives nothing away in terms of feel and does much to contribute to the previous car's go kart-like sensation that BMW is so keen to maintain, while engine response is right up there with dedicated sports cars. The three-cylinder turbo motor even sounds the part, emitting a gruff, purposeful note when you're pressing on.
But it's the car's ride and grip levels that impress the most. The combination will flatter less experienced drivers and do much to keep them safe if they inadvertently test the limits of their talents, yet the potential still exists for keen drivers to fully exploit the MINI's playful character.
And, unlike it's predecessor, this third-generation MINI's ride boasts a more supple and mature character, resulting in a vastly more enjoyable experience when encountering poorly-surfaced urban streets. The end result is a fluid ride and an enjoyable, confidence-inspiring time behind the wheel.
The important thing to take away from this all-new MINI experience is that, while the car has grown slightly in size, is more refined and comes with all the toys you'd expect to find in more grown-up cars, BMW has ensured that the fun factor remains at the heart of the driving and ownership experience.