The all-new Mini Cooper is going to stir up some debate. The third-generation Mini, recently launched to the global media on the sun-soaked island of Puerto Rico, is larger than the second-gen version. The second-generation New Mini was larger than the first. The first New Mini was larger than the original Mini. You can see where this is going, can’t you?
When compared with the previous iteration, the latest Mini Cooper is 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller. The track – or the width between the wheels – has increased as well (42mm at the front, 34mm at the back) and the wheelbase has grown by 28mm. This growth spurt has given the Mini increased passenger space and boot capacity – the latter up from 160 litres to 211L.
Why the push for a bigger physical footprint? It comes down to the cramped back seat and tiny cargo compartment of the previous model. A number of consumers seemingly wanted to align themselves with the cool factor of the brand without having to deal with its spatial “weakness.”
This is the reason why Mini introduced the Countryman and Paceman – they may be called Mini, but they’re not all that small and they don’t possess the driving dynamics of the original new Mini Cooper. Now, we have a brand-new Mini Cooper and, unfortunately, it seems to be veering down the same path as its larger brethren.
But let’s not hit the panic button just yet.
There were two new Minis available to sample at launch – the petrol-powered Cooper and Cooper S. (A third version, the Mini Cooper D, is being launched at the same time, but no examples were available to drive.)
The base Mini Cooper is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder developing 100kW of power (from 4500-6000 rpm) and 220Nm of torque (from 1250-4000rpm) – or 230Nm during brief moments of overboost. These figures represent a significant increase over the 90kW/160Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder of the previous model.
The new engine benefits from direct fuel injection, variable valve control and variable camshaft control, plus ‘twin-power’ turbocharging, which is so prevalent in BMW models these days. The performance of the Cooper is impressive; the engine is incredibly smooth, the car is more than a second quicker to 100km/h than before (taking 7.8sec) and the fuel economy is around 4.5 litres per 100km.
The Mini Cooper S employs a larger four-cylinder turbo engine than before, one that displaces two litres versus the 1.6-litre engine from the previous generation. Power is up (to 141kW) and so is torque (to 280Nm, 300Nm with the overboost), though the former figure isn’t particularly high for the engine capacity. This model is marginally quicker to 100km/h than its immediate predecessor (6.7sec versus 7.0sec) and is expected to consume about 5.7L/100km – unexpectedly, perhaps, bettering the 6.3L/100km claim of the outgoing Mini Cooper S.
Efficiency improvements for both the Cooper and Cooper S are helped by a big technological boost in the form of brake energy recuperation, an auto start/stop system and the new driving mode selector with three choices ranging from the ultra-eco-friendly to the super-sporty.
The drive experience looked like this: half the day on the narrow, winding, sometimes broken roads of Puerto Rico in the Cooper S fitted with the six-speed sport automatic transmission and paddle shifters, the other half in the Cooper with a six-speed manual.
The revisions to the suspension system – different design, lighter weight, increased stiffness – have paid off. The Cooper and Cooper S retain the road-skirting ride, but with an added measure of control and composure when those roads became particularly rough. Both cars were fitted with Pirelli P Zero tyres and there was not a single moment when a loss of grip seemed imminent.
This may come as a surprise, but the preferred choice was the base model. Although the Cooper S is quicker in a straight line, the manual transmission is more engaging, particularly as it employs brand-new rev-matching technology to aid in shifting. (The automatic also features some trickery – satellite-aided automatic gear selection, a system that seems similar to what was first used by BMW on the Rolls-Royce Wraith.)
The Mini used to be the sharpest handling, most fun-to-drive, most entertaining compact car in the world. This was true of the Coupe, Cabrio and Clubman. But it wasn’t true of the Countryman or the Paceman – and the fear is the same thing has now happened with this latest Mini.
Perhaps the handling of the old, New Mini was too crisp, perhaps the steering was too direct. The previous generation has sometimes been referred to as being “jittery” or “darty” by some – the exact quality that real driving enthusiasts appreciated most. Without a doubt, the experience of driving the Cooper and even the Cooper S this year was nowhere close to that of driving a JCW GP last year.
Inside, the passenger cabin of both versions is more impressive than ever before. The classic Mini quirkiness has been maintained via the toggle switches, large analog speedometer and tachometer, large centre console screen – with an ultra-crisp and large navigation system readout – and the decidedly round theme to the dials and readouts. There’s a higher quality feel to the materials used, though, and this serves to make the Mini Cooper even more suited to the premium compact segment.
In terms of driver assistance systems, the newest Mini raises the bar for the brand with an optional head-up display (niftily placed on a foldable screen above the instrument cluster), park assist, a rear-view camera, and camera-based active cruise control, collision warning and road sign detection. Also, as has been the trend with the brand recently, these cars are loaded to the teeth with infotainment options offered under the Mini Connected banner.
As far as exterior appearance goes, the Mini Cooper has a longer hood than previously, a development that, no doubt, was the result of increased pedestrian protection requirements. The new model is also differentiated by larger, almost Paceman-like tail-lights and (optional) LED headlights, which look fantastic.
The biggest question about the 2014 Mini Cooper and Cooper S is whether it’s enough of a step up from the old model to warrant buying new. Certainly, there have been improvements in terms of passenger room, cargo space and engine efficiency. But this third-gen version also represents a slight step away (perhaps too big of a step) from what made the original Mini an automotive icon.