The 3rd generation of the MINI Cooper is here. The car will begin rolling out in markets the world over, and will make its way to India in 2014 too. BMW insists the MINI is British to the core, and yet it seems to be all about German engineering! It's a confused pitch and more so when the global press drive happens in Puerto Rico - an American protectorate - far, far away from England in the Caribbean!
So while MINI can claim nice and loud that it is made in England, and claim British citizenship too. But one look at its entire development team for the new generation hatch and you don't hear a single British accent!
The new 3rd generation MINI hatch as always will be available in 3 variants. The MINI ONE where things start off, the Cooper and then the Cooper S. But a big part of the story with the new generation is a whole new line up of engines, as it's the first time that the BMW is going big on the 3 cylinder engine. There are two iterations each on the petrol and diesel side of things. I drove the Cooper (3 cylinder/1.5 litre twinpower turbo petrol/136 bhp/ 6 speed manual gearbox/0-100 kmph in 7.9 seconds) and the Cooper S (4 cylinder/2.0 litre twinpower turbo petrol/192 bhp/6 speed automatic/0-100 in 6.8 seconds).
The range begins with the MINI ONE with a 1.2 litre 3 cylinder petrol and 1.5 litre 3 cylinder diesel. The Mini Cooper has a diesel option which uses the same 1.5 litre diesel block, but with increased output at 116 bhp.
Phew! Too many numbers, now the real deal - the drive. I started with the Cooper, dressed in Deep Blue Metallic. Straight away, the car comes across as more grown up, but also immediate - the realisation that it lacks the direct go-kart like feel very evident in the first two generations. Handling is good though, but the point really is that this feels more car-like overall and less MINI-like! I was glad to be driving the manual option, but feel there is a lack of clutch feel. This means the car threatens to stall or stutter a bit, but you get used to the clutch response fairly soon. The new gearbox otherwise has a solid feel, changes in the higher gears are very smooth, and you don't need to constantly downshift in city traffic. The car's peak torque kicks in relatively low at 1250 rpm, which helps of course. And at no point would you come away thinking this is an underpowered 3 pot. Its feisty and fun - this engine, and from a power delivery point of view, the fun really starts when you put this little tyke into Sport Mode. An instant change of throttle response, and the fun element goes up! Yes the go-kart is beginning to make an appearance at last!
Now let's meet the MINI Cooper S - the range topper, available in just one engine spec as I mentioned. I have the car dressed in Volcanic Orange, with black sport stripes on the hood, and a black contrast roof! I'm glad I drove the Cooper before driving the S, because if I had done it the other way round well then the Cooper could have possibly come across as less powerful for sure. But don't forget I am pretty impressed with that 3 cylinder and it's been fun, but the S simply has to be more than that, isn't it?
Yes well that is where conventional thinking takes you folks! While the car is fast, I can see clearly that the new Cooper S is even more un-MINI-like than the new Cooper was! The car is swift and sporty alright, but once again lacks the character of a true, hard MINI - which really is a pity! It just feels more ubiquitous, and it will still hold its own against rivals like the Fiat 500 Abarth, Clio RS, or even the Audi A3 hatch in Europe, it will somehow disappoint the real MINI aficionado.
There is dynamic damper control, which does lend a sporty feel to the suspension - but again - compare to the outgoing car, and the character is very much changed. The engine feels refined with the 192 horses doing duty with efficient ease. Like in the Cooper, the turbo kick-in is so smooth and effortless and you are instantly reminded that there is BMW technology under that hood. The new automatic gearbox feels good too as it is definitely smoother through the shifts, and the new driver assistance aids like head-up display and parking-assist are pretty cool.
In terms of looks, BMW decided to stay with the winning formula, and so at first glance the car is instantly recognisable as a MINI. The headlamps and front grille are a tad exaggerated but with the addition of the daytime running LED lights that form a ring around the headlamp cluster, it all comes together. You can now get the contrast roof and exterior mirrors in white or black on any variant, at no extra cost.
So the car still looks cute, even though MINI has stretched it just a bit. Overall length has increased by 98 millimetres to 3821 mm. Wheelbase is at 2495 mm (up 28mm), width at 1727mm (up by 44 millimetres) and height stands in at 1414 mm (up by 7 mm). Boot volume has also increased by 51 litres to 211 litres.
Well most new generations are always bigger than their predecessors right? Well, in this case the reason for new dimensions is the new platform. BMW's front-wheel-drive UKL platform will spawn compact cars for BMW and MINI brands, the new Cooper family being the smallest and most compact. So given the slightly larger vehicles that also need to share this platform, the size increase for the new MINI Cooper became somewhat of a necessity.
Inside, the car looks premium and plush. You can opt for varying fabrics and dash trims. Bowing to pressure perhaps, MINI has moved the speedo back to the regular position, behind the steering wheel, and the big round binnacle in the central console now houses the infotainment - that also includes the rear camera view and navigation screen. The display itself is ringed by an LED tube which changes colours, to show different functions! Rev the engine to redline and it will go from yellow to red clockwise, put the car in green mode and it turns green of course, there's blue or red for the climate control settings depending on the temperature you want, and there's a different shade of blue which lights up for any social media app interface. In all 6 colours are possible that almost emit the car's moods, and functions! Now you will say that is a gimmick, and I shall agree. But it is all very funky and cool, packed with attitude, and I have to say - this part IS very MINI for sure!
BMW has announced that the hatch will no longer be made in just Oxford, UK but also in the Netherlands under contract with VDL Nedcar. Being in the Eurozone, this opens up the likelihood of CKD kits being shipped to India at last, as it wasn't economical to ship those from Oxford. And given that this car sits under 4 metres, on some variants we could potentially get more price points on the hatch too - if BMW decides to localise some bits. Remember MINI has employed this strategy with the Countryman last year (which is made by Magna Steyr at Graz, Austria).
So I look forward to the MINI Cooper coming here soon enough. I do hope we get the diesel option this time, and yes maybe a locally produced variant too!