The problem with creating a car that’s hugely successful is how do you replace it? The answer is you don’t. Instead you adopt a policy where everything changes but everything stays the same. Porsche has been doing it for 40 years. A bit more power here, a tweak to the styling there, but all without really changing the 911. And there was clearly the same aim with new new Mini. Or new Mini mark II. Or whatever you want to call it.
According to owner surveys, styling and design have been the main reasons for people buying the Mini over the last five years, so it’s not surprising that BMW has played it safer than Durex with the looks. It does, in fact, appear a little bigger, like someone’s given it a couple of pulses with a bicycle pump, but impressively the overall weight has increased by just 15kg.
Pull the chunky door open and you’re presented with an interior that, whilst still classy, also appears to be a slightly inflated caricature of its former self. The speedo in the centre of the dashboard now rivals the steering wheel for diameter and prominence, but a higher base to the windows makes you feel more ensconced and lower down. There’s also now mood lighting (choose from blue through pink to orange) so you can feel like you’re permanently stuck in a 1980s disco. You can also, of course, choose from literally hundreds of different interior and exterior options to personalise your Mini. However, one box I would leave unticked is the one for the sunroof, which creates a gale of wind- noise along its leading edge at motorway speeds.
The engine in the Cooper is now a proper BMW (alright, and Peugeot) unit, complete with Valvetronic, and is made at the BMW engine plant at Hams Hall near Coleshill. It feels peppier and much smoother than the old Chrysler unit, but as power has been increased by just 5bhp and torque by an equally marginal 8lb ft, the sprint to sixty-two is achieved in a near identical time of 9.1sec. Fuel consumption has been improved by around 19 per cent over the old unit, though, taking it up to 48.7mpg on the combined cycle.
Also new is a six-speed ’box. It still has that lovely slick, positive action to it and remains one of the best on the market, although the extra ratio seems a little unnecessary.
Amazingly, 15in wheels are still the standard, but our test car came equipped with 17s and Dunlop run-flats. The ride is a world better than the old car would have been on such large rims, but they still seem to clatter around in the arches more than is comfortable.
The biggest change to the driving experience is the steering. BMW has employed a fully electric system and, unfortunately, it hasn’t done the Mini any favours. It doesn’t whine like the old electro-hydraulic system, but that’s about the only benefit. Turn-in is still encouragingly sharp and, if you stick to driving at a brisk rather than enthusiastic pace, all feels quite wheel-at-each-corner jolly. However, the new Cooper doesn’t encourage you to really attack a road like the old one did. The steering feels fine and feelsome when it’s loaded up through a fast, smooth corner, but throw in more angle or some bumps and it goes disconnectedly light just when you’d rather it didn’t.
The trouble with creating a success like the Mini is that it provides a very obvious benchmark for any replacement, making it all too easy to nitpick and criticise. The Mini remains a unique and quality item for its price-point and it will still sell for its style alone. But in evo terms it has lost a little something of the Mini handling sparkle. Still, I’m sure the 911 has had the odd blip over the years…