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The devil is in the detail. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

The devil is in the detail
We took our first opportunity to try out the new MINI in Barcelona. It may look the same as the current car...

   



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#02#No doubt BMW carried out extensive market research before it relaunched the MINI brand in 2001, but there was an element of risk to the strategy of creating a spanking new interpretation of an icon. The MINI was not even based on any existing model with which it could share costs and on top of that it included expensive to produce features such as the clam-shell bonnet and frameless doors. Well, with the launch of the second generation at a time when sales were still on the increase, you have to admit that the gamble paid off handsomely.

MINI predicts a massive 20% increase in sales thanks to the introduction of the new model you see here. Helping that is the creation of a standalone dealer network and an even vaster array of personalisation options for MINI buyers. However, none of that matters if the car isn't any good. We joined MINI in Barcelona for the launch and managed to get more than 100 miles of interesting driving in both the Cooper and Cooper S models.

Initial press photographs showed that there was nothing radical about the styling of the new MINI, it being all but identical to the current car, but it does look surprisingly different in the metal, mainly due to the larger headlights and grille design. We're told that every single exterior panel has been changed. New colours and wheels give the game away too. #p##02# I was given the key to a Pure Silver MINI Cooper. MINI owners will never again have to endure such a thing as a regular key; instead, buyers get what looks like a bit of a mini-spaceship with the central locking and boot release buttons on it. The key slots into the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel. Starting and stopping the engine is done with a button. That aside, current MINI owners will feel instantly at home in the new car's interior, as it retains the distinctive ovular door-cappings, two-spoke steering wheel and of course the centrally-positioned speedometer.

Look closer though and you'll discover that, like the exterior, it is all new. We have always liked the funky style of the MINI's cabin, but some of the plastics used in the first generation model were not as nice to touch as they should have been. That's all changed for the new car, with more tactile materials used throughout. The dashboard itself has been redesigned too and the central location now houses the integrated audio system controls. If you specify satnav, the speedo design changes to show the speeds on the circumference, with the computer display in the middle. As with the outgoing car, the almost-spherical rev counter sits behind the steering wheel, though it now houses an upgraded on-board computer (optional).

As with the first MINI, you sit low to the ground, which immediately distances the MINI from pretty much any other small hatch. The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake and the pedals and gear lever, though new, are closely related to the original items. Checking the mirrors and getting comfortable, I noticed how good visibility out of the MINI is and later in the day, whilst pushing on through tortuous mountain roads, I noticed that the upright windscreen really alleviates the problem of visibility through the A-pillar region.

So that's that then; the new MINI looks broadly similar to the outgoing car, though it has been improved substantially. Yadda yadda, sales success is a certainty. That's not it; don't for a minute assume that the new car is just like the old one when it comes to driving it. #p##02# The first part of my route away from the airport included a section of motorway. Now the previous MINI was comfortable enough, but it bobbed about a bit and jiggled its passengers if the road surface was not smooth as glass. Most people put up with that in return for a genuinely fun to drive chassis. Within a few miles it was clear that the new MINI is light years ahead of the old when it comes to refinement. Not only is it more comfortable, with fantastic damping, it is far quieter too, with little road or engine noise, even cruising at over 90mph. Later in the day, the Cooper S I drove created a noticeable increase in wind roar, but it seemed to come from the leading edge of the roof and was audible due to the fitment of the optional glass roof. It's worth bearing that in mind.

My first thought was of course that MINI must have diluted the driving experience in order to improve the car's ride; it's a compromise all chassis engineers have to deal with. As soon as I left the motorway behind and headed up into the mountain roads it became clear that MINI's chassis engineers don't believe in compromises. The test route featured a wide variety of road surface and bend, varying between switchback hairpins and long flowing corners. An added bonus was the apparent lack of traffic. Even in the Cooper, grip levels are high and the body remains flat. Broach the limit of the tyres' adhesion and you are greeted with plenty of feedback and just as importantly, adjustability. Needless to say I stepped from the Cooper grinning ready to give the Cooper S a go on the same roads. #p##03# I'm glad I had the chance to try the regular Cooper before taking the Cooper S out, as the latter completely outshines its little brother in terms of straight-line performance. In isolation, the MINI Cooper is a quick enough car. Its 120bhp won't scare any hot hatches (with a 0-62mph time of 9.1 seconds), but the way the MINI deploys its power is impressive and even the Cooper will keep up with far more powerful cars.

Though both cars feature all-new engines, it's difficult not to get more excited by the unit under the bonnet of the Cooper S. As before, it is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, but the supercharger of old has been ditched in favour of a turbocharger and direct injection has been incorporated too. The raw figures show peak power at 175bhp and maximum torque of 177lb.ft, or 192lb.ft when overboost kicks in. It's no surprise that the Cooper S is two seconds quicker to the 62mph marker than the Cooper and its top speed is 140mph.

On the open road, the Cooper S feels much more powerful than suggested by these numbers. It completely changes the driving experience too; where in the Cooper it was fun to maintain momentum by using every last ounce of power, the Cooper S requires you to modulate the throttle, certainly on the twisty roads we used. MINI wisely fits the Cooper S with Automatic Stability Control and Traction Control (ASC+T) as standard, though it's huge fun in the dry with all the electronics turned off. We're looking forward to testing the MINI on our own B-roads to see if it is just as impressive there.

Our test Cooper S was fitted with the Sports Suspension, which is a no-cost option when buyers choose the Chili Pack at £1,875. We'll have to try a Cooper S on its standard suspension to give a final judgement on this, but needless to say that the MINI's body control was improved further, though at the cost of ride comfort. It's a good move by MINI to let buyers choose which is more important to them. #p##04# The Cooper can be had with either a Pepper or Chili Pack too and they are great value. Another option is MINI's pioneering 'tlc' servicing package, which appealed to 90% of customers of the outgoing car and the company is keeping the offer of £150 for all scheduled servicing (including parts and labour) for five years or 50,000 miles.

What's left to say? The MINI lives on and is set to do so for some time yet.
MINI UK range overview

- MINI Cooper: £12,995
- MINI Cooper S: £15,995

Shane O' Donoghue - 27 Oct 2006



  www.mini.co.uk    - MINI road tests
- MINI news
- Cooper & Cooper S images

2007 MINI Cooper & Cooper S specifications:
Technical specifications for 2007 MINI Cooper
Technical specifications for 2007 MINI Cooper S

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Phil Ahern.



2007 MINI Cooper. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2007 MINI Cooper S. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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