If you’re smart, you don’t mess with a classic design. When the Austin Mini hit the roads in 1959, it seemed the perfect little biscuit tin of a car that attracted a cult following as much from its "snappy" styling and short overhangs as from its rock-bottom selling price. When BMW revived the car as the Mini Cooper premium compact, some people thought that it would never fly with the heavier design, and equally heavier price.
Being a car, the Mini Cooper didn't fly, but it did sell ... and sell well. Now for 2014, BMW has decided to roll the dice again with a re-engineered and restyled Mini Cooper that’s the center of a major new investment by the German car maker in its UK manufacturing facilities.
According to BMW, the three new vehicles that make the new Mini line were created using an "evolutionary" design aimed at taking the basic Mini engineering and style elements and tweaking them to create a new Mini that is longer, wider, with more interior space, new safety technology, and networking capability.
The new Mini comes in three variants based on a choice of new engines. There’s the basic Mini Cooper, the more sport-focused Mini Cooper S and the diesel-powered Mini Cooper D. All of these share the same 9.8 cm (3.8 in) increase in length, except the Mini Cooper S, which is 2.9 cm (just over an inch) longer. The width, height, and wheelbase have all been given similar increases in size to preserve the proportions of the original style. Meanwhile, the chassis has been reduced in weight and increased in rigidity.
The new Mini styling keeps the short overhangs, but adds a slightly downward-sloping roofline, flared wheel arches, and some aggressive creasing to accentuate the lines. The hexagonal radiator grille has been moved back toward the front wheels and highlighted with a new one-piece chrome frame.
The headlamps are also new with a wrap-around design that makes the front and rear lamps crawl around the cars flanks, wide chrome surrounds, and larger rear lamps. There’s also an optional LED package.
The engines of all three Mini variants use BMW’s new generation MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology, which the company says is cleaner and more efficient than the previous power plant.
The Mini Cooper uses a turbocharged, direct injection 1.5 liter, 3-cylinder petrol engine with fully variable valve control, and variable camshaft control that puts out 136 bhp (100 kW) and 220 Nm (162 ft-lb) of torque. This being a Mini, the 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) acceleration clocks in at 7.9 seconds and the top speed is 130 mph (210 km/h). Fuel consumption is rated at 4.5 - 4.6 l/100 km, and carbon dioxide emissions are 105 - 107 g/km.
For the Mini Cooper S, there’s a turbocharged, direct injection 2 liter, 4-cylinder petrol engine that also has fully variable valve control, and variable camshaft control. It cranks 192 bhp (141 kW) and 280 Nm (206 ft-lb) of torque. It does a bit better in acceleration at 6.8 seconds and its top speed is 146 mph (235 km/h). Fuel consumption comes in at 5.7 - 5.8 l/100 km and carbon dioxide emissions come out to 133 - 136 g/km.
Under the bonnet of the Mini Cooper D you’ll find a turbocharged, 1.5 liter, 3-cylinder diesel engine with variable turbine geometry, and common rail direct injection for 116 bhp (85 kW) and 270 Nm (199 ft-lb) of torque. It does 0 to 62 mph in 9.2 seconds and has a top speed of 127 mph (205 km/h). Fuel economy is 3.5 - 3.6 l/100 km and it emits 92 - 95 g/ km of carbon dioxide.
Behind each of these engine variants is a 6-speed manual gearbox or an optional 6-speed automatic. Both have automatic engine start/stop and there’s an optional Green mode.
The new Mini’s suspension consists of a single-joint spring strut axle with an aluminum swivel bearing, and steel axle supports and wishbones. The multilink rear axle is designed for lightweight construction and space-saving geometry. According to BMW, the brakes are designed to enhance driving performance.
Steering on the new Mini is electromechanical with standard Servotronic. Also standard is Dynamic Stability Control with Dynamic Traction Control and Electronic Differential Lock Control. The Mini Cooper S also has Performance Control. Driving modes include MID, SPORT, and GREEN.
In the interior, BMW has completely redesigned the rear seats and come up with something suitable for people who actually have legs by providing a longer seat surface, more shoulder room, and more foot space.
The Mini’s switches have been redesigned with the sort of safety features you usually find on spacecraft and nuclear bombers. BMW says that the window switches and handbrake are now easier to reach, with the latter in a more "driver-focused position" to the left of the redesigned center console, which has gone all digital on us.
Where the old central speedometer sat there like a Soviet submarine clock that got lost, there’s now a graphics-based information readout that forms the centerpiece of a dash with a newly-arranged instrument cluster that includes road speed, engine speed, vehicle status, and fuel level. The readout displays the navigation and other infotainment systems and the whole thing includes an LED ring that changes color to provide visual feedback.
Not surprisingly, starting the new Mini doesn't need key insertion and there’s a great big Start toggle on the console. In addition, there’s an optional Head Up Display that provides the driver with essential information and navigation directions without having to look away from the road. There’s also a Driving Assistant, which uses a camera-based active cruise control, as well as a collision and pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant and road sign detection, parking assistant, and rear view camera.
On the subject of safety, the Mini has a crash-optimized body, side curtain airbags, a run-flat indicator, and a partially active bonnet for pedestrian protection. The new Mini’s Emergency Call and MINI Teleservices system are part of the car’s new networking system that integrates the Mini with a smartphone to provide traffic data, news feeds, and connection to social networks.
The new Mini line is the result of a £750 million (US$1.1 billion) investment by the BMW Group in its three UK manufacturing facilities. According to the company, the Oxford plant, where the Hatch, Convertible, Clubman, Club Van, Roadster and Coupé models are produced, is the third largest car manufacturer and exporter in Britain, accounting for 14 percent of domestic passenger cars and an equal percentage of exports.
BMW says it will deploy 1,000 new robots at Oxford with similar improvements at its other plants in Swindon and Birmingham. This investment also includes upgraded training for employees, involving more than 190 apprentices at BMW’s Group Four production plants.
"In our Oxford plant’s centenary year, we are continuing the Mini brand success story and today starting production of the third model generation," says Harald Krueger, BMW Group’s board member for production. "Our total investment of £750 million in our British production locations of Oxford, Swindon and Hams Hall [Birmingham] between 2012 and 2015 underscores the importance of the Mini production triangle within our global production network. The UK is the heart of Mini production – thanks to the experience, competence and strong commitment of all our employees."
The new Mini line goes on sale next spring.