REVIEW DATE: 18 Jan 2010
The second generation MINI continues to improve with more powerful and efficient engines. Jonathan Crouch reports
The MINI formula isn't one that owners BMW are keen to mess with - but that doesn't mean that they haven't continually been trying to improve it. Take the changes under the bonnet made to the most recent models for example.
There's more power, greener emissions and lower fuel consumption but the basic Ger-MINI package remains unaltered, which will doubtless please fans of the breed. The second generation version of this car was introduced in 2006, more spacious and easier to drive than its predecessor, with more up to date petrol and diesel engines and a more customisable interior. The range was quickly expanded to include an interesting Clubman estate derivative which, for a premium of around £1,200, offers buyers a rather quirky package of extra versatility. Plus buyers could choose a stylish Convertible version.
To make the range even more affordable to first time owners, 2009 saw the introduction of a more affordable entry-level First model, powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine that these days has been deemed surplus to requirements. Instead, all modern MINIs now have 1.6-litre power in various forms, featuring BMW's Valvetronic valve operation that delivers more torque and better fuel consumption. Customers of the basic 3-door First model don't get any more power than before - that's still at 75bhp - but there is a useful 13% more torque. As a result fuel consumption in the EU cycle is 52.3 mpg and CO2 emissions 127 g/km.
Choose your MINI as a Clubman estate or a Convertible and the entry-point is MINI One motoring, which in petrol terms, denotes a 98bhp version of the same 1.6-litre powerplant. Here again, there's a little extra power and a lot of extra torque to promote easier, cleaner performance. It's the same story with the Cooper variants, now offering 122bhp from their 1.6-litre powerplants. These models sit just below the turbocharged Cooper S models, now offering 184bhp. The MINI flagship level remains 'John Cooper Works' - or JCW in MINI parlance. Based on an engine developed for the MINI Challenge race series, this particular 1.6 delivers no less than 210bhp.
"This time round, the MINI range aims to excise any remaining flaws with Teutonic efficiency"
As ever, today's MINIs continue to be built in Britain at what is now known as Plant Oxford (Cowley to us old timers), this factory's output now at around 240,000 cars per year, more than double what it was when the first MINIs rolled off its lines in 2001. The body panels and sub assemblies hail from Plant Swindon and the BMW-designed engines roll out of the Hams Hall plant in the Midlands. So despite the German bankrolling, this MINI wears its Union Flags with pride.
Inside, the current model feels of much higher quality than BMW's first generation version. Gone are those indicators that felt like you were snapping a biro every time you used them. The centrally mounted speedometer houses entertainment and, if specified, navigation functions. The slimmed-down centre console offers decent space in the footwells while these days, the old fashioned ignition key has been replaced by a round signal sensor that slots next to the steering wheel. A start/stop button is also fitted as standard.
One of the most intriguing, albeit frivolous, aspects of the interior is the optional lights package which features custom ambient illumination. A panel of toggle switches in the roof lining allows the driver to switch the colours of the lights in said roof lining, the door storage pockets and the grab handle recesses. These can be changed at any time in five stages from warm orange to sporting blue, depending on personal taste - quite mad, but undeniably funky. More importantly, rear seat space is better than you might expect courtesy of recessed knee cut-outs in the fabric-trimmed front seat backs.
On the road, across all derivatives, the MINI delivers a taut, direct driving experience with abundant grip. Electromechanical power-assisted steering (EPAS) aims to reduce parking effort but still retain pinpoint accuracy at speed. Not every keen driver will like it but at least on sportier models, there's a Sport setting that increases the steering's heft and gives the throttle a more aggressive map. Most MINIs also get run flat tyres. These have a range of at least 90 miles in the event of a puncture and also mean that valuable space in the car isn't taken up with packaging a spare wheel.
As ever, you should find your MINI to be affordable to run. The fuel consumption of all Cooper variants has improved thanks to the improved efficiency of this modern 1.6-litre powerplant. The combined cycle figure for the Cooper is 52.3mpg and 127g/m of CO2, while the Cooper S delivers 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and 136g/km of CO2. As with any fuel economy figure, the real world results are usually around fifteen to twenty per cent less. If economy is your number one priority though, the 72.4mpg Cooper D diesel will still take some beating.
Not even the most deluded optimist could have predicted quite how successful the MINI has been since its launch in 2001. The shift to German ownership was handled sensibly and sensitively with the heart and soul of the car remaining British. This time round, the MINI range aims to excise any remaining flaws with Teutonic efficiency. The British way would have been to milk the formula until buyers grew bored. Looks like we've got the best of both worlds now.
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|Mini Hatchback 1.6 Cooper 3dr|
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|For MINI RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
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