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THE SECOND GENERATION of MINI from the BMW Group goes on sale in the UK on 18 November 2006. This is a timely date, as it is the centenary birth date of Sir Alec Issigonis who created the original Mini in 1959.
So, what's new about the new MINI? Quite a lot, really! Every exterior body panel is new, as is the whole of the interior. The 1.6-litre engines are also new and they're not only more powerful, but they're built in Britain too. They also offer lower levels of emissions and improved fuel consumption. New, too, are the suspension and transmissions. And,
of course, new prices apply. At this stage, only the Cooper (costing £12,995) and the Cooper S (priced at £15,995) are to be launched this year. MINI One, with a 1.4-litre petrol engine and costing £11,595, will be introduced in the first half of 2007.
Fifty per cent of all UK MINI sales are accounted for by Cooper models, with the Cooper S derivatives taking 25 per cent of sales. Depending on the model, the well liked individual options packs of Pepper and
Chili are retained, as is the £150, five-year tlc service and maintenance package, which is taken up by 95 per cent of MINI owners.
The original Mini was designed and marketed as a cheap family car, with front-wheel drive and go-kart handling from its wheel-at-each-corner design. It went on to become a cult vehicle, attracting celeb-rities and even royalty as well as ordinary families. It became,
and actually still is, very successful in motorsport.
When BMW bought the brand and launched their first MINI, five and a half years ago, they turned it into a premium brand. Now we have the start of BMW's second-generation MINI range a range that, in terms of refinement, has now moved further up-market.
The success of the BMW MINI has been impressive, with the one-millionth car soon to roll off the Cowley production lines. The MINI is still built solely in Britain, which is the car's single biggest worldwide market. Six years ago, MINI production was just 120,000 units a year. Today it is 200,000, and by 2008 it will have increased to 240,000. UK annual sales are in the region of 38,000 cars a year and this will increase to 43,000 in 2007, and then to 50,000 units a year once the extended MINI range of models is completed in 2008. MINI One and PSA-powered Diesel models will be added next year, Cabriolet versions in 2008, a Traveller-type MINi late in 2007 or early 2008. On top of all that, a possible recreational version is also being studied.
Just recently, to coincide with the first new MINI coming off the Cowley production lines, BMW said there was further financial invest-ment in the three UK sites involved with MINI, known as the MINI Triangle: the Oxford Plant where the cars are assembled; Hams Hall near Birmingham where the new petrol engines are manufactured; and Swindon, where the body pressings are undertaken. More jobs are being created at Oxford and Hams Hall to speed up production to meet increased demand. Waiting time for a new MINI specifically built to meet a customer's individual choice is down to around eight weeks, although advance sales for the new MINI of 1,200 units means new orders will not be delivered until early next year. The British content
of this second-generation BMW Mini has been increased from 40 to 60 per cent.
It is not only in the production facilities that the world of MINI is grow-ing. The MINI franchise is, according to the Retail Motor Industry Federation, the most desirable franchise in the UK. Customer retention is a high 42 per cent and the MINI has the strongest residual values. Customers like MINI and to improve their 'MINI adventure' even further the current UK dealer network of 154 outlets is to increase from 50 to 100 per cent MINI-only outlets by the end of 2008.
Only the MINI badge, the 'go-kart' handling and the classic wheel-at-each-corner three-door body design are retained for the new model. Even with all these changes, the external image has only altered subtly it is still a MINI. The body is now 60mm longer to incorporate the latest pedestrian safety requirements, and together with the increased interior safety equipment, high Euro NCAP safety ratings expected.
The interior keeps the same MINI styling theme but has been improved considerably, both in design, levels of specification and, most of all, quality. New MINI is a premium product in the small car sector. Aficionados will be pleased to hear that the centrally-positioned speed-ometer has been retained. But prepare to be surprised by its new size 30 per cent larger, it now dominates the facia.
New catches to pull the front seat backs forward make getting intro the rear of the latest MINI easier, while the sculpted backs of the front seats allow a shade more legroom for rear passengers. It's still not roomy, but it is better. The rear seats now fold 50:50 to increase the small boot space.
Another new feature is the MINI key a fob with a memory slots into place in the facia and then the on/off starter button is used. Both the Cooper and Cooper S models are available with new six-speed manual transmissions as standard at launch or with the option of paddle-shift automatic transmissions shortly. The Cooper S has an additional Sport button to sharpen up the response of the throttle and electronic power steering and, in the future, the shift patterns of the auto transmission.
Bigger brakes and a new suspension with springs and dampers optim-ised for each model type are part of the many technical specification changes. Probably the most significant changes relate to the two new 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engines both designed by BMW and assembled at BMW Group's Hams Hall engine plant.
The unit used in the MINI Cooper has 120bhp and 118lb ft of torque at 4,250rpm. By using the BMW Valvetronic system, fuel consumption and emissions are reduced. Top speed is 126mph with 0-62mph achieved in nine seconds. Average fuel economy is 48.7mpg. Some fast driving on twisting Spanish roads returned 40.1mpg. For the record, the official touring figure is 61.4mpg!
The second-generation MINI Cooper S introduces turbo power to the MINI family. Gone is the heavy supercharger system, and the new
1.6-litre BMW unit with its direct injection petrol and twin-scroll turbo-charger set-up produces 175bhp with peak torque of 177lb ft between 1,600 and 5,000rpm. An 'overboost' system increases torque to 192lb ft under hard acceleration. Top speed is 140mph with 0-62mph covered in a cracking 7.1 seconds. Average fuel consumption is 40.9mpg, although during my Spanish pre-launch test drive, average fuel con-sumption was 33.4mpg.
From these figures there's no doubt that the Cooper S is the much faster and more responsive model. Both retain the MINI's traditional 'kart' handling with incredible amounts of grip and predictable sure-footedness. The electronic power steering mostly gave good feedback: perhaps it is a little too refined for real cut-and-thrust driving over poorer roads, but the mainstream driving public will like it. The sus-pension was compliant and absorbed the potholes well and only the stiffer set-up on the Cooper S felt harsh under some conditions.
The Cooper model although noticeably down on power and with far less 'grunt' than the Cooper S was, overall, marginally the best drive. With its narrower tyres and less torque-steer, it seemed more agile through tight corners and on twisting roads. And better balanced, too. On open roads, once a high cruising speed had been reached, it provided a pretty relaxed and noise-free drive. It is also £3,000 cheaper than the Cooper S.
The good news is that two great new MINI models are soon to be with us. My only gripe is that the 'must-have' air conditioning is an extra cost option on all models, and some controls are not only fiddly to use but are also not quite as good a quality as you'd like. More than
making up for that are the plus points: styling, image, desirability, agile small car handling with premium big car specification, build quality,
low cost option packs and British made. Me? I'd be happy to own either model! David Miles.
MINI Cooper (2007) | £12,995
Maximum speed: 126mph | 0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 40.1mpg | Power: 120bhp | Torque: 118lb ft