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First Drive: New Mini Coopers

2007-04-19 16:09

Hailey Philander

The latest generation Mini Cooper and Cooper S have arrived in a blaze of screeching tyres and a puff of tyre smoke... The original go-kart is back.

The Mini has, throughout its incarnations, managed to capture the imaginations of millions of people with its friendly face and inherent zest for life.

The all-new Mini remains compact though it is bigger than the car it replaces. Its wheel-at-each-corner stance has been retained to ensure its agility and high grip levels live up to its legendary status. The gimmicky interior has been significantly beefed up too, and is claimed to be more durable than before.

Power play

Once again, few things can compare to the seat of the pants thrill the Mini affords. Whether in its more sedate guise as the Cooper or as the fiery turbocharged Cooper S, the Mini takes to blacktop like a fat kid to cake.

Stick it in a straight line and you can almost feel the Mini winding itself up, just waiting for a moment of release. But it's in the corners where you will be rewarded by both derivatives, as the car simply squats through, egging you on with each curve.

Rock solid goes some way to describing the sensation you get while driving the Mini. Shifts through the six-speed manual are positively engaging and the electro-mechanical power steering (that firms up as the speed increases) is spot-on every time.

The range's power is sourced from two brand-new engines with cast aluminium blocks developed alongside PSA Peugeot Citroen.

New engines

The Cooper uses a 1.6-litre engine that produces 88 kW at 6 000 r/min and peak torque of 160 Nm at 4 250, with 140 Nm of that torque available from 2 000 r/min.

Mini claims a top speed of 203 km/h with a combined fuel consumption of 5.8 l/100 km.

A turbocharged 1.6-litre unit is responsible for the Mini Cooper S's 128 kW and has 240 Nm on tap from 1 600 r/min all the way to 5 000 r/min.

A handy overboost "function" is activated automatically under full acceleration, pumping out 260 Nm and amping boost from 0.8 bar to 0.9.

Using a twin-scroll turbocharger, if there is any turbo lag, it is virtually imperceptible and a 0 - 100 km/h sprint time of 7.1 seconds is quoted for the S. Top speed on this model is a hasty 225 km/h, while the manufacturer quotes a fuel index of 6.9 litres to every 100 km.

The Cooper is equipped with Valvetronic variable valve management and Vanos, while the Cooper S uses direct injection.

Oh, and while the original go-kart still uses a McPherson front suspension, the multi-link rear axle now has three links for more flexibility, while its weight has been reduced too.

However, the Mini has gained weight in other areas...

Bigger all around

A bigger shell means engineers and designers were able to accommodate a bigger cabin with more room to splash all sorts of signature Mini quirks. Of course, many would argue that the over-the-top cabin is just too much of an eye sore, but I?d hazard that those people should probably just steer clear of the Minis altogether.

The oversized speedometer dominates the facia in both models, although the centre stacks are significantly different between them.

Cooper cleverly incorporates the audio system into the speedo. Its quicker sibling uses the space for its information display (navigation, audio, entertainment) that is controlled using a joystick linked to an iDrive-like system.

There is a huge expanse of chrome-like plastic in the cabin, especially in the centre hangdown, that, though plastic, is not brittle too the touch and Mini claims has seen much development to make it more durable.

Clever "switches" are used to control most functions, ranging from ambient light packages to power windows, within the cabin, while the Mini logo has also been adroitly incorporated into the console in the guise of the air conditioning controls.

Circle, circles, circles

There are circles everywhere! Whether outside or inside the cabin (one journo with way too much time on his hands counted no less than 60 circles in the interior alone!), circles abound.

From the light clusters (the rear cluster now has circular detailing too) to the large central speedo and door handle detailing, the abundance of circles would be enough to drive some people loopy.

However, along with its chrome grille, central speedometer and fog light "beauty spot", these are just some of the original Mini traits carried through to the new car.

Visually, the Mini could be likened to one product from another well-known sports car manufacturer in that the changes to the car's physical appearance are little changed from the previous model.

However, the changes - the new grille now forms a single unit and the indicator lights are integrated into the headlights - are noticeable.

Incidentally, the exterior differences between the models are more marked than before. Cooper S is understandably the beefier of the two, with the faux intake scoop on the bonnet and different grille treatment. At the rear, a diffuser and twin tail pipes on the Cooper S are the differentiators.

Mini's physical growth, which adds about 60 mm of height and 55 mm of length, was largely to satisfy more stringent pedestrian safety legislation, but the car fails to lose its Mini-ness in its latest iteration.

Safety first

However, this does not mean that occupants have been left in the safety shade. Where the previous model received a five-star Euro NCAP rating, Mini is optimistic that the latest model will achieve the desired five stars.

To this end, the Coopers are fitted with six airbags, three-point seatbelts all around, ABS, EBD electronic brake force distribution, CBC corner brake control, ASC+T automatic stability control with traction on the Cooper S, and on both models, optional DSC (with hill start assist).

Other options include a sports chassis on all models, a limited slip differential on the Cooper S, and a sports button that sharpens the steering and, on the six-speed auto with paddle shifts, provides more responsive gear changes.

For added piece of mind, all Minis now come with run flats as standard. A standard two-year warranty and the BMW Group's five-year/100 000 km Motor Plan are included in the price.


MINI Cooper six-speed manual: R 190 000
MINI Cooper six-speed automatic: R 205 060
MINI Cooper S six-speed manual: R 240 000
MINI Cooper S six-speed automatic: R 250 060

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