The new MINI Cooper and Cooper S models for 2014 have arrived and we attended the local launch in Cape Town.
HeritageThe MINI Cooper is quite a success story for the BMW Group. With 55 years of heritage to draw upon, the 4th generation MINI Cooper is set to continue the car's fun and funky attitude. There may be seven derivatives of MINI on sale and many are quite different from the original hatchback - read our review of the John Cooper Works Mini Paceman to see what I'm on about. Here however, we're back to basics with the MINI hatchback - the car that started it all.
MINI's all-new enginesWith 1 611 MINI hatches sold in 2013 (closely followed by the MINI Countryman at 783 units), it's clearly the bread-and-butter model and it has to have shown significant advances. Don't let the looks deceive you, this is a brand-new car with all-new engines and technology. The car is visually different, with a new headlamp design. The tail lights have grown in size too, while the Cooper S receives daylight-running lights as standard.
The Cooper for instance, does away with the 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder motor. In its place is a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine with 100 kW and 220 Nm. The Cooper S gets some grunt in the form of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder with 141 kW and 280 Nm. The Cooper in particular is a lot faster, yet boasts improved fuel consumption and reduced emission figures.
Performance and economyOn paper, the Cooper will hit 100 km/h in 7.9 seconds, while sipping just under 5l/100km. The brawnier S on the other hand, is quicker thanks to its bigger engine. It'll sprint to 100 km/h in just 6.8 seconds. Fuel economy is not that bad either, with MINI claiming a combined fuel consumption of 5.8 l/100km.
FeaturesThanks to parent company BMW, the new generation of MINI Coopers come with some brilliant technology. The range of driver assistance is quite impressive. There's a head-up display, park assist, reverse camera, active cruise control, road sign detection and there's even pedestrian detection which can brake the car if you don't react.
If you have either an IOS or Android device, you can download the MINI Connected app which gives you some added features like Dynamic Music, Mission Control Driving Excitement to name but a few. There'll be the MINI Connected XL system launched later this year which is essentially a travel aide and will feature web-based radio station streaming.
Launch impressionsWe headed to Cape Town International Airport and were shuttled to Killarney Raceway. We had a quick lunch and MINI suggested we needed to experience that trademark go-cart handling before driving the new cars. Go-carts are great fun, but I was keen to try out the new cars. First up to drive was a Blazing Red Cooper, which was fitted with a six-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox.
Right from the start, the vehicle impressed. That new 1.5-litre engine is lovely and the vehicle felt nimble and agile - exactly how a MINI should be. That distinctive three-cylinder sound is great too. Our launch route took us around the Malmesbury area, before heading up the Du Toitskloof pass. Narrow, winding roads are where lithe hatchbacks excel and the little Cooper did a sterling job of putting a smile on both mine and my co-driver's faces. We headed back into Cape Town for the overnight stop.
The next morning, I made a beeline for the Volcanic Orange MINI Cooper S. This one was fitted with a manual gearbox and loaded with extras. It feels a lot more mature and grown up, yet it's still capable of a million smiles every mile. The 2.0-litre motor is willing and energetic, and makes some terrific noises when in sport mode. There's plenty of pops and backfires from the exhaust, which makes you feel like a kid again.
MINI Cooper - the one to haveWhat's it like to drive? Does it feel like a MINI? Well, you'll be happy to hear that despite the growing up, both the MINI Cooper and Cooper S are most entertaining. While the Cooper S is marketed as the flagship 'hot' model, the Cooper is not to be underestimated. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that Cooper owners no longer need to feel inadequate as the little three-cylinder engine is an absolute delight and has more than enough power for fun driving. It really is a pleasant surprise.
The new generation of MINI Cooper feels a lot grown up. The hard and crashy ride has been dramatically improved, there's extensive use of premium materials and the car feels quite mature. Pricing isn't too bad either, but I feel that the MINI Cooper S is treading on the toes of something like a Volkswagen Golf GTI - a more spacious, practical and all-round good car. Thankfully the MINI is dripping in individual charm, character and personality - traits a Volkswagen Golf GTI will never have.