New Models - Mini Hatch
First Oz drive: Thoroughly modern Mini
The new Mini Cooper has landed Down Under courtesy of BMW and we drive it on home soil four months prior to launch
13 November 2001
FIRST examples of the new Mini Cooper have arrived Down Under with local journalists treated to a first Australian drive of BMW's new entry level car some four months before it is due to go on sale here.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:BMW's positioning of the new Mini as a premium BMW Group product may be drawing a long bow for those familiar with the budget-based original, but after our first local drive of the larger, heavier 2002 model, it does not seem too far a stretch.
Indeed, until the entry level Mini One appears in coming years with a sub-$30,000 price tag, BMW will need to draw on all of the Mini Cooper's strengths to attract the 25 to 40-year-old "young at hearts", females and second or third car buyers it says Mini will attract.
Mini Cooper has many strengths - such as a solid equipment list, first-class safety features, totally ergonomic front seating (though the twin rear seats remain squishy), BMW-level engineering and after-sales support, a well sorted ride/handling combination and European build quality - not to mention novelty value.
The latter factor became evident during a drive through peak-hour Melbourne traffic, in which the Mini Cooper succeeded in turning almost every head it drove past.
Build quality is also of a high standard, though some A-pillar wind noise, a persistent interior rattle and a noisy air-conditioning generator were evident in some of the early UK-spec cars we drove.
Well-spaced gear ratios and a low final drive ratio make the five-speed manual transmission well suited to the 1.6-litre four's somewhat revvy nature, and the clever CVT auto also does an admirable job of keeping it on the boil, but this is no performance car.
A claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of 9.2 seconds hardly makes the Cooper S a firecracker, but in fairness there's enough urge to offer rewarding open-road scratching as well as pain-free urban commuting.
Like the original Mini, the new Cooper is a sharp-handling device with delightfully precise steering, excellent feedback and plenty of grip - with none of the original's road-wandering characteristics.
While the nimbleness is a factor of its short wheelbase, the same feature becomes evident over large road irregularities, through which the firmly-suspended Mini crashes and is easily thrown off line. But both high speed stability and ride quality are a match for many larger vehicles.
Overall, the Mini Cooper delivers a feeling of solidity and driver involvement that will be as familiar to BMW owners as it is foreign to Mini enthusiasts.
But many of the original's best features are there, packaged in a well thought-out, highly ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing car for the 21st century.
As such, the first BMW-built front-wheel drive is a fitting entry point to BMW Group vehicles.
But remember, fun is the name of the game here, not performance.
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