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First drive: Mini update landing in July

Maxed out: The new Mini three-door Hatch will hit Australian showrooms in a couple of months time with better connectivity offerings.

No performance boost, but class-leading connectivity for Mini hatch

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Mini logo2 May 2018

By DANIEL DeGASPERI in MAJORCA

MINI Australia will introduce a facelifted Hatch and Convertible line-up in July that includes fewer variants, but gains a new dual-clutch transmission and class-leading connectivity that surpasses that of many BMWs.

Differentiated by the availability of LED headlights with adaptive-automatic high-beam, tail-lights with Union Jack imprint for Cooper S and Cooper John Cooper Works (JCW), new personalisation options, plus new touchscreen functionality, the Mini Cooper update also ditches the range-wide six-speed automatics.

In their place comes a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic for Cooper and Cooper S, and an eight-speed torque converter automatic for the Cooper JCW, which had already been used in the all-wheel-drive Clubman JCW and Countryman JCW.

Gone without replacement is the entry-level Ray formerly priced from $25,922 plus on-road costs, and the diesel-powered Cooper D that formerly cost $33,800 – leaving the Cooper at $29,900 to open the range and a $10K gap to the Cooper S at $39,900 and Cooper JCW at $49,900 all with three doors.

The five-door adds $1250 in Cooper and Cooper S only, while the Convertible costs from $40,900 (Cooper) to $47,900 (Cooper S) and $57,900 (Cooper JCW) – in all cases with no-cost six-speed manual or seven/eight-speed automatics.

However, Mini Australia claims that $3600 of added customer value has been handed to the base Cooper (or $2200 for Cooper Convertible) and $1100 has been added to the Cooper S and Cooper JCW regardless of body style.

According to BMW Group Australia media communications manager Siobhan Kircher, entry and diesel versions were dropped due to low demand, while an increased level of standard connectivity was prompted by high customer demand.

“For this update in particular it was all about connectivity and greater style,” Ms Kircher told GoAuto at the international media launch of the Mini Hatch and Convertible in Majorca, Spain, last week.

“What we’ve (also) done is continue to consolidate and refine the brand from a variant and also specification level. It was around customer demand and what our customers are choosing to go for, and that really is the Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper JCW variants.

“Overall, customers always ended up opting for the Cooper in terms of a value proposition, so while the Ray was available for $25,000, the next step up is the most popular within the Mini range.

“In terms of what the difference in the specification was, customers were willing to pay that extra small premium to get the additional value.”

In Australia in 2017, a dominant 1138 Mini five-door models were sold compared with 997 Mini Hatch three-door versions, but 72 and 50 were for the Mini Ray respectively, and just nine and 16 units of Cooper D sold in each case – sealing their fate, according to Ms Kircher.

With 795 Countrymans sold last year, 91 included the Countryman D and 82 were for the Countryman SD All4, ensuring they stay in the Mini SUV range.

“Particularly in the Countryman with the SD All4, that vehicle does very well in terms of the performance that it offers in that segment as well, it’s very sprightly to drive and enjoyable,” she added.

“So I think it’s perfectly matched to that model and we do get a reasonable take-up of that variant in the Countryman range.”

Ms Kircher added that efficiency gains with the existing 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder and 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engines, especially when teamed with the new seven-speed dual-clutch, reinforced the diesel deletion.

For the Cooper and its unchanged 100kW/220Nm, the seven-speed lowers fuel usage from 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres to 4.8L/100km, while the same switch for the Cooper S yields from its unchanged 141kW/280Nm a drop from 5.5L/100km to 5.2L/100km according to European fuel usage claims.

Respective 0-100km/h claims of 7.8 seconds and 6.8s have not moved, however.

Mini Australia has not yet provided a detailed list of equipment for its refreshed line-up, however new connectivity features now becomes standard across the range.

This includes satellite navigation with real-time traffic and one-shot voice control (natural speech recognition), a 4G SIM with auto-emergency services call (eCall) in an accident, TeleService including 24/7 concierge call to make any request, plus a three-year subscription to wireless Apple CarPlay, Spotify apps usage and ability to lock/unlock the vehicle remotely via a smartphone app.

A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard on Cooper and Cooper S, with the Cooper JCW adding an 8.8-inch touchscreen along with a touch controller pad, wireless phone charging and Mini Find Mate – which is a new feature that includes luggage tags that connect to the in-car system and track their whereabouts.

Ms Kircher said she believed that these now placed the Mini in a class-leading position for connectivity, adding that the update was “really in a direct response to customer demand now globally for Mini”.

“Particularly for the Mini segment I think eCall and the concierge services are unique to that segment.”

Asked why CarPlay has become standard on all Minis but remains a $623 option on all BMW models, however, she replied: “It continues to go back to what a Mini customer demands and their level of connectivity and digital access that they demand, and one of those is Apple CarPlay.

“So Mini has decided in Australia to answer those customer demands and make it standard across the range. The Mini buyer in particular is incredibly tech-savvy, they have that lifestyle where they are always on the go and on their devices.”

Optional 3D printing personalisation will also become a new feature of the Mini update, enabling owners to print specific words or icons on a coloured applique for the front three-quarter vent and passenger-side dashboard mold inside.

The dealer-fit trim panels – dubbed Mini Yours Customised – will not be available from the July launch, however, but Ms Kircher confirmed it will be offered to buyers for an unspecified price before the end of the year.

Indeed, at the international launch of the updated Mini in Majorca, Spain, the available Cooper S Hatch three-door manual and Cooper S Convertible automatic each sported cheeky references to royal family members on high-quality white-plastic 3D print outs. Our orange hatch was, appropriately, dubbed Harry.

Along with the enhanced personalisation – even puddle lamps and door sills can be programmed or engraved to shine chosen words or icons – the Mini range’s newfound connectivity is a clear highlight. Easy to use via the iDrive-based rotary controller or via the touchscreen, the graphics are superb and even the (optional) flip-up plastic head-up display is of a high resolution.

We just hope Mini Australia makes digital radio standard, too – but no word yet.

In a sign of the times, connectivity really does trump a performance and dynamic boost for this Mini update. Two-mode adaptive suspension continues unchanged, and on occasionally lumpy Spanish backroads it melds superbly with the 17-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres in Sport mode (although the standard Comfort is too bouncy).

The opposite, however, is true for the steering, which becomes dull in Sport but is smoothly linear in Comfort. None of this has changed from the pre-update versions still being sold in Australia, only in dynamic terms the fit-out of Pirellis is a must compared with the stodgy Hankooks provided on some Cooper S press cars back home that hobble handling.

Either way, the third-generation ‘new’ Mini really does feel bigger, heavier, more refined and more mature on the road than the previous two generations. Its steering, ride and handling in isolation remains decent, but it is now generic.

Where is the steering immediacy and dartiness of old? Where is the bouncing, energetic flavour of before? It has ultimately given way to the sort of responses that could be mistaken for a Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The only problem is, then, that a similarly priced Golf GTI Original does the whole ‘GTI’ thing better than the Mini Cooper S, with a roomier and more comfortable interior, and demonstrably punchier performance.

Without a power boost for the 2.0-litre turbo, 141kW is even 6kW behind a Mark 5 Golf GTI from 15 years ago. Sure, the Cooper S only weighs 1195kg – today’s GTI Original is 109kg heavier – but in any case it really feels like the JCW’s 170kW/320Nm outputs should have trickled down to the S with this facelift.

And considering its small interior, which feels no larger than that of a Suzuki Swift Sport, the Cooper S should probably weigh closer to that 970kg Japanese hot hatch that costs $25,490 and claims a 7.2s 0-100km/h – only a half-second off this $40K-plus model. To be blunt, the more agile Swift out-Minis this Mini.

At least the new seven-speed dual-clutch is a beauty, though, with slick shifts and superbly alert responses particularly in Sport mode. In the Convertible, especially, the open-top exhaust burbles add to the experience, while the rear-seat is actually more impressive than it is in the claustrophobia-inducing Hatch.

Perhaps that is no surprise given this Mini shares its platform with the BMW X1, among others. In backing off the focus on raw fun and shrill performance, this generation of a British icon has only become ever more premium with this connectivity update. Because the Convertible adds an open-top dimension to that, it heightens the enjoyment to a degree compared with the crimped Hatch.

Either way, Mini buyers might want maximum connectivity and premium polish – and the BMW Group has delivered – but the real Mini legend demands a performance and dynamic boost that will have to wait until the next generation.

2018 Mini hatch pricing*
Three door
Cooper (a)$29,900
Cooper S (a)$39,900
Cooper JCW (a)$49,900
Five door
Cooper (a)$31,150
Cooper S (a)$41,150
Cooper JCW (a)$49,900
Convertible
Cooper (a)$40,900
Cooper S (a)$47,900
Cooper JCW (a)$57,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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