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Driven: Cheapest Mini hits Australia at $26,650

Crucial player: The F56 Mini is being called the most important launch for the company since its debut here, in its current BMW-owned iteration, in 2002.

Mini’s sales punch below their weight but new price cuts will help, says local chief

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15 Apr 2014

MINI Australia will remain a niche brand but must price its cars at less of a premium to the mainstream if it wants to stop punching below its weight in the sales race, according to national manager Kai Bruesewitz.

Speaking at this week’s local launch of the third-generation BMW-developed Mini hatch, Mr Bruesewitz said the company’s Australian arm was under a directive from Munich to boost its modest market penetration here compared to the US, UK and Germany.

Much of this growth will come from this third-generation Cooper hatch, codenamed F56. A new-from-the-ground-up design with a BMW-developed architecture and in-house powertrains, the latest Mini also costs a significant $5000 cheaper than its predecessor at the entry level.

The range, as previously announced, will kick off at $26,650 plus on-road costs for the baseline Cooper, making the British-made retro superstar a more viable alternative to the light- and small-car mainstream than ever. For context, the 2002 original cost $32,560 at launch.

Expect this bar to drop even lower by the end of 2014, with the European Mini One, previously sold here as the Mini Ray, set to arrive Down Under at a sub-$25,000 starting price. Australians have never had a BMW Mini model so cheap as they will this year.

The new pricing strategy, which also sees the Cooper D diesel drop $3000 to $31,800, and the Cooper S hot hatch drop $3750 to $36,950, results from a desire to position Mini at a lower part of the market, with the aim of broadening its scope and growing sales.

Mini last year sold 2535 cars in Australia, up 5.9 per cent. Despite the growth, Mr Bruesewitz said he felt a company with seven model lines and such a strong and iconic brand should be doing better, though he declined to offer sales targets.

“We punch below our weight (considering) our brand reach and name strength. I’m confident we can sell more cars,” he said.

Mr Bruesewitz added that Mini would never be considered a ‘mainstream’ brand, and nor did it want to be – “if you’re thinking 10,000 cars, for instance, it won’t happen,” he said – but did say the company “wanted to be not that upscale-perceived small-car brand any more”.

The new Mini’s price trim mirrors a general market trend that has seen pricing on premium small cars dip in recent times. Models such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 all cost $35,600 at base level, not much more than the smaller previous-generation Mini.

Mr Bruesewitz acknowledged this was a consideration, stating that “obviously if there is so much dynamism in the market from a pricing perspective we can’t just keep out of that”.

Three variants of the new F56 Mini are now in showrooms – Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper S – with the One due later this year and the mean John Cooper Works (JCW) performance flagship due in early 2015.

While the new design is unmistakably Mini, remaining faithful to core elements of the original Morris Mini designed by Sir Alec Issigonis in the 1950s, virtually the entire car is new, sitting on BMW’s new ‘UKL’ small-car platform that is set to spawn a wave of front-drive vehicles such as the upcoming 2 Series Compact Active Tourer.

Exterior changes are subtle: new doorhandles, a more upright pedestrian-friendly ‘active’ bonnet, sharper headlight and tail-light designs (with optional LEDs) and edged creases around the wheelarches.

Inside, the dominant circular dial on the fascia remains, but is now a display screen with navigation on up-spec models, as well as funky LED lighting that changes colour and shape with various driver inputs such as accelerating and arriving at a turn-point programmed into the maps. Other changes include moving window switches to the door.

To go with the new body, three new powertrains have been pinched from BMW’s engineering hub, all of which are more powerful as well as more efficient. Channelling power to the front wheels are reworked six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions with a fuel-saving automatic engine idle-stop system.

In place of the current Peugeot-sourced 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, the Mini Cooper gets a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder with 100kW of power (up 10kW) and 220Nm of torque (up 60Nm). The 0-100km/h dash in done in 7.9 seconds (down 1.2s) and fuel consumption falls to 4.7 litres per 100km on the combined cycle (down 1.1L/100km).

The new diesel Cooper D also gets a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine with a turbo, producing 85kW (up 3kW on the current 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel) while retaining the same 270Nm of torque at 1750rpm. Fuel consumption falls to a meagre 3.7L/100km.

The range-topping – for now – Cooper S uses BMW’s 2.0-litre direct-injection TwinPower four-cylinder engine with 141kW at 4700rpm and 280Nm from 1250rpm (300Nm with turbo overboost). The 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in 6.7s in faster automatic guise, down three-tenths.

As GoAuto has reported, there is plenty of scope for more powerful Mini variants – such as the anticipated JCW Cooper S – as BMW’s 328i already cranks out 180kW.

Mini says the wheelbase has been extended by 28mm to 2495mm, while track width has been stretched 42mm at the front and 34mm at the rear, to 1501mm in both cases. It is also 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller, with rear headroom the only dimension reduced.

Boot capacity also grows by 51 litres to 211L and the rear seats fold flat to liberate more cargo space.

Under the revised body is a reworked electromechanical steering system, as well as a revised single-joint MacPherson spring front axle and a multi-link rear set-up with more high-strength steel to cut weight. The base Cooper weighs 1085kg unladen.

Kicking off at $26,650, the Cooper includes standard features such as cruise control with a braking function, parking sensors, speed-sensitive power steering, 15-inch alloy wheels on 176/65 R15 tyres, a leather-clad steering wheel and Bluetooth phone and audio.

As with all variants, the six-speed automatic adds $2350 to the starting price. You can add paddles, launch control and a JCW-style wheel as well as the auto for $2650, rather than $2350, but only on the Cooper S.

The $31,800 Cooper D adds the diesel engine, plus 16-inch alloy wheels on 195/55 R16 tyres, front foglights, a 6.5-inch central display, the aforementioned LED light ring, a central armrest, climate-control air-conditioning and six airbags.

The more aggressively styled $36,950 Cooper S adds 17-inch alloy wheels on 205/45 R17 tyres, centrally located twin tailpipes, partial-leather sports seats, satellite navigation and new selectable driving modes, including a Green mode alongside Mid (the default mode) and Sport.

These modes not only influence the accelerator curve and steering and automatic transmission shift points, but also the engine acoustics and ambient lighting. In the Cooper S, the Sport model also can adjust the $700 optional dynamic dampers where fitted.

As with all BMW products, the options list is lengthy. Notable inclusions are run-flat tyres ($260), bonnet stripes ($200), a JCW rear spoiler ($300), reversing camera ($470 and only with the mid-range 6.5-inch screen), sunroof ($1900), LED headlights ($1500, or $1200 on the Cooper D and Cooper S), sat-nav in the Cooper and Cooper D ($1100, or $1400 with 3D mapping and a bigger 8.8-inch screen), Park Assist ($700) and DAB+ digital radio ($300).

Metallic paint costs $800 on all variants.

2014 Mini Cooper pricing*
Cooper $26,650 (-$5000)
Cooper D $31,800 (-$3000)
Cooper S $36,950 (-$3750)
*Excludes on-road costs.

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