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First Oz drive: New Mini is no minor

Giant-killer: External changes are hard to pick at a glance, but new engines and even sharper handling lift the new Mini's performance significantly.

BMW's second-generation Mini hits Oz, but the greatest changes lie beneath its skin

23 Feb 2007

WHAT is new about the Mini? Virtually everything bar the front suspension, claims the BMW-owned company, which unveiled the new Australian line-up in Tasmania this week.

If you think the new R56 version is a tidy-up of the original R50 model introduced here in March 2002, you need to take a closer look.

The car is 59mm longer – to meet global crash-test requirements and provide a little more utility in terms of passenger and luggage space – and sits fractionally lower, with a slight reduction in girth. Wheelbase and track measurements are the same as the original.

But it shares not one panel with the outgoing model. In fact, the whole proportions have changed, subtly but completely, from the bonnet line to the higher, more wedge-shaped side profile. And the rear-hinged bonnet that swung away along with the front mudguards and headlights to reveal the Mini’s complete front innards when opened has been changed. The headlights are now fixed.

Inside, there is an even more radical instrument layout incorporating a central speedo of massive, cartoon-like proportions, and a tachometer now mounted directly ahead of the driver, just as the maker had originally intended with the R50 but was overruled by Australian design regulations.

The engines are new, too, sourced from PSA Peugeot Citroen which will use versions in its own products, rather than the original that came from Chrysler.

So out goes the Cooper S version’s appealingly vocal supercharged engine and in its place a new direct-injection turbo (with variable valve timing) of exactly the same capacity but offering greater power, lower fuel consumption and more climate-friendly exhaust emissions.

The normally aspirated Cooper engine is minus the turbo and the direct injection, but also produces better all-round figures.

39 center imageThe all-aluminium engines produce 88kW at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4250rpm in the base Mini and 128kW at 5500rpm and 240Nm between 1600rpm and 5000rpm in the Cooper S, rising to 260Nm from 1700rpm in overboost mode.

Fuel economy is 16 per cent better for the base Cooper, at 5.8L/100km and 20 per cent improved in the S with a combined figure of 6.9L/100km.

The new engines connect to new transmissions: a six-speed Getrag manual or a six-speed Aisin auto with steering wheel paddle shifters.

As the new car has moved closer to BMW than the Rover-influenced original, you will notice more acronyms creeping into the specifications. For example, the new model picks up ASC+T Automatic Stability Control and Traction as standard across the range, as well as options including bi-Xenon headlights and "Comfort Access" (keyless entry and engine starting).

The latter is available because all new Minis come with a push-button start, along with first-time options such as satellite navigation (with TV, screening on the centre display, as a further option) an in-dash CD changer and a bigger, double-tilt sunroof.

Particular to the Cooper S, in terms of standard equipment, is a "Sport" button to sharpen the new electric steering as well as accelerator response – and, on auto models, the transmission shift pattern.

And if ASC+T is not enough for you, it is also possible to specify the more feature-laden DSC Dynamic Stability Control, which adds things like hill assist and brake assist.

As before, there is plenty of distinction between the Cooper and Cooper S, with the latter getting dual central exhausts where the Cooper has just one on the right side, and wider 16-inch alloy wheels on Cooper S compared with the Cooper’s standard 15-inch alloys.

Inside the new Mini, there is a totally new look, courtesy of BMW, that is cheaper to build yet higher in quality, less complex but every bit as distinctive as the original.

Apart from an all-new dash with those gargantuan round dials, there are new seats and a quite remarkable range of trim options above the standard "Cosmos" cloth in the Cooper and "Chequered" cloth in the Cooper S. The Chilli has its own leather/cloth combination, while full leather is optional on all models.

The Chilli Cooper version adds a bit more exterior chrome, cloth/leather "Ray" upholstery, a more upmarket 10-speaker sound system and "Blaster" 16-inch alloys. On top of that, the Cooper S Chilli adds bi-Xenon headlights, the option of tighter sport suspension, "Crown Spoke" 17-inch alloys and automatic climate control.

Because the Mini is better specced than before, the price increases – from $1000 for the Cooper S to $1200 for the Cooper – are justifiable.

The manual-transmission Cooper now opens at $31,100, the Cooper S at $39,900, and auto transmission adds $2000. The new R56 range embraces the Chilli variant, which adds $3600 to both Cooper and Cooper S, from the start.

The new Mini Cooper range will go on sale from March 9.

2007 Mini Cooper pricing:
Cooper $31,100
Cooper (a) $33,300
Cooper Chilli $34,700
Cooper Chilli (a) $36,900
Cooper S $39,900
Cooper S (a) $42,100
Cooper S Chili $43,500
Cooper S Chilli (a) $45,700

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