BMW has responded to powerful new rivals with updates for the M5 and M6 - including a racy new 575hp Competition Package option
Mini review (2001-2006 model)
The MINI proves itself as popular and unique as ever.
Mini: dollops of classic Mini DNA are apparent. It’s longer than its forebear, thanks to the demands of crumple zones.
When the original Mini was launched in 1959, it was a genuinely revolutionary design. Back then, the small-car norm was a simple three-box shape - engine in front, gearbox in the middle, drive at the back, where it probably sat on cart springs. A scaled down version of a typical big car. Alec Issigonis’s Mini changed all that. It burst on the scene with transverse front engine, gearbox in the sump, all independent rubber suspension, tiny wheels, and a unique two-box shape. The most efficient packaging possible - for four people in a box ten feet long by four feet wide by four feet tall, yet with reasonable room and extraordinary practicality.
Read more Mini car reviews
It didn’t catch on at first, but once the smart set (even royalty) had adopted the Mini as style statement transport, it took on a new persona; the classiest classless car in the business. When Grand Prix designer John Cooper developed race and rally winning versions and put his name on the hottest roadgoing Minis, it became one of the world’s most unlikely performance cars. And over the next 40 years, more than five million Minis were sold. It was never going to be easy following such a worldwide icon but that’s the task BMW took on - and they’ve pulled it off. The new MINI is very good indeed.
Already huge in the UK, new MINI has been named North American Car of the Year 2003, singled out for its design and practicality.
It has superb packaging and there's ample front passenger space with features like EBD, front and side airbags, all-disc ABS brakes, Cornering Brake Control, electric windows, mirrors, and (optional) air-conditioning and dual glass sunroofs. It doesn’t reinvent the small car like the original did, but its combination of generous dollops of classic Mini DNA, plus thoroughly modern technology, safety, performance and quality, has moved the game on a few squares. The new MINI (the capital letters are how BMW spell it) has been a long time coming, and anyone who loved the old car probably waited for it with some trepidation, but in the end the new MINI is one of the best small car packages around.
In many areas, it’s the best - full stop. It mixes massive personality with build and trim quality that rewrites the small car rules, plus prices and equipment levels that will give many competitors nightmares plus a ride and handling balance that’s second to none. Admittedly, interior-wise, luggage and rear passenger space is limited, but then MINI is the size of a Ford Ka. But the interior quality is superb, with a stylish sense of design that’s very apt although might not appeal to everyone.
On the road: MINI is fast and agile, but has the road presence and feel of a much larger car. It actually meets the very high expectations that BMW encouraged for it.
The MINI Cooper, MINI One and the range-topping, supercharged, seriously hot-hatch Cooper S all have versions of a new four-cylinder 16-valve 1.6-litre engine built for BMW by Chrysler, with 90bhp in MINI One, 115bhp in MINI Cooper, and 163bhp in MINI Cooper S. In One, that offers 115mph, 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds, and a combined fuel figure of 43.5mpg. Cooper ups the stakes to 125mph, 9.2 seconds and a still useful 42.2mpg - Cooper S will add another dimension again. The Cooper, the first MINI we’ve driven, is an impressive introduction to new generation Mini motoring. It’s bigger than a classic Mini, because modern safety requirements mean crumple zones, and crumple zones no longer leave room to fit four people, luggage and a drivetrain into a ten by four box, no matter how clever you are.
But the MINI is super compact. It is almost two feet longer than an original, but still less than 12 feet. So just a matchbox longer than a Lupo, the same shorter than a Micra and, amazingly, almost precisely the same length as the stunted Ford Ka. This is one of the most impressive things about the new MINI - the first of many. It doesn’t look like a very small car; it looks substantial, with huge presence. It set out to capture the spirit of the old Mini - Mini DNA as BMW put it - but no way being retro. It’s as strong a design statement as can be. It screams ‘Mini’, but it’s far cleverer than being a scaled-up 21st century copy. It’s the sort of car that will be a must-have for any style-conscious buyer - and in that respect the new MINI has absolutely no baggage to cope with, because the old Mini never, ever lost its anti-style stylishness.
The inside of the car is terrific: brave, imaginative, kicking convention - happy and big-smile making, yet very practical. Not everybody will like it, especially the big central speedo and huge splashes of silver scaffolding, but come on, lighten up a bit, there’s nothing wrong with being bold and different. Anyway, look at the quality. This is where MINI starts to motor away from the opposition. It’s built by BMW here in the UK and their values scream out. Rear seat room is tight and the boot is verging on token, but as Issigonis said about the original, if it was any bigger it wouldn’t be a MINI. The driving position is superb, the control layout with its row of new-wave toggle switches in the middle and Buck Rogers stalks on the column is delightful. It has loads of useful oddment spaces, and most striking of all is the incredible big-car feel. It has exceptional trim quality (including the option of part or full leather) and feels solid as a rock - a world apart from some small-car rivals.
Loads of standard equipment major on safety features, with front and side airbags, all-disc ABS brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution, Cornering Brake Control and tyre-pressure monitoring. It has remote central locking with immobiliser, electric windows and mirrors, rear wiper, height adjustable driver’s seat, a decent stereo system, and for the Cooper a rev-counter on the steering column and 15-inch alloy wheels with sports suspension. Options stretch to two levels of air-conditioning, dual glass sunroofs and sat-nav, but the over-riding impression is of sheer breadth and deep quality. None of which would add up to a hill of beans if the new MINI couldn’t hack it on the road - but it does. Perhaps more than we’d dared hope. Expectations for this car were spectacularly high, partly because BMW had talked it up so much, partly because the original Mini was such a legend for its unfeasible ability.
New MINI factory: a MINI being built at the manufacturing plant in Oxford.
In terms of agility, the new MINI isn’t an old Mini. ‘Kart-like’ in the way the old Mini was, isn’t feasible any more. But by today's standards, MINI is in a class of its own for its broad reach of on-road talent. If it lacks one thing it is low down flexibility, but the 1.6 16v is so willing further up the range (and sounds so much in tune with the car), gear ratios are so well chosen and the gearshift so superb, that you easily drive your way past it. In any case, the Cooper leaves any direct opposition (including the rapid Toyota Yaris T-Sport) for dead in headline performance, and the S should settle the argument full-stop. But the clincher is the combination of grip, steering, brakes, handling and ride comfort. The MINI is everything BMW promised, and that’s some achievement.
It starts with a shell that’s stiffer than a 3 Series’, and continues with brilliantly resolved suspension, using struts at the front and a version of BMW’s classic Z-axle at the back. The steering, with barely two-and-a-half turns, is sports-car sharp, or better; it’s assistance is so perfectly weighted for quick, enthusiastic motoring, and its feedback so faithful that it ranks with the best steering cars in the sporty car world. The brakes are equally solid and effective and the MINI has that lovely feeling that everything belongs to the same car - all the same control weights, all the same impeccable precision and solid quality. Grip on standard 175/65HR15 rubber (don’t worry about the bigger options) is enormous, traction is excellent, unwanted steering kickback virtually non-existent and the handling balance is near perfect. You can force the front to nose wide if you try very hard, but a gentle lift of throttle tucks it neatly back in, and BMW haven’t forbidden the tail from coming out if you’re even more committed.
The Mini heritage wasn’t only about looks. But one place where MINI has nothing at all in common with Mini is in the ride. The old one rode like a soap box, the new one is like a big, luxury car. It soaks up everything with equal ease - long undulations, short, sharp chops, potholes and ridges, it eats them for breakfast. It’s an amazing achievement, and all part of a massively endearing character. The MINI might be small, but you’d really never know it.
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
A significant horsepower boost and some restyling brings the Aston Rapide on leaps and bounds
Date 21/05/13, Duration 2:30, Views 691