BMW’s Mini is broadening its market appeal in New Zealand with a wider range that includes a lower cost entry-level version.
Even allowing for the arrival of the new second-generation model, there are fresh endeavours to make the Mini more affordable for more people.
BMW New Zealand is cutting recommended retails by up to five percent, yet it doesn’t expect to damage the marque’s strong residual values.
The naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre Mini Cooper – previously $37,900 – is now $35,900, and the new generation Cooper S is down $2000 to $43,900.
Be wary of those prices, however, because (as before) the five-page option list takes prices far higher.
Around 70 percent of Kiwi Mini buyers specify their cars personally. BMW offers eight different style alloy wheels for the Mini, and some options are expensive. To option up a Cooper
on 17-inch alloys costs $4200 while the new navigation system with TV function is an eye-watering $6990.
Just unveiled in Europe, the new Mini One is powered by a 1.4-litre, 66kW version of the new BMW/PSA, twin overhead cam, aluminium engine that powers the 1.6-litre Cooper and Cooper S.
The car will have a lower specification and steel wheels, but the real carrot is a sub-$30,000 price
tag. That may well tip the scales for discerning small car buyers who want to step up from the ordinary.
Ironically, though this entry-level Mini will have a six-speed manual gearbox like bigger brothers, the sort of motorist attracted to the One is more likely to specify the six-speed automatic transmission that lifts the price to $33,000.
The jury is still out on the new generation Cooper Diesel that uses the same 1.6-litre PSA HDi turbo-diesel seen in the latest Peugeot 207.
New Zealand needs to make a strong case for the diesel version to Mini head office in Britain, and isn’t sure there’d be enough local demand for this most economical of Minis.
For the record, the 195km/h Cooper Diesel is quicker than the Mini One and does an astounding 3.7 litres/100km (76.3mpg) in the extra urban fuel cycle.
Don’t let these diversions diminish the excitement of the new R56 series Cooper and Cooper S. They have a hard act to follow after the R53 model.
By raising the bonnet and the waistline and actually reducing glass area, some of the cuteness of the car has been lost but there’s no denying the Mini is still a brilliantly styled hatchback – surely the best-looking small car.
It’s hard to believe that not one panel is the same in what is an evolutionary change. The new engines are more powerful, cleaner and more economical.
The Cooper now has a 40-litre fuel tank, instead of 50 litres, but because of a 16 percent improvement in economy, the range is only slightly less.
The Cooper S retains the 50-litre tank, and fuel consumption is now 20 percent better and emissions 21 percent lower.
The new engines are more refined, although some will mourn the passing of the supercharged Chrysler engine in the old S-type, a powertrain with heaps of character.
Replacing it is a 128kW alloy engine with twin scroll turbocharger and a healthy 240Nm of torque, over-boosting to 260Nm at times. On a twisty rural road near Auckland the Cooper S proved a delight with its responsiveness and sharp driving manners.
Reigning in the power was the traction control system, which is standard on the turbo model, but an extra $440 on the 88kW variable valve-engined Cooper. As a safety measure, dynamic stability control (DSC) is $790 on the Cooper S and $1150 on the Cooper.
The six-speed Getrag gearbox is a treat and its standard fitment across the range is a further leg-up for new Mini.
A circular ignition key is a design gem but the start/stop button is more a gimmick than a functional aid. Expect the firmish ride to continue, with the quality deteriorating as wheel diameter increases.
The new electrically-assisted steering isn’t as quick-acting as the old hydraulic power steering on the outgoing Mini.
Essentially, the sophisticated multi-link rear suspension is the same as before, apart from weight-saving aluminium longitudinal arms.
Extrovert design elements of the interior have been maintained, but the cockpit is upgraded. The large central speedo is bigger and there are more toggle switches, plus a steering column that adjusts for both rake and reach.
When American designer Frank Stephenson set out to pen the R53, his strategy was to produce four designs showing what the Mini would have looked like had there been a new model introduced every 10 years.
The 1999 design was his starting point. The car was already unique and bursting with character, and Stephenson didn’t want to fix what wasn’t broken. With the arrival of the latest Mini, the same philosophy has been adopted – because the car is functionally designed, there’s no reason to change it.