2015 Mini Cooper, the half-size BMW: Motoramic Drives
One of the best brand launches ever was of the new Mini back in September 2000 at the fancy Paris Motor Show. That situation was so potentially delicate and could have fallen flat on its pudgy cute face. But BMW Group nailed it and, to date, over 2.5 million Minis have been delivered to an ecstatically hip clientele, with the United States leading the crowd.
That first generation was a mega-hit, while the 2006-2012 second generation carried on the momentum but didn’t really advance the brand apart from volumes gained through multiplying models. This current outgoing generation has turned kitsch in its interior design through overdesign and overuse of cheap-feeling plastics. The range of models has also arguably been over-extended, and the John Cooper Works performance sub-brand has been squeezed for all the juice in it.
Does this third-generation Mini take me back to days of rallying against all odds and winning on the icy mountains of Monte Carlo? Will it set me loose like a daredevil driver in "The Italian Job?" Or will it push me away because I don’t want to be A-listed as a nouveau hipster dressing like a tormented vagabond artiste even though I was raised with a silver spoon in my mouth in manicured suburbia? Pressing questions for a brand at a crossroads.
I went to the Puerto Rico party at Mini's invitation to drive the new Cooper — codenamed F56 in the tested two-door hatch layout, because we all know codes are cool — and it seems Mini has reeled the car back to its dynamic roots. But it’s done this by advancing the little thing to the point where many available tech bits on a BMW 7 Series are in some form available to a Mini buyer.
All significant dimensions on the Mini have grown, the overall length particularly gaining 3.9 inches, width 1.7 inches, and the wheelbase just 1.1 inches, mainly for safety and aerodynamics. Add the new more compact multi-link rear suspension structure, too, and room for dogs and/or craft-beer brewing supplies in back increases by nearly 2.0 cubic feet.
One would think that with advancements like electric power steering (standard), new adaptive suspension ($500 option), run-flat tires, and the latest six-speed automatic transmission ($1,250 option), that the Mini is literally losing touch with that tradition of go-kart style feedback that made it's rep in the day. Fabulously enough, however, the tech is so good nowadays that any fears of numbness can be put aside.