Contenders for featherweight title
FACED with stiffer opposition, the original retro reincarnation has muscled up with additional equipment and minor changes as part of a midlife update.
Mini is steeling itself for an onslaught from some big players, like the Alfa Romeo MiTo and Citroen DS3, but most notably Audi which is about to launch its pint-size A1 for under 30 grand.
And they say “bring it on”. Welcoming extra competition, the Mini team is confident the pocket-rockets have what it takes to remain a dominate force in the genre.
Base prices have increased from between $400 to $1000, but Mini says the increases are offset by increased kit and the fact most buyers then opt for extra features over the standard models.
The range now retails from $31,500 for the basement Hardtop, while the tree-topping John Cooper Works drop-top is $57,300.
Mini aficionados will pick the differences between the new models and their predecessors (it is actually 99mm longer to accommodate strict European pedestrian safety features), the subtle facelift incorporating changes to the fog light surrounds, higher bonnet, bumper wedge and rear LED brake lights.
Inside, there are some ergonomic changes along with a black colour scheme to improve readability.
Also added is a range of additional options and colour palates, which enables customers to individualise like never before.
We sampled the whole range during a Melbourne launch this week, which started with some spirited track testing at Altona airport in the flagship John Cooper Works model followed by a more sedate run in the base Cooper Hardtop and S derivatives down the Great Ocean Road.
The changes are relatively minor, with Mini sticking with its centrally located speedo. It still takes some time to get your bearings and it's often easier to opt for the digital read-out which sits within the tacho directly in front of the driver.
While there have been some changes to the centre stack design there is still some guesswork when it comes to what button to press for various operations.
Head and legroom remains good despite the exterior dimensions but those in the back of the Hardtop will find things pretty tight. Things are slightly better in the Clubman yet entry can be a little tricky with the ‘suicide' back door still on the traffic side of the car.
Ride across the whole range was firm although never uncomfortable.
On the road
Armed with Mini's John Cooper Works models, the pocket-rockets shone in the tight and twisty airport circuit.
With the traction control turned off the Minis had a remarkable ability to turn on a 10 cent piece and head exactly where pointed under power and heavy braking.
The hardtop was a standout in this area with its brilliantly taut chassis while the Clubman took a little more work to stay clean around the bends.
When it came to the open road, it was the oil-burner which shone. Under the Cooper D bonnet is a new generation BMW-sourced turbo-diesel (ousting the old Peugeot donor), which gains a couple more kilowatts than the old model and also breaks the 100g/km emissions barrier.
Punchy and with hefty levels of torque at the ready, its performance would be more than adequate for most drivers. It pulls hard from low in the rev range to help sling you in and out of bends where the traditional Mini performance comes to the fore.
In all variants the little pocket-rockets had a remarkable ability to hold the bitumen. The brilliant feel through the steering wheel makes it feel like the car pivots around your hips.
Only the base-model 1.6-litre petrol felt a little sluggish when summonsed to some hefty work.
What do you get?
Standard fare has been improved to incorporate rain sensing wipers and auto lights, Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB input, joining the likes of air-con, cruise and stability control.
There are a heap of new options and packages, such as adaptive headlights ($750), city pack with additional lighting and auto dimming mirrors ($1125), radio visual boost with 6.5-inch colour display ($750), or that feature can be included in the business navigation system which incorporates sat nav ($1900, $1000 cheaper than the last model).
The big threat is Audi's A1 which starts from $29,990, while other contenders include the Alfa Romeo MiTo ($29,990), Citroen DS3 DSTyle $32,990 and Fiat 500 Sport ($26,990).
It's a Mini, but not like days of old. The Clubman offers the most common sense and actually has reasonable legroom in the rear, but it's a lot tighter in the basic Cooper hatch.
The barn-style doors of the Clubman do sit right in the middle of your sight when looking through the rear view mirror, yet that's about the only real bugbear. The whole range is great in twisty and tight conditions and peripheral vision is good.
With the seats folded in the Hardtop and Clubman there is also reasonable space and the child seat anchorage points are easily accessed.
None of the models are too heavy in the consumption department, but the hero is the diesel at 3.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
Model: Mini Cooper Hardtop, Cabrio and Clubman.
Details: Two-door front-wheel drive hatch, convertible or three-door front-wheel drive wagon.
Engine: Cooper Hardtop – 1.6-litre in-line four-cylinder generating maximum power of 90kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 160Nm @ 4250rpm; Cooper S 135kW @ 5500rpm and 240Nm @ 1600-5000 (260Nm in overboost); Cooper D 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel 82kW @ 4000rpm and 270Nm @ 1750-2250rpm; John Cooper Works 1.6-litre four-cylinder with twin scroll turbocharger 155kW @ 6000rpm and 260Nm 1850-5600rpm (280Nm in overboost).
Transmission: Six-speed manual (as tested) or six-speed automatic.
Bottom line: Cooper $31,500; Cooper S $40,500; Cooper D $34,750; John Cooper Works $49,200; Cooper Clubman $34,800; Cooper S Clubman $43,800, John Cooper Works Clubman $51,700, Cooper Cabrio $40,200, Cooper S Cabrio $48,600, John Cooper Works Cabrio $57,300.