Despite the fact that this new MINI Cooper 2014 is built down the road from the Auto Express offices in Oxford, MINI chose Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, to launch its all-new hatch. Luckily, the third MINI Cooper to be built under BMW ownership is significantly more efficient than ever before, thanks largely to a new three-cylinder engine family, which should cancel out at least part of our carbon footprint.
The styling is an evolution of the current model, but a bigger leap than from the Mk1 to the Mk2. The bulbous taillights are reminiscent of the Countryman, while the rounded headlights are surround by an LED ring. That floating grille is supposedly a nod to the 1959 original, too.
Predictably, the MINI Cooper is not quite so mini anymore. It’s 98mm longer, 44m wider, 7mm taller and 10kg heavier than the old one, while the wheelbase is 28mm longer than the car it replaces, which brings with it some welcome extra interior space. The boot has grown too, from 160 litres to a more usable 211 litres (65 litres less than the Ford Fiesta) or 731-litre with the rear seats folded.
From launch a choice of three engines will be offered – a new 189bhp 2.0-litre turbo in the Cooper S, a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel returning 80.7mpg and 98g/km in the Cooper D and a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol in the Cooper, driven here.
• Read our current MINI Hatchback review
Fitting the MINI with this new three-cylinder was a bit of a no-brainer really – it’s cleaner, lighter and performs better than the outgoing 1.6-litre four-cylinder - yet there was some risk involved. People expect refinement and sharp throttle response from their MINI – attributes not always associated with three-pot engines. Most, however, don’t share their core architecture with the BMW i8 hybrid sports car’s petrol engine, and that should have given us a hint. This new powerplant is extremely good.
Weighing in at 15kg lighter than the old 1.6-litre four-cylinder, it develops 16bhp more power and 60Nm more torque over a far wider rev range. Whereas the old engine’s power peak arrived at 5,500rpm, the turbocharged three pot’s maximum comes in at 4,500rpm until 6,000rpm. And while the old engine’s maximum torque arrived at 4,250rpm, the three cylinder’s torque peak hits at just 1,250rpm until 4,000rpm.
The performance figures tell a similar story. Go for the six-speed manual, as fitted to our test car, and the 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds is a whole 1.2 seconds quicker than the old Cooper; order the six-speed auto, and the 0-62mph sprint of 7.8 seconds is a massive 2.6 seconds quicker its predecessor. And that’s despite a 10.5mpg improvement in the manual model’s fuel economy, while the auto’s economy jumps by 15.9mpg.
It sounds terrific, too, has sharp throttle response and charges hard from very low engine revs, even up steep hills in sixth gear. In fact, there’s such a performance advantage over its predecessor that you can leave the new MINI Cooper a gear or two higher than the old Cooper and it will pull away at about the same speed.
There is none of the noise, vibration or harshness you’d normally associated with a smaller engine either, it stays smooth and quiet even when you’re charging for the red line. Above all, though, it’s instantly charming and gives the MINI back some of the plucky character that made the original so popular.
Everything about the MINI is new, from its all-new UKL1 chassis architecture (which will be rolled out across the MINI and BMW line-ups) to both its six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes. The car now gets aluminium steering knuckles and its four-link rear suspension has been completely redesigned, which has helped the handling, but was mainly done to boost the capacity of the false-floored luggage area.
It achieves both aims, because on these smooth foreign roads it now rides with a compliance that belies its abilities to grip unusually hard and carry big speeds through corners. The trick MINI has pulled off is to make the rear end feel flat and incredibly well planted, without making it feel nose heavy. And that remains the case even when it’s being thrown around with all of its electronic safety nets switched off.
The Cooper flits from corner to corner and across broken ground with plenty of compliance and comfort on bumps, but without rolling around all over the place. One of the keys here, chassis development head Martin Gruber admitted, was that the new architecture naturally gave a more compliant ride anyway, so they could chase more grip without losing any comfort.
It’s a lot quieter inside, too, as well as being larger and more comfortable. The instrument cluster now hosts the speedometer and tachometer on a pod on the steering column, while the new multi-media screen is huge and surrounded by a ring of 17 LED lights that change between red, blue, green, purple, white, yellow and blue depending on your revs, your driving mode, your throttle input or which ever you think looks most pretty.
There are imperfections, though, and they largely centre on how difficult it is to navigate the multi-media screen’s dazzling menu array. The fold-down armrest also always seems to be in the way and there just aren’t enough cubby holes dotted around the cabin, even though the boot is both big enough now and practical in shape.