Introducing the latest generation of a car design that can rightly claim to be an icon, Mini boss Peter Schwarzenbauer summed it up neatly: “It’s the new original.”
Revealed first at BMW Group’s Oxford, England, plant where it is built, and immediately afterwards at the Tokyo and Los Angeles auto shows, the new three-door Hatchback (Hardtop in the U.S.) Mini is a gentle aesthetic evolution of the previous-generation car, with many of the fundamental design cues that hark back 54 years to the original BMC Mini and to that car’s rebirth under its present ownership in 2001.
“Beneath the outer skin (its panels are new and its dimensions have increased) is a brand new car with state-of-the art technology. As always, we want our new Mini to offer that famous go-kart feeling,” said Schwarzenbauer. But getting the looks right was a challenge. “We have more discussions about a new Mini than we do a mainstream car.” Risking losing its inherited distinctive signature is simply not on, as was the case with the Volkswagen Beetle and today’s Porsche 911.
Technological gains, though, are another matter, which is why the new Mini, with its 3600 components, offers significant improvements in fuel consumption, emissions, and mass—up to 45 kg (99 lb) less—despite having grown a little longer, wider, and taller. The Cooper S’ curb mass is 1160 kg (2560 lb) for the standard manual.
The new Mini sits on BMW’s latest front-wheel-drive UKL1 platform, the first of a new platform family; in theory up to 8 or possibly even 10 Mini variants could use it. It will also underpin some future BMW models.
The new car has 1.5-L turbocharged variable valve control (VVC) three-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines for the Cooper and Cooper D, respectively, and a new four-cylinder for the Cooper S. Other highlights include a head-up display; available LED headlights and rear lights; revised suspension with variable damper control; and increased torsional rigidity.
The car benefits from a major manufacturing upgrade to provide enhanced production efficiency and quality (including its paint), backed by a robot population of 1000 in the body assembly area. The new platform is described by the company as increasing the flexibility of the manufacturing process, allowing more derivatives of greater conceptual variation to be produced more efficiently.
The new Mini has been designed to take alternative powertrains, although BMW is not going into detail at present. All-wheel drive is not top of their list for this class.
BMW is currently investing £750 million in its engine and vehicle manufacturing centers in the UK as part of a program that runs to 2015. As well as Oxford, they include its steel body pressings operation at Swindon.
Harald Krüger, BMW Board Member for Production, said: “One in six cars produced by BMW is a Mini. We are investing to improve product quality, production flexibility, process efficiency, and long-term sustainability. We have up-graded almost every part of the Oxford plant.” The investment also includes the debut of new technologies at Mini’s body pressings operation in Swindon and new machining and assembly facilities to produce the three- and four-cylinder power units at its Hams Hall plant near Birmingham.
Through all this, the Mini signature is surviving after more than half a century. Asked by this AEI editor if the BMW iteration of the design could also last for half a century to give the original Issigonis conception of a basic, four-seat vehicle a full century, Schwarzenbauer was amused at the prospect. “Mini is about blending innovation with tradition,” he emphasized. It is also about achieving “premiumness” in a small package, something that he and Krüger say is evident in the improved level of manufacturing (the Oxford body shop also has 1000 ‘grippers’ that allow the robots to handle a wide range of tools and body panels), but particularly with regard to interior design and use of materials.
Head of Design Anders Warming explained that the new car continues to display the inheritance of the brand—but together with innovation. This includes larger dimensions of 3821 mm (150.4 in) overall length, an increase of 98 mm (3.9 in), for the Cooper and Cooper D on a wheelbase stretched by 28 mm (1.1 in) to 2495 mm (98.2 in). The Cooper S measures 3850 mm (151.6 in) long. Width is now 1727 mm (68.0 in), increased by 44 mm (1.7 in), and the car is 7 mm (0.3 in) taller at 1414 mm (55.7 in), the combination improving interior volume, particularly for rear seat occupants, who get a 23 mm (0.9 in) longer seat base and more shoulder and foot room.
“The interior design of the new car is very significant. It has immediately recognizable Mini architecture, but with navigation and infotainment now in the center display, and speedometer and rev counter in front of the driver,” said Warming.
Although full mechanical details have yet to be released by Mini, the new powertrains are highly significant.
At launch (depending on market), the Mini Cooper is available with a three-cylinder gasoline engine with 100 kW (134 hp) and 220 N·m (162 lb·ft). The gasoline Cooper S with 2.0-L four-cylinder has 141 kW (189 hp) and 300 N·m (221 lb·ft) with overboost for a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time in 6.7 s (automatic). The best combined fuel consumption figure for the S is 5.2 L/100 km and CO2 122 g/km, again for the auto.
Cooper D (diesel), with 85 kW (114 hp) and 270 N·m (199 lb·ft) at 1750 rpm, achieves 0-100 km/h in 9.2 s (manual and auto) and a best combined fuel consumption of 3.5 L/100 km together with a best CO2 figure of 92 g/km.
The engines drive through a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with six-speed automatic as an option, with a further option of “sports auto” with shorter shift times and steering wheel paddles for manual control. The auto transmission has a coasting mode with decoupled drivetrain. It can be linked to the car’s navigation system for route profile anticipatory shifting control.
Engine stop-start and green mode technology are available. The engines are labelled TwinPower Turbo Technology.
The suspension has been modified for the new Mini with an emphasis on greater rigidity and reduced mass. A new single-joint MacPherson spring strut axle, with aluminum swivel bearing and axle supports, and wishbones of high-strength steel at the front, and a weight-optimized multilink rear axle with trailing arms, help to achieve this.
Chassis technology includes electronic differential lock control for the Cooper S. Dynamic damper control is a first for Mini and is available as an option. The dampers are decoupled at both axles via triple-path support bearings. Sport or comfort settings are driver-selectable. Schwarzenbauer sees the latter as a significant example of Mini’s new emphasis on customer-pleasing technology.
The car’s electromechanical steering has been developed with torque-steer compensation. Servotronic variable assistance is fitted.
Safety elements include a “partially active” hood to help pedestrian protection.
Aerodynamic efficiency is very good for a small car, the Cooper and Cooper D each achieving a Cd of 0.28.
Connectivity includes Emergency Call and Mini Teleservices via a permanently installed SIM card. Online connection facilitates use social networks.
Customization is more important for Mini than for almost any other car. Buyers want as much individualization as possible, and the design focus puts strong emphasis on comprehensive connectivity. Mini buyers are also unusual in very often giving their car a human name, said production boss Krüger: “For example, when a car needs a service, they’ll call and say: ‘David is sick!’”
Schwarzenbauer added: “We are offering even more individual features to ensure that every new Mini is a statement of the owner’s personality.”
The Oxford launch came 107 years to the day after the birth of the BMC Mini’s original designer, Sir Alec Issigonis. His solution was to create a transverse-engined vehicle with radically new packaging, all-independent rubber-cone suspension with a wheel at each corner, to transport four adults in a low-cost, basically equipped 848-cm³ engined vehicle.
The car handled like a go-kart, the very phrase used by Schwarzenbauer to describe the new Mini’s dynamics. Issigonis would doubtless have approved.