We know the Mini. You know the Mini…or if you don’t, take 48 seconds and watch this. We’ll wait.
You’re back. We bring all this up because the Mini Cooper, the one arriving in 2001 under BMW’s ownership, is entering its third generation—yes, already—and there are significant changes. Not that most people would notice the exterior changes, but it’s all new. The wheelbase is up by 1.1 inches and the car is 4.5 inches longer overall. It’s also 1.7 inches wider and 0.3 inches taller. Keeping the look the same was intentional, however. As Mini puts it, “The hallmark brand proportions have been preserved thanks to precisely defined expansion of the exterior dimensions.” Honey, I blew up the Mini. Just not very much.
The increase shows up on the inside with an increase of the luggage compartment by three cubic feet, up to 8.7 cubic feet. That’s still not a lot—remember we’re talking about a car called “Mini”—but the car is still snug inside. Front seat passengers will have all the leg room they need (assuming ninetieth percentile or some such in height) but for the hardtop, backseat legroom ranges from nil to none, which is moot because, despite front seats that slide forward for better access to the back seat, the average adult can’t get in to begin with.
The 2015 Mini Cooper gets two new engines, one a double overhead cam three-cylinder in the base Cooper. Yep, three cylinders, like the one-liter EcoBoost Fiesta, the only triples on the U.S. car market. Mini borrows BMW’s nomenclature—TwinPower Turbo Technology—for the engine. The three-cylinder engine is turbocharged (single turbo with two inlets, hence “TwinPower”), with direct injection, and variable valve timing on intake and exhaust (BMW’s double VANOS) with BMW Valvetronic variable valve lift, which eliminates the conventional throttle butterfly.
The new three-cylinder turbo engine makes 13 more horsepower than the four-cylinder it replaced, peaking at 134 bhp over a spread from 4500 to 6000 rpm. Torque maxes out at 162 lb-ft at a remarkably low 1250 rpm. We’d expect a gutsy feel from the base-engined Mini Cooper around town—we haven’t driven one—and with the temporary overboost that bumps up torque to 170 lb-ft, Mini says the triple scoots from 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds (or with the automatic, a tenth of a second faster).
Our test vehicle was a Mini Cooper S, however, which comes with a two-liter TwinPower Turbo four cylinder engine. The bigger engine makes 189 horses peaking, if you can call it that, from 4700 to 6000 rpm, with a very impressive 207 lb-ft that, like the three-cylinder, comes at 1250 rpm. The bottom end torque gives the Cooper S an almost indifference to engine rpm. If it’s in the rev range, it’s going to go. A quick shot of overboost raises maximum torque to 221 lb-ft, and drops 0-60 mph to a quick 6.5 seconds, or 6.4 seconds with the automatic.
Standard equipment with either engine a new six-speed manual transmission, slick shifting with carbon friction synchros and—ready?—a centrifugal pendulum in the dual-mass flywheel to compensate for torsional vibration. In other words, it will be smoother, quieter and more efficient at low speeds. The manual transmission also features rev matching with upshift and downshifts.
Our test 2015 Mini Cooper S, however, was equipped with the optional six-speed automatic. Yes, what, a new transmission with only six speeds? The automatic is new and has been improved in operation with a further-developed transmission control system, more direct connection through the gearbox along with improved hydraulics. Shift times are shorter, says Mini, and of course there’s a manual mode with paddle shifters.
For the first time, Mini gets auto stop/start for more fuel efficient city driving. Heaven forbid you paid extra for that one or two years ago on another automaker’s cars. Time for buyer’s remorse. It’s increasingly being added as standard equipment in various models.
More surprising is Mini adopting a feature that was debuted in the Rolls-Royce Wraith, a navigation system-linked transmission. The gearbox is linked to the nav system to select the gear ratio for the “imminent situation” on the road, such as coming to an intersection or on curves in the road. This can prevent, Mini gives as an example, upshifts between two turns in quick succession. It must be subtle, however, or we’re not very observant, or maybe we just don’t have the right kind of roads, but we didn’t notice it in operation. Maybe that’s the best part.