It's rather hard to believe that the modern MINI has been around for 13 years.
It feels like only a short while ago that BMW unveiled the successor to Sir Alec Issigonis’ original creation, but already here we are with the all-new third-generation MINI Cooper.
The new Cooper sits on an all-new platform and features a new BMW engine to boot, which is actually debuting in the MINI, instead of the other way around.
And no longer is the turbo-charged engine limited to just the Cooper S, as the bread-and-butter model is now equipped with a three-cylinder 1.5L TwinPower Turbo powerplant.
The new MINI promises to be bigger and more matured, which begs the question – can you refine the MINI, yet maintain its quirky charm?
Externally the size increase is rather obvious and the new design headlamps with ‘eyebrow’ DRLs are particularly distinctive.
Larger LED tail-lamps adorn the rear, and gone is the signature ‘floating lamp’ design, as they’re now flush with the boot line.
The new Cooper is flanked with 16-inch Loop Spoke alloys that look really lovely.
MINI from all angles.
The interior is still rather familiar to MINI enthusiasts, but with a few significant changes, the most obvious is the centre console.
Gone is the ‘Hidden Mickey’ central speedometer, which now resides where the rev counter used to sit – in a more conventional position behind the steering wheel where you can actually read it.
Next to it is the fuel-gauge, which in my opinion is quite possibly the coolest-looking fuel-gauge ever designed.
The oversized central unit now houses the car’s multi-function infotainment system, surrounded by an LED ring.
This indicator ring has multiple uses – adjust the audio volume or air-conditioning and it will display the level accordingly.
Rev the engine, and it doubles as a rev indicator, and it also lights up in colour according to which drive mode (Sport, Mid and Green) is selected. Funky stuff indeed.
The Cooper’s three drive modes are easily selected via a flick of a knob at the base of the gear lever, which changes throttle mapping, transmission behaviour and steering effort on the fly.
The notes that appear on screen are rather amusing, like “Let’s MINImalise” for Green mode which gives you the best mileage, while Mid is the best for day-to-day fun driving.
Sport mode lets you run wild and offers the most exhilarating drive, naturally.
MINI’s aircraft-inspired switches are still present, and now there’s also a neat push-start flap amongst them.
A nice feature would be the secondary visor just above the driver door, which helps to block sunlight glare.
Seats are supportive yet comfortable, and the adjustable thigh support is a definite plus-point. While the Cooper’s interior is now more spacious in almost every dimension, it’s still very much a 2+2.
Despite that, my dad who had a chance to sit at the rear remarked how comfortable he was.
Function-wise, the Cooper performs well as a hatch, with folding rear seats and decent boot space.
Everything looks and feels premium, evidently an influence from the parent company.
Purists might scorn at some of the new changes, but the pros truly outweigh the cons. And if you love novelty, this car has probably more than you’ll ever want.
Performance-wise, the new 136bhp 3-cylinder turbo powers the Cooper from 0-100 in a mere 7.8 seconds, with a top-speed of 210kph.
The car truly comes alive when you floor the throttle, where the car would emit a rather sporty purr.
The six-speed automatic (no manual option, folks) is a joy to use, with smooth, precise gear changes, so you won’t be missing much.
Despite its new levels of refinement, the MINI stays true to its signature go-kart-like handling, with its rigid structure and stiff suspension providing maximum driving pleasure.
Just point it where you want to go and the Cooper will get the job done.
The suspension can get rather harsh on really poor surfaces, but I guess it’s a small price to pay for such wonderful handling.
Numerous little touches make all the difference, like a cute illustration of the car having a thought bubble imagining it’s a rocket.
These add plenty of character to the car, making it more than just a form of transport.
Although the new Cooper has a more mature look, driving this neo-classic was serious fun.
Sure it may be a little juvenile and overly playful, but it certainly wouldn’t be called a MINI otherwise.