The Android-enabled new Mini Cooper S is a techno-marvel
17th Mar 2014 | 10:30
Don't let the looks fool you. This Mini is all-new and all about the tech
Do not tweak your browser settings. This really is the all-new Mini Cooper S hot hatchback.
Superficially, it looks a lot like the outgoing model. But that's the point. People like how Minis look. Instead, what's changed is everything but the basic look. New chassis and body. New engines. And a whole lot of new tech.
The upshot is a Mini that's way more grown up, much more efficient and massively more technologically advanced than ever before.
Quite frankly, Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis (designer of the 1960s original Mini with its novel but ultimately agricultural engineering) wouldn't have a clue what he was looking at with this latest model.
And we're not talking about the size of the thing. It's the technology that would have really baffled Sir Alec.
Drive or driven?
That starts with a whole new raft of driver aids, albeit most of them optional. First there's active distance-sensing cruise control, a feature that also includes collision detection, automated brake assist, road sign detection and auto-dipping high beams.
Then there's automated parking including rear parking cameras. Next up is the configurable driving mode feature that allows everything from throttle response and steering weight to suspension firmness to be tweaked at the touch of a button.
Again, some of this stuff – notably the electronically adjustable suspension – involves options that will cost you.
Next up is the new head-up display which puts navigation cues, local speed limits and other useful info in the driver's line of sight. None of this stuff is unique to the Mini.
MINI Connected XL
But these techy features are definitely unusual in a car of this class. Ditto the revised Mini Connected XL multimedia system. Again, the full system is optional, but it comes with a gorgeous 8.8-inch HD screen that hammers the competition in this class.
The app-enabled functionality including the new Journey Mate app which offers door-to-door nav and real-time traffic is also cutting-edge stuff.
It's features like this where the Mini benefits most from the BMW association. BMW's tech is second to none and it's increasingly trickling down to Minis.
That includes a whole new family of Twin Power engines from BMW. For the Mini Cooper S driven here, that means a 2.0-litre four banger with 192hp. That's enough to hit 60mph in just 6.8 seconds and go onto to 146mph, some pretty grown up numbers.
But it will also achieve 133g/km emissions with the standard manual gearbox and an impressive 122g/km with the auto box. Impressive, that is, for what is a pretty nippy machine. Other models in the new Mini range achieve truly staggering CO2 numbers.
How about about 89g/km for the entry-level diesel model. It wasn't that long ago you needed exotic hybrid tech to hit 99g/km. Remarkable.
On the road
Anyway, what's the new Mini Cooper S with all its tech actually like to drive? Far more slick and sophisticated, that's what. It's miles better as a motorway car than the old model – less noise, better ride, more accessible torque from the bigger 2.0-litre engine.
But it's also more fun on twisty roads. OK, it's superficially less frenetic. But the old model used to fight you a bit. It was fun, but a little bit ragged with its coarse engine and occasionally squirrelly chassis responses.
The new car is so able, so linear, so progressive. It's also response and agile, albeit with a more composed, grown up edge. Whatever, the net result is a car that's more enjoyable to drive hard. The pedals and engine response are better set up for heel-and-toe gearshifts, too, if you that kind of thing is your bag. If it isn't there's actually an automatic rev-matching feature, in any case. Clever.
Meanwhile, MINI Connected in XL form remains best in class. The new display is gorgeous, the graphics are great and there's now added Android support where before some of the best bits were available only to iPhone users.
Unfortunately, the Journey Mate app wasn't quite ready for us to sample, so we'll have to wait to see just what it adds to the typical nav experience.
In the meantime, what we can say is that the new Mini's cabin is a big step up. The sense of quality is much improved. It feels a far more expensive car but retains the fun feel of previous models.
We also really like the little touches like the mood ring around the main display. It's composed of LEDs that change colour according to a range of driver configurable options.
It can reflect your driving mode – red for Sport mode, green for eco mode - gives you the heads up for incoming phone calls by turning blue, indicate the distance to obstacles during parking and more.
Truly how functional is it? Not sure. But it's definitely fun. And that applies to the car as a whole. It's much more mature, much techier, but Mini has not become a dull boy. It's just a better car all round.
Oh, and if you're wondering, it looks much better in the metal than in the pictures, which tend to emphasise the slightly bulbous new nose. Wait until you see one on the road. If you like existing Minis, we reckon you'll love the new model.