Okay, so it’s not often that I’ll sit down halfway through a new car launch and commit my thoughts on it so early in the proceedings but, in the case of the F56 MINI, I’ll make an exception. A full review will follow, both here and on AROnline‘s sister site, Honest John, but for now, a few first impressions…
Thanks to an argument with a glass door in Palma airport and a brief visit to the hospital to check out my bloodied nose, I was able to go off-piste with the MINI, not take the pre-planned route and do my own thing, alone on an island stacked with wonderful driving roads, in a canary yellow Cooper S.
As an existing owner, and someone who’s completed a lot of happy trips in MINIs, this one matters to me. I suspect that it matters to a great many of you, too – given the sheer number of comments (good and bad) that MINI stories always attract on here. As a UK success story, MINI’s doing the business – and, since its reboot in 2001, the Hatch, which is now sold in 108 countries, has notched approaching two million sales.
For its fourth incarnation, it’s fair to say that the MINI has grown-up. A lot – and I don’t just mean in physical dimensions. Styling is subjective, so I’ll leave you to make up your own minds – but I’m familiar with it, and am far from uncomfortable with how the new MINI looks. It’s more modern, but is a clear evolution of what came before – just how it should be when you’re dealing with a car with such a strong history.
The interior remains familiar to existing owners, but the quality is up a level, the tech is more abundant and some of the more characterful elements have been toned down. The driving position is more BMW than MINI – you sit lower and more enveloped in the car and, for existing owners, there will need to be a brief period of acclimatisation. Initial thoughts are that, from the driver’s seat at least, it feels less of a small car than it did.
However, it’s on the road, that the improvements really come to the fore. High speed refinement and composure are astounding for a car of this sector and price – it cruises on motorways pretty much like an executive car, while in its long-striding sixth gear, thanks to its muscular 2.0-litre Twin Power engine, revs are kept low, but torque is ample for quick acceleration.
On the twisty stuff, steering response is even sharper than before and, in Sport mode, where it weighs up a little more, the active damping’s set-up to give the car less roll in bends. Again, it feels most impressive when cracking on, and this is very much in line with the outgoing Cooper S’s set-up and feel.
Where, then, do all these improvements leave me feeling? That’s an interesting question, and one that will need more examination. It’s clear that the new car is even more remote from the Minis we all grew up with years ago. It’s now very much a grown-up and mature product, honed for its market, and so much better than rivals such as the Audi A1, that it’s not even worth mentioning them in the same sentence. ‘Ruthlessly competent’ is a phrase I kept saying myself as I drove the Cooper S on this beautiful island.
Despite what many will say, it also remains a small car in its market – think Alfa Romeo MiTo or Audi A1 as its principal rivals, not the Fiat 500, and you’ll see where it really sits in today’s market. And, yes, that ruthless competence and ability may rob it of some of its cheeky charm, so abundant in older cars wearing the MINI (and Mini!) badge. So it might not be Mini in the sense that some of the old guard might attest but, in the context of today’s market, this one’s is bang on, and will continue to bolster the Cowley success story.
Will I buy one? I probably would, yes. My partner loves ours, and I’ve no real reason to doubt that she’d love this one, too. But right now, I have to admit that my own thoughts are being turned by the new Renault Twingo – and that’s a car Sir Alec Issigonis would have thoroughly disapproved of!
Stay tuned for a full MINI review.