We all know that the original Mini born in 1959 was conceived as a solution for people who wants maximum interior space from a tiny car. But since the introduction of BMW’s interpretation of the new MINI in 2000 (codenamed R50/R53), the New MINI is no longer a mini in size.
Six years after that the second generation of the new MINI (codenamed R56) kept on growing longer by 97 mm, and yet the growth spurt didn’t just stop there. Now in its third generation, the F56 MINI is longer than the R56 by 98 mm, wider by 44 mm, and a wee bit taller by 7 mm.
The F56 MINI is also the first car to sit on BMW’s new UKL (Unterklasse meaning “entry level”) platform that’s reserved for small front-wheel drive BMW models. Our first encounter with the F56 MINI in this country was during the “Men vs MINI” video shoot in Putrajaya, but we didn’t really get to officially test the car. Our test car here is the Cooper variant, unlike the hotter Cooper S driven by a certain Ivan Khong in the video.
|Name||MINI Cooper Chili|
|Segment||B-Segment 3-door hatchback|
|Engine||1,499cc 3-Cylinder, Turbocharged|
|Max Power||136 hp @ 4,500 – 6,000 rpm|
|Max Torque||220 Nm @ 1,250 rpm|
In Malaysia, the Cooper comes in two variants, the base “Salt” and the higher-specced “Chili” (like our test car here) with about RM 20,000 separating them apart. Only the equipment varies between the two variants but both are powered by BMW’s new turbocharged 1,499 cc 3-cylinder powerplant. With one cylinder down from the previous Cooper, will it be enough for the new MINI to deliver? Time to find out.
The exterior can’t be mistaken for anything else other than a MINI. Some even thought it’s a mere facelift but actually the F56 is totally new from the ground up. With the mega measurements, the F56 MINI should look bloated but the designers have done their magic to make the new MINI look as if it didn’t grew an inch by exaggerating some of the design elements such as the higher shoulder line and shallower daylight opening (that’s “windows” to you and me) compared to the previous two generations of the new MINI.
The Iced Chocolate Metallic paintjob our Cooper came in not only sounds delectable, but under certain lighting the intense metallic flakes give out this rich chocolatey sheen good enough for this writer to attempt to taste it (of course he didn’t).
Externally the Cooper Chili is different from the Cooper Salt by having LED front lights with LED daytime running rings; other than that they’re both identical outside.
The three-bar grille now cuts into the front bumper incorporating a protruding black bar of chin that houses the front number plate. Apart from the main grille and the headlights, the small lower grille also gets framed in chrome. The single-piece clamshell bonnet covers most of the front section of the car, complete with a tiny power dome on top.
The chrome-framed taillights have swelled on this new MINI and now intersect with the boot and bumper, but the graphics used are similar to its predecessor. The badge has moved inside the chrome number plate garnish, and more chrome can be found below surrounding the mid-mounted rear foglamp and also on the tailpipe.
Enormous side mirrors sprout from each door, finished in the same contrasting colour as the floating roof that’s actually supported by all-round glossy black pillars. Black plastic cladding goes around the lower part of the body including the wheel arches, where a set of 16-inch “Loop Spoke” alloys wrapped in 195/55 R16 runflats reside.
There’s some surfacing work done on the flanks giving it a bit more depth than before, while the doorhandles are finished in chrome for that classy look. Pull the doorhandle and the frameless window drops down a few centimeters before the door opens to a flashy interior.
The interior layout stays the same, but the functionality has been revised. The welcome revision is the speedometer which is now relocated to the more common driver’s point of view through the steering wheel.
The naked speedometer pod is mounted on the steering column, so it moves together with the steering column when you adjust the steering wheel for reach and rake. The chunky steering wheel comes with controls for audio and cruise control but shift paddles are reserved only for the hotter Cooper S.
What occupies in the space vacated by the speedometer in the middle of the dashboard is a Radio MINI Visual Boost with 6.5-inch screen, surrounded by a fancy strip of LED ring that changes colour based on your input. The 6.5-inch full colour display is only available in the Cooper Chili, providing you with a menu with cool animation controlled using the i-Drive controller located near the good-old handbrake lever.
The tall gearlever compensates the lack of shift paddles on the steering wheel, allowing minimal hand movement away from the steering wheel when you want to shift up or down the cogs in Manual mode.
The engine start stop toggle stands out in red at the base of the dashboard flanked by toggles for the stop/start and traction control. More toggles can be found overhead, where you can control the interior lighting and even cycle through the many colours of the ambient lighting.
Most of the materials used felt premium enough, but the lower part of the dashboard is still using low-grade plastics, particularly around the USB/AUX-in slot that’s already heavily scuffed in this test car. You might complain the lack of storage space in the Mini with narrow door pockets and the absence of a center armrest.
Even though at the passenger side of the dashboard there’s a dual glovebox, the size of each compartment is not huge, but at least there are cupholders for everyone unlike in the Citroen DS3.
Cooper Chili gets leather upholstery and sports seats for the two front occupants. The seats adjust manually and the seat base goes down pretty low to provide you with that go-kart feeling of being close to the ground.
Be warned though when it comes to toll booths and parking gates you might need to stretch out to grab the ticket. Headroom is not a problem up front or even at the back but entrance to the back seats may require some slight gymnastics ability.
The back seats are only meant for two because MINI only furnishes you with two sets of three-point safety belts, but the backrests split 60/40. Leg and knee room is still tight even with the growth in length, so expect to hear grumbles of dissatisfaction from your back seat passengers.
If you need more back seat space then you’ll be delighted to know that BMW just announced the MINI 5 Door that’s going to be on sale soon. Boot space is equally tight, with a total volume of just 211 litres you’ll be struggling to fit a few suitcases in there. Flip open the boot floor and if you can’t find the spare tyre don’t call BMW just yet because there is none.
Under the bonnet of the F56 Cooper beats a 1.5-litre engine with not four, but three cylinders and fitted with BMW’s TwinPower Turbo. It’s essentially the same engine as featured in BMW’s funky supercar the i8, albeit in a different state of tune.
Even though it’s smaller than the normally-aspirated 1.6-litre in the R56 Cooper, it boasts 16 hp and 60 Nm more. As a result, the new triple produces 136 hp at 4,500 – 6,000 rpm and 220 Nm of torque from just 1,250 rpm.
With that amount of pull and a total weight that’s 10 kg lighter than its predecessor, setting off from standstill takes 7.8 seconds to reach 100 km/h and will continue to power on until it hits the top speed of 210 km/h. It feels quick and it will pile on speed that will put a generic Japanese C-segment sedan to shame.
The MINI has a full keyless start but not keyless entry, so you still need to press a button on the key fob shaped like a hockey puck to lock or unlock the car. After unlocking you just keep the puck…I mean, key fob in your pocket while the red engine start stop toggle switch pulsates as you enter the cabin, waiting for you to prod it.
Once you prod it the three-cylinder engine erupts into life with a bassy note from the exhaust. The engine emits that trademark three-cylinder thrum, but most of the time it sounds “grown-up” like a run-of-the-mill four-cylinder engine. From the outside you can hear the turbo hisses and the occasional burps from the exhaust which provides an interesting soundtrack during spirited driving.
There are three driving modes to choose from: GREEN, MID, and SPORT. In the default MID mode the steering is light enough for the Cooper to potter about in the tight city and the suspension setup is appropriately good, absorbing thumps and bumps admirably without being crashy.
The only source of vibration is from the engine, which can be felt at crawling pace and worse during the stop/start operation. The sensation is almost akin to a sneeze.
The throttle is noticeably dulled in GREEN mode, but it’s not much different from MID mode. You’ll get an option to display an analyser on the screen which rates your acceleration and braking by rewarding you with up to five stars if your driving style is deemed as ‘fuel saving’.
To encourage this, there’s an animation of a fish in a bowl of water. Keep your throttle input and braking gentle and you’ll keep the fish happy in the water, but sudden acceleration and hard braking will throw the poor fish out of the bowl.
Changing the driving mode to SPORT triggers as what MINI describes as “maximum go-kart feel”. The steering gets a bit more weight and the response from the floor-hinged accelerator pedal is livelier, and this is when the Mini starts to play.
On a twisty piece of tarmac the steering responds very well to you input, turning in sharply into corners while the competent chassis is egging you to tackle the next turn with a little bit more speed; and you will want to push because the good brakes provide you with an assurance that you can shed away the speed in time if you overcook it.
You can take it one step further by turning the traction control in to the Dynamic setting. While this wont fully turn off the traction control, it will let you have some leeway before it catches you from any imminent slippage. Since the throttle response is a bit on the aggressive side, if you suddenly lift off the throttle pedal when you’re traveling fast in a bend, you might kick the tail out a bit. It’s a great fun car to chuck about without scaring your pants off.
The flexible three-cylinder engine also allows you to cruise in the Cooper calmly. With the windows up, the cabin is well-insulated from the outside noise, making long-distance travel a pleasant affair. The official claim for fuel consumption is rated at 4.7 l/100 km, but this writer averaged 10.4 l/100 km due to his inability to refrain from driving in SPORT mode most of the time.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you’re looking to own an icon, you probably have your mind all set on the MINI without any second thoughts. Other manufacturers have tried to take a stab at MINI’s successful combination of style and driving excitement but nothing else really comes close to the MINI.
One thing’s for sure that the MINI is not practical if you’re the type that frequenly carries passengers and a lot of gear. The steep price tag should not bother you because you’re not only buying just a premium hatchback but into a brand that’s also rich in heritage. Think of it as an extension of your good taste in style.
In a league of premium three-door hatchback there’s not much choice here in Malaysia. For the price, there are dozens of sensible choices out there but they don’t invoke the same appeal as the Mini. Even so, there is this one car that might try to steal those potential MINI buyers, it’s the Audi A1 1.4 TFSI S-line.
In its 3-door guise it looks cutesy but with a slight attitude thanks to Audi’s sharper lines and bodykit. In S-line variant it’s also punchier than the Cooper, thanks to its 1,399 cc twincharged 4-cylinder powerplant dishing out 49 hp more than the Cooper and 30 Nm more torque. The power figures alone might be enough for some to justify its RM 10,000 premium over the Cooper Chili.
The A1 also benefits from Audi’s excellent build quality and the interior is fitted with six airbags as opposed to just four in the Cooper, as well as a 465 W Bose sound system. The Cooper Chili has the advantage by having leather seats as standard (RM 6,000 cost option in the A1), and LED headlamps and front foglamps as opposed to Xenon headlamps and halogen front foglamps on the A1.
We haven’t got the chance to sample the Audi yet; judging by the stats the A1 looks like it has the upper hand but we doubt whether Audi’s baby could provide the same driving enjoyment as the Cooper, if not better.
|Mini Cooper Chili||Audi A1 1.4 TFSI S-line|
|Type||3-cylinder petrol, turbocharged||4-cylinder petrol, twincharged|
|Max Power||hp/rpm||136/4,500 – 6,000||185/6,200|
|Max Torque||Nm/rpm||220/1,250||250/2,000 – 4,500|
|Type||Electrical power-assisted||Electrical power-assisted|
|Transmission||6-speed Automatic||7-speed dual clutch|
|Type||MacPherson strut / Multi link||MacPherson strut / Torsion beam|
|Front||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|Rear||Solid disc||Solid disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyres||195/55 R16||215/40 R17|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS|
|Max Kerb weight||kg||1,190||1,190|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||L||211||270|
|Consumption||4.7 L/100 km||5.9 L/100 km|
|0 – 100km/h||sec||7.8||6.9|
WILL I BUY IT?
Never mind it’s cramped and not as practical as most of the cars in the same price range. It’s the fun factor that the MINI delivers makes it so attractive to me, if I have the money to blow on a small premium hatch, this would be it. It’s comfortable to be use as a daily runner, and yet it will entertain you when you feel like heading to your favourite stretch of B-road.