On the Road

The new Mini Cooper S's lusty engine is vastly more economical and less of a global warmer than of old.

by Richard Bremner

Seeing the latest Mini is a bit like seeing a familiar friend, noticing something different about them but not being sure what it is - a fresh hairstyle, a sun-filled holiday, some new threads? It has had a makeover so complete that almost every one of its parts is different, yet it takes the sharp-eyed to spot the changes. The easiest way to identify this latest version is by its lights, which at both ends flaunt more fashionable sculptural lenses. Some may notice a redesigned grille on the Mini's slightly longer nose.

That nose is one of the major reasons for the makeover: impending regulations require a softer front to cushion the impact in an accident. BMW also wanted to equip the car with new, more efficient engines. It also needs to boost production: the car has been such a success that the Oxford factory where it is made has been running at double its planned 100,000 cars a year - not an efficient way to operate when the product is notoriously low-margin. It will now be able to pump out 240,000 without difficulty.

This Mini is cheaper to make, though it's hard to spot the cost-savings once aboard - a cruder-looking interior light, for instance, some slightly cheaper-looking plastics in the lower half of the dashboard. Yet, if anything, the cabin looks even richer and classier. The dashboard is dominated by the biggest speedometer ever, the size of a dinner plate. That will reassure buyers who like their Minis just as they are - almost all of them, BMW's research indicates. The redesigned front seats are now much easier to slide, recline and fold, curing a major failing of the old model.

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