Top Gear - First drive: the brand new Mini And does it all work? Does it feel transformed?
If you're listening hard, the Cooper starts with a characteristic three-cylinder beat, but to be honest it's more obvious from outside the car than within. Head off and most of the sensations are Mini staples. The well-oiled controls; the low-set, straight-ahead driving position; the shallow, upright windscreen and pillars. The ride remains taut rather than soft, and it has the normal Mini bobbing frequency. The steering seems to have the normal Mini quickness. Er, has BMW got too many engineers? What was the point of changing everything?
Because as you gather speed, all this car's moves are more polished than of old. The suspension has more travel, so when you hit bumps it y'know, copes with them. Suspension, as in suspension. Whereas the old car's undercarriage crashed and banged and too often jolted into its bump-stops. And there's less tyre roar on coarse tarmac now. The steering compensates for cambers and torque. It all feels more grown up. I don't want a Mini to feel grown up. It's supposed to scoot about, frisky and intimate and connected.
Don't worry. Show it a corner and the Cooper comes alive. The front end is super-agile. The steering is sharp but notably progressive and you feel exactly what's going on. There's barely any understeer. And if you lift-off, the tail is surprisingly mobile, but easy to collect. The new-found suspension suppleness doesn't make it soggy, it just means it doesn't get distraught when the corner is lumpy. Any car that reacts so quickly but so predictably, and gives you so many options, and connects you so intimately to its moves, cannot fail to be a bundle of laughs. Back to where we started. My point stands: meet the new Mini, same as the old Mini.
Sure, in character, things haven't changed. There's measurable progress. It's efficient - for the petrol Cooper, 105g/km. Plus it's more refined and better-riding and safer and has a bigger boot. OK, that's all rational stuff that Top Gear is reputed not to give a stuff about. Yet they did that while preserving the stuff we do care for. It's more lively, it sounds more interesting and the handling's more fun and visceral. First drive: the new Mini - BBC Top Gear