BMW's Mini brand has sold more than 800,000 of its cheeky little Coopers, so clearly auto journalists are not its only fans. And although it is as adorable today as it was when it launched in 2002, a new one is on its way for next year. Not just a refresh, this is a completely new design. Engines, transmissions, steering gear, brakes, and safety systems have all been redesigned from the ground up.
Not that you'd notice. At first glance, the Cooper looks just like the old one. It's instantly recognizable as a Mini because it retains all the telltale styling cues and proportions - from the impossibly short overhangs to the shape of the grille. Get out the measuring tape, though, and you'll find that this car is almost three inches longer than the last one.
The biggest changes, however, are hidden under that stubby little hood. While the two available four-cylinder engines haven't grown in size--displacement remains 1.6 liters--they've been rotated 180 degrees so that the exhaust now faces forward. And that's not the only about-face: both engines are now as sophisticated as the old ones were simple.
The base engine puts out 120 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque, up 5 hp and 8 lb-ft from the current model. The big news is that it uses BMW's Valvetronic system, which gives the computer infinite control over both valve timing and lift, eliminates the need for a throttle butterfly, and improves fuel economy. Valvetronic also provides for better low-end torque without sacrificing power at the fun end of the tach.
The new Cooper S dumps last year's supercharger in favor of a twin-scroll turbocharger putting out 11.6 psi of boost. It produces 175 hp, only four percent more than the current model, but torque increases dramatically. Mini claims peak torque of 177 lb-ft from a superlow 1600 rpm all the way to 5000 rpm. If the engine computer is feeling generous, however, it will grant you a few seconds of overboost, pushing that torque number to a more grin-inducing 192 lb-ft. With all that torque, the optional limited-slip differential seems like a good idea - especially if you want to be sure to leave two dark skid marks wherever you go. (Spinning just one wheel is embarrassing, don't you know.)
Both engines are mated to six speed transmissions--manuals are standard with paddle-shift automatics as an option. Fuel consumption is decreased by up to 20 percent compared to the current Cooper. Part of the credit is due to electronic steering along with trick water and oil pumps that deliver only as much pressure as needed.
The new Cooper comes standard with ABS and stability control watching over the four-wheel disc brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system that keeps its electronic eye on the sixteen- or seventeen-inch run-flat tires. If things go horribly wrong, six standard air bags (front, side, and side curtain) will team up with seatbelt force limiters to keep you safe.