When you boil it all down, there's only one thing to say about the new Mini: it looks a lot like the old Mini. Yes, it's better; yes, it's faster; yes, the engineers continually emphasize the number of parts that aren't shared with the outgoing car. But the point remains: underneath it all, the design seems to say, the new Mini is still a Mini.
This, predictably enough, is exactly how the engineers at BMW, Mini's parent company, planned it. The differences are hard to catch unless you've got both the new and the old car side by side. The new version may be bigger in every way, but the proportions and deep-fried retro styling cues haven't changed.
There are a bunch of possible explanations for this, but most likely, the Mini didn't get altered much because the Germans didn't want to mess with a good thing. More than 150,000 examples of the 2002-2006 Mini have sold here--better than twice the official sales estimates. Suddenly, car companies and product planners had proof that a fun, relatively inexpensive, dynamically balanced small car could work in America. Stateside drivers went nuts. Cultlike single-marque clubs sprung up almost instantly. BMW, as surprised as anyone, sat back and watched the cash roll in.
So what happens when you try to improve upon a success? In the world of cars, "newer" usually means "bigger, fatter, and faster." The new Mini is indeed larger (exterior length goes up by nearly three inches), but thanks to the extensive use of aluminum in both engine construction and the rear suspension, an '07 Mini Cooper weighs about the same as a similar '06 (the stick-shift S is actually eleven pounds lighter than before). Power now comes from a 1.6-liter, aluminum-block four-cylinder; 118-hp Cooper models get BMW's Valvetronic variable valve-lift technology, while the 172-hp Cooper S gains direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger offering 11.6 pounds of max boost. (The turbo powertrain, however, necessitated a relocation of the intercooler, which means that the Cooper S's signature hood scoop is no longer functional.)
Although Europeans are buying their first '07 Minis right now, the new car won't make it to our shores until February. The long-wheelbase Mini arrives within the following year and will probably be badged the Clubman or the Traveller. The new convertible will come along soon after; the current convertible will be sold until then.
New reality, this is the Mini. We believe you've already met.