why MINI’s puffed up new Cooper leaves me deflated

October 15th, 2006

The old Cooper struck a shockingly artful balance between the rawness of the original and the refinement of a BMW - even the supercharger’s whine mimicked the gear whine of the original.

In remaking the new Cooper, MINI had to do something and the new car will no doubt be an advance in many areas (particularly in having a lighter, aluminum blocked engine). But from a design and intent standpoint, certain things make it more pre to trend than its rather timeless predecessor. They are:

A non-functional hood scoop on S models – Embarrassing, really. The new car’s intercooler is front, not top, mounted. Hopefully the standard car’s hood will bolt right on.

A higher beltline – Like everything from a Lexus IS to the 300C, the Coopers metal reaches higher and its windows are narrower and more sharply raked. This means some of the current car’s airiness and ease of placement on the road will be lost and larger wheels will be needed to maintain an aesthetic balance.

An interior redesign that prioritizes form over function – The last car was already a bit caricatured, something they toned down by offering darker interior trims as the years went by. The new car looks even more like something Roger Rabbit might drive – the larger speedometer is no more legible and the radio display is higher but seems smaller (and the CD slot is divorced from the controls for no apparent reason). Yes, I see the MINI logo echoed here but it’s not successful when it makes the controls less intuitive.

Less edgy, more conventional handling – Now I haven’t driven the car yet so take this for what its worth but everyone who has has the new car is cushier and less pointy. That’s intentional – the new MINI was designed around the demands of American consumers who saw the MINI as a cute car not a driver’s tool and might be cross shopping New Beetles. I don’t mind so much offering a broader range between comfort and sport, but less throttle steerable? That’s what sets the Cooper apart from a car like the new GTI.

An oafish face – The last car looked bright eyed and keen up front, the new one looks like it has lazy eyes and a mouthguard. I know the forehead had to be higher for pedestrian safety but there’s something ungainly about the countenance. Were they people you’d rush to greet the old one and avoid eye contact with the new one.

Unexciting torque curve – Coopers aren’t about speed, they’re about smiles. The old Cooper and supercharged Cooper S engine gave more the higher you revved ‘em, particularly when the JCW kits were fitted. The new turbo motor’s totally flat, boost manipulated torque plateau may make for a faster car, but like the new 911 it will likely feel less effervescent and engaging.

I’m sure in a couple years’ time we’ll have acclimated to the new car and it’s relative strengths (lower unsprung weight, smoother riding run flats, more rear seat room) will be appreciated in day to day use. Yes, the new Cooper is more capable and more profitable, I just felt it was necessary to take a moment and point out what no one else has bothered to – that’s what I do.

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