How do you improve an icon without spoiling what you already have? Matthew Parkinson visited Bowker MINI in Preston to find out whether the MINI’s maintained its magic. Photography: Paul Currie
Success is hard to follow. As terrific as it was to drive, it was easy to see how little the classic Mini changed from the first car rolling off the production line in 1959 to its eventual end in 2000. Iconic though it was, people wanted more than intermittent wipers and sun visors on the options list.
Since coming under BMW’s ownership, the MINI brand hasn’t rested on its laurels. These days, success has come from subtly improving its cars by reacting to and adopting the latest trends and technological developments for each iteration, and the latest update to the convertible, three-door, and five-door hatch are no exceptions. To prove it, Bowker MINI in Preston handed me the keys to a MINI Cooper S 5-door Hatch, hot off the Oxford production line.
The most obvious differences are spotted at the back of the car, with MINI flying the flag with a pair of Union Jack rear light clusters, and a sharper, simplified new version of the brand’s iconic winged logo up front. Some of the other changes are subtler, but no less impressive. On the Cooper S, the various vents and scoops have been subtly reworked to improve airflow over the body and to provide extra cooling to the brakes – bonus when you’re punishing the pedals on a spirited drive.
Ever since the stars of the 1960s started customising their Minis with bold colours and bonnet stripes, individuality has been a huge part of the MINI experience. With the new lineup, buyers can choose from an expanded range of alloy wheels, as well as three more exciting paint colours and interior trim options, like the eye-catching malt-brown chesterfield leather in the Cooper S.
The list of options encourages even the fussiest of buyers to change things up a little. Not keen on chrome that adorns the lights, vents and grilles? The updated range lets you swap it out for classy piano black trim instead. If you really want to make your mark, the MINI Yours programme lets buyers monogram the dashboard or indicator side panels, as well as being able to have your name or a message of your choice illuminated in the car’s sills or projected onto the pavement when you park up.
There’s plenty of functional upgrades too. DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity comes as standard, and buyers can opt for a touchscreen central display equipped with Apple CarPlay, opening up your journey to a world of accessible entertainment from your own music library or a plethora of podcasts and streamable songs. Worried that your phone’s battery might struggle to cope with the demand? MINI has thought about that too, adding wireless charging as well as two additional USB ports to give other accessories a boost on the move.
The new MINIs are also safer than ever, with options such as adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and traffic sign memory plucked from parent company BMW’s research into autonomous technology to help your MINI spot any hazards you don’t, working away quietly in the background so you can enjoy every mile behind the wheel, since it’s here where the fun really begins.
MINI might have tweaked the turbo and improved the fuel injectors to eek out a few more miles per gallon from the 2 litre turbocharged engine in its Cooper S, but with 189bhp on tap it’s still a powerful weapon designed to conquer corners and shorten straights, sprinting from 0-60mph in just 6.8 seconds. As well as the six-speed manual in the car, you can choose an automatic or sports-auto gearbox, with the latter using a little electronic trickery to speed up gear changes for faster acceleration.
Flick the toggle switch to Sport mode, and the steering and throttle response sharpen up, which, along with the sports suspension in the car, helps provide the sort of giant-killing performance that’d embarrass cars three or four times the MINI’s price on a British B-road.
Enter the city and you’ll find that the MINI is able to punch well above its weight here too. Whether it’s the way it looks, the way it drives, or the premium fit and finish, the MINI is a hit with footballers, film stars and fashionistas alike. The beauty of the MINI’s classless chic means you never know who might step out of one, and better still, you don’t need a billionaire’s budget to join the club.
With MINI, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Features that were scarcely imaginable as expensive options as little as 10 years ago are now standard fare, and behind the wheel, the MINI continues to charm like no other car can. With new fans the world over with each consecutive upgrade, MINI seem to be doing a fine job of disproving the idea success is hard to follow, and if the road to success truly is long and winding, MINI’s rivals don’t stand a chance of keeping up.
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