Old meeting new: 2019 Mini Cooper makes NZ debut
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The 'new' rebooted Mini is almost 20 years old, and by now most of those in the peanut gallery — hooting and hollering about BMW's modern take on the British classic not being "true Minis" — have subsided.
Most of the cars that have adorned the Mini badge since have sported the same look; cute and boxy proportions, doughy wide-eyed headlights, and many other familiar tropes that draw inspiration from the 'original' Mini.
On the face of it then, the launch of the 2019 mid-life Mini Cooper refresh might look like something of a non-event. But though they look similar to the outgoing models, change is still abound.
Earlier this week we joined a host of other media to sample the first 2019-spec Mini Cooper and Cooper S models (depicted in Emerald Grey and Solaris Orange, respectively). Joining them too was the mildly tweaked Mini Clubman JCW, as well as a current-gen Countryman S.
What followed was a drive from BMW's Auckland headquarters to Taupo, and back — featuring time behind the wheel of each model (be on the look-out for our full impressions in next Saturday's edition of Driven).
It's an optimal time for Mini to be launching new models, as it rides a wave of improved sales year-to-date compared to last year. Preliminary numbers from January to June see Mini sales hit a competitive 374 units — 16-cars ahead of last year over the same period. If that momentum keeps going (and the introduction of new models should help), Mini are set to easily eclipse last year's final figure of 668.
Of this year's figures, an impressive 41 per cent are Countryman sales — leaving 10 per cent for the Clubman and five per cent for the convertible.
The numbers game could be interpreted as a market swing to SUVs and crossovers, if it wasn't for Mini's 'traditional' three– and five–door hatches continual dominance. They represent 46 per cent of this year's Mini sales total.
So, what's changed to make these new models more alluring?
Well, the main takeaway message here is one of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. In each of its forms, the Mini still represents a funky and functional entrant in the hatchback game. And (as evidenced by a fang through some of the wonderful roads between Auckland and Taupo), it still serves up a distinct laugh-a-minute driving experience.
But, if there's an overarching theme to the changes, it's technology and added value.
Each of the new models debuted at the local launch now comes with a 6.5-inch touch screen, featuring satnav, a reversing camera, and — most notably — Mini Connected.
The latter makes use of an in-vehicle 4G SIM card to provide occupants with access to real-time traffic updates, news, weather, and an e-call safety system that will automatically call for services if you're unfortunate enough to have a significant crash.
The interior is otherwise largely the same as the outgoing model, save for a new set of electronic gear selectors ... which points to the new Mini's biggest mechanical change.
While the six-speed manual is offered as a transmission option without change on the new Mini, it's all change on for those opting for an automatic.
That new gear selector is now mated to an also-new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It's a $3,000 premium over the manual, but it does the trick across a range of driving conditions. In urban driving it's smooth — operating unassumingly in the background — while under stress it's rapid and predictable.
There are other changes too, like the revised Mini logos and those Union Jack taillights (optional on the Cooper, but standard on the Cooper S and above).
And naturally, all of it comes at an added cost over the old models. But, not by much ... the base Cooper three-door is gone up $350 to an RRP of $35,900. The Cooper S and JCW models meanwhile have had their entry-level prices increase by $800 and $400; adding up to $44,500 and $54,900 respectively.
Check out Driven's full local impressions from the New Zealand Mini launch in next Saturday's edition.