One for the MINI family album
The complete MINI clan gathered at BMW's Oxford factory yesterday, marking the first time all six family members (three current and three future) have been brought together.
The event was the media launch of the latest versions of the current MINI range, which features a significantly revised engine line-up:
MINI 1.4 petrol option is dropped
An extra 9hp for the Cooper S...
In pursuit of production efficiencies, BMW has dropped the 1.4 litre petrol entry model, and from now on all petrol MINIs will share exactly the same 1.6 litre engine hardware which includes Valvetronic variable valve timing. That means the differing power outputs of the 74hp MINI First, 98hp MINI One and 122hp MINI Cooper variants will be based on engine mapping alone, offering the intriguing prospect of First buyers getting easy upgrades to Cooper spec once the tuning firms get in on the act. (Currently, 1.4 litre MINI First owners are not well catered for in the power upgrade department, as although the models share engine blocks with the 1.6 cars they have unique pistons and crankshafts.)
...make the car livelier than ever
The MINI Cooper S also benefits from the round of engine revisions, most notably with the addition of twin-scroll turbocharging which directs all the boost to the pair of cylinders that need it most at any point in the firing cycle. This technology releases an additional 9hp, making a total of 184hp and also offering up to 192lb ft in 'overboost' mode during hard acceleration. We had a very quick steer in the new Cooper S yesterday, and with the six-speed manual box it seemed just as lively as we expected. BMW claims a 0-60 time of 7.0secs and a top speed of 142mph for the car, which it now says is the most efficient in its class.
The new MINI family members
Coupe has 1930s ERA paintjob
The new Countryman was on display at Oxford, ahead of its arrival in showrooms in September, and we also got a chance to closely inspect the concept versions of the new Coupe and Roadster models which arrive in 2011 and 2012 respectively - and which we've covered previously here
The cars were introduced by brand design director Gert Hildebrand, who reckons the Coupe is the model he's wanted to make ever since getting the MINI design gig. "MINI has a right and duty to make a two seater sports car," he says, admitting that while the Roadster is easy to understand "the Coupe is more polarising".
While Roadster is WAGtastic in white
Although Hildebrand says the Coupe takes its inspiration from classic British sportscars, they managed to avoid painting the concept British Racing Green. Instead, the blue is taken from Prince Bira's ERA racing car from the 1930s, while the gold roof picks up the colours from Jack Brabham's crash helmet - a homage to his Grand Prix success in the Cooper Climax.
After accidentally sitting in the Coupe concept yesterday (and taking a slapped wrist for the PH team!), I can confirm the combination of raked screen, cocooning roofline and slightly lower driving seat did effectively evoke memories of the old MKII Spitfire - with hardtop - that I used to knock around in. In fact I liked it a lot, although production versions won't get the concept's exotic woven seat leather, or the rally-style stopwatches on the dashboard, and I do wish Herr Designer would stop referring to the car's roof as a back-to-front baseball cap...
MINI bats for Britain
Countryman's success seems assured
As the new MINI enters its 10th year (already a quarter as much heritage as the original which survived for 40), it was fascinating to learn from Oxford plant director Dr Juergen Hendrich just what a contribution the brand is making to the UK economy under BMW's ownership.
The factory ships abroad 80 percent of the 200,000 MINIs it builds each year, which adds £2.6bn - or 1 percent - to our total exports.
A new MINI rolls off the production line every 80secs, with the lines running from 6am in the morning to 4am the next day. 5,500 staff are employed at the plant, another 10,000 are directly employed by suppliers, and BMW estimates a further 40,000 are indirectly employed in the supply chain. With BMW reporting that 50 percent of this year's new Countryman allocation has already been presold, the success story looks like continuing for a while.