x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dial M for Mini: iPhone links to cars' entertainment system

The combination of the small city car with the iPhone is both funky and functional.

The Mini and iPhone: a pairing of the übercool.
The Mini and iPhone: a pairing of the übercool.

In a chase for the youth market, Mini has become the first car maker to link an iPhone application directly into the entertainment system of its facelifted Mini Cooper. The Mini application will let drivers hook the heart and soul of their new cars into their iPhone's brain and internet connection to unlock more entertainment, navigation and messaging options. While Apple has endured a succession of controversies recently, from stolen prototypes to internet security problems to the faulty antennae on its iPhone 4, it has worked for more than a year to help bring the iPhone to Mini drivers.

The Mini application will let drivers upload their address books into their car, listen to satellite radio from any country in the world, check their Facebook or Twitter messages on the multi-media interface (MMI) screen or search Google for nearby restaurants, petrol stations or other points of interest. It also connects its satellite navigation system into the iPhone's. Besides Mini's serious effort to add iPhone-cool to its Cooper, the facelift is critical for another reason. Facing its first head-to-head competition in Audi's A1, the new Mini will be the first in the "re-birthed" brand's history to have all-BMW engines.

In the past, the Mini's petrol and diesel engines have come with varying degrees of help from Chrysler and PSA (Peugeot and Citroën), but the facelift will use engines designed for it by its parent company for the first time. Mini even goes so far as to say there are, "eye-catching design modifications for the exterior and interior," but that might be stretching things, even if the interior has scored the same upgraded interior plastics as the Countryman. There are probably two dozen exterior upgrades, but only the air intakes at the bottom of the Cooper S grille and the LED rear lights are most noticeable.

The comprehensive re-engineering to accommodate the pair of high-tech, turbocharged engines is in stark contrast to one of the most modest visual facelifts in history, but Mini insists it's done enough to justify a relaunch. And a three-hour drive into the Bavarian Alps proved they are probably right. It kept the new petrol engine away (but it's already been comprehensively driven and written about last month in our review of the heavier Countryman, you can read it online at www.thenational.ae/motoring) and showed instead its new, stronger, more economical diesel.

With more torque than even the Cooper S, the Cooper D still manages to slip beneath the 100 grams/km barrier on its CO2 emissions. Its maximum torque of 270Nm arrives at just 1,750rpm, while its 110hp waits until 4,000rpm before it, too, chimes in. It's a recipe for lazy, relaxed gear shifts and letting the engine work hard instead of the driver. The ride quality is also smoother than the old car could manage, though it still has that typical Mini pointiness and the exaggerated feeling of connection with the tyres and the road. Even though most of its weight lurks over the front axles, its razor-sharp steering means it still feels like it will turn around its own fuel-filler cap, regardless of the speed at which you turn into a corner.

While the engineers at Mini will hang their hats on the new engines, the fans of the fiddly bits will point their fingers at the ever-expanding range of customisation you can stick on or in a Mini, from adaptive headlights to three different styles of interior design. But it's the upgraded interior - a direct response to severe German media criticism of the quality of the materials in the old model - that has been given the most attention.

Besides the iPhone, the media interface can link with most main telephones and even USB sticks full of music. At one level, the satellite-navigation maps are stored on an on-board flash drive that can be updated from the web with a USB stick, with the monster centre speedo also housing the navigation display. But the star of the show is the iPhone application, and it works well. It not only future-proofs the Mini's entertainment systems by essentially upgrading every time the phone's application is upgraded, it's also easy to use (via a toggle behind the gear lever) and understand.

The satellite radio has been neatly divided into folders so you can choose from different styles of music or different countries. It can not only receive Facebook and Twitter messages, but can read them out to you so you can keep your eyes on the road. The messaging doesn't stop there, though, because civic-minded Mini drivers can even communicate with other Mini iPhone users to warn them of things like traffic problems or tell them about good coffee stops, for example.

It turns out to be far from the distraction it could have been and, though you'll want to be on top of your roaming rates with your service provider, it actually turns into something useful, rather than the clumsy gimmick it could have been. motoring@thenational.ae