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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Road test: 2019 Mini Cooper

Latest update to the classic comes with extra Britishness, writes Adam Workman, but it needs a more radical rethink

Despite its current German ownership via paymasters BMW, is there any car more British than the Mini? Its latest update seems hell bent on proving that there isn’t – not least because its rear lights are embellished with the Union Jack flag.

The new Mini has been a rip-roaring success since the marque’s purchase in 2000, maintaining the spirit of the originals, while slowly inflating its dimensions. But does the latest update – or, in BMW speak, life cycle impulse – add a great deal?

On the face of it, beyond those natty national-pride lights, the answer appears to be no. That is based on the evidence of a test-drive event in Dubai to launch the latest Mini, taking a somewhat pedestrian route away from the Nikki Beach Resort & Spa on the Pearl Jumeirah through Thursday afternoon traffic. It’s far from an ideal scenario to ascertain the mettle of any new car, but particularly when the changes on offer are relatively subtle.

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For example, it’s almost impossible to rate the effectiveness of the Mini’s claimed shorter gear shifts when you are travelling at urban speeds in a crocodile of other Minis. Possibly aided by reduced weight, on the brief occasions when traffic does clear, it does seem nippy enough in the Cooper S form of my two test cars – one three-door and the other five-door. The convertible, the third variant to undergo the update, is rightly deemed a touch optimistic in 45°C summer heat. Those aforementioned shifts now come via a seven-speed Steptronic transmission, or an eight-ratio version in the tweaked John Cooper Works racy range-toppers.

The five-door that I drive comes in emerald grey, a classy shade that some might find an acquired taste – as, indeed, they might of any Mini with a quintet of openings. It is one of three new colours for the range. My three-door tester, the undisputed classic shape, shows off the striking solaris orange (pictured above), while starlight blue is reserved for the convertible.

Performance isn’t altered dramatically between the door configurations at the top end of the range: the Cooper S has identical top speeds (235kph), with the five-door’s 0-to-100kph time of 6.8 seconds only 0.1 of a second slower than the three-door. One key gain is improved fuel economy – by as much as 5 per cent – Mini claims.

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Among the handful of aesthetic changes are the ground projections of the Mini logo from the front doors, a light show that can be customised to show off your own design. The end of this year also promises an innovative list of optional extras made with 3D printing, although details of said additions are so far thin on the ground.

Inside there is a new 6.5-inch infotainment screen that you can upgrade to touchscreen as an option, with Apple CarPlay, plus wireless phone charging, should your smartphone facilitate such technology.

A few more noticeable changes might have been nice, though. The circular centre to the dash, coupled with the shiny switchwork, are Mini trademarks, but you wonder if the time might be ripe for a spit and polish to make you realise that you are indeed not sitting in a Mini from previous years. The adjustable central arm rest is very ill-conceived in its lowest position, too, because it blocks you from pulling up the manual handbrake.

In short, this mild massage of the Mini hasn’t done it any harm, yet it is far from radical enough to win over many new fans. When you have as many converts as the Mini does, that is obviously less of a concern. The next full update, however, seems set to be a watershed, not least as next year promises a fully electric Mini that will herald a brave new era for one of the best-loved cars of all time.