- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Already an icon throughout most of the world, the MINI seeks to earn the same status in the United States where only 10,000 of them have been sold. MINI is a subsidiary of BMW and it benefits hugely from engineering and technology of the German carmaker.

BMW seeks to create a premium entry in the small-car segment with the MINI Cooper and the MINI Cooper S. The British-built models feature engineering innovations unique in this segment: six air bags, electronic throttle control, low tire pressure warning monitor and electronic brake force distribution to prevent nose dives in hard stops.

"We can afford to put those expensive systems in an inexpensive car because BMW has already absorbed the development costs of those engineering features," said Jack Pitney, general manager of MINI. He believes these innovations elevate the MINI to a premium level unmatched by other small cars.

The MINI is the first car to get the 1.6-liter engine manufactured in a Brazilian plant that represents a joint venture of BMW and DaimlerChrysler.

But MINI uses a Siemens 2000 engine-management system that is exclusive. A drive-by-wire throttle comes with that. The engine is naturally aspirated in the MINI Cooper and supercharged in the Cooper S.

The Cooper has a five-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable transmission with a lever-mounted six-speed steptronic mode. A six-speed Getrag manual is the only transmission, with no automatic option available, in the Cooper S.

Top speed in the Cooper is 124 mph, electronically limited. It's 135 mph, electronically limited, in the supercharged Cooper S, which has a 0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds. That's 1.6 seconds faster than the naturally aspirated Cooper. Equal length drive shafts help eliminate torque steer. MINI recommends that premium fuel be used in both engines.

The MINIs are solidly built and rattle-free even on rough roads. Body stiffness is 50 percent greater than in a BMW 3-Series car. It takes 24,500 Newton meters to flex the MINI one degree. However, the MINI can't escape being a boxy vehicle with a relatively high coefficient of drag: 0.35 in the Cooper and 0.36 in the Cooper S. The tradeoff is that the boxy shape provides ample interior space.

Interior space is also helped by placing the wheels almost exactly at the four corners, minimizing overhang. But ride comfort can be adversely affected on rough roads because of the short 97.1-inch wheelbase. This is exacerbated by the MINI's very stiff springs. The latter feature, along with a wide 57.4-inch track, makes for nimble performance in cornering, even in tight turns. In fact, the MINI has a go-kart-like steering feel.

The electronic brake force distribution system is borrowed from the 3-Series BMWs and it works well in this short wheelbase car. EBD helps eliminate nose dives while braking hard. The system can brake the rear wheels first, if necessary, when it senses there is too little weight in the rear to prevent nose dives. It not only distributes brake force between front and rear wheels but also to individual wheels corner to corner.

EBD insures that braking is flat. The system also makes sure that brake pads wear evenly in the front and rear. It is more efficient than standard anti-lock brakes, but does not contribute to shorter stopping distances. If the traction control option is ordered, EBD will also work with that system. Dynamic stability (yaw) control would also work with EBD.

MINI is packed with passive safety systems. It is the only car of its size to have head protection; the sausage-shaped tubular air bags already used in BMWs are in the MINI. It also has seat-mounted side air bags so that there is optimal protection for front occupants regardless of seat position. Of course, the MINI also has the required two front air bags.

Despite borrowing some BMW technology, the MINI, according to Mr. Pitney, has little commonality of parts with BMWs. Parts of the rear suspension and the electrical system in the MINI are derived from the 3-Series.

But the sum of the MINI's parts and systems make for a state-of-the-art vehicle that BMW hopes will achieve the same status here that it enjoys in the rest of the world.

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