- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

ZANDVOORT, The Netherlands — In September, the second generation of the Mini will bow at the Paris auto show. But you do not have to wait to see the revamp car. BMW invited a handful of auto writers to the Mini driving dynamics workshop at the Zandvoort race track.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did we get a thorough explanation of all things new about the 2007 Mini, but we could also test drive a prototype on the track.

The new Mini gets power from the new four-cylinder engine family that BMW has developed together with PSA Group, the French parent company of Peugeot and Citron. BMW developed the 1.6-liter engine and PSA’s input was to provide production knowledge of mass production and their experience with purchasing.

The Mini engines will by built in the BMW Group Engine Plant in Hams Hall in Great Britain. PSA will use the new engine for different models and plans to build 1 million units a year in France.

The heart of the new Mini Cooper will be the 88 kW/120horsepower normally aspirated engine, while the Cooper S will get the 128 kW/175 horsepower turbocharged power plant. Both engines will be teamed with a six-speed manual transmission while two 6-speed automatic transmissions will be available, one with the possibility to shift through paddles on the steering wheel.

The Mini engineers developed a complete new suspension to match the capabilities of the new engines and that is not all. The second generation of the modern Mini is completely new with a different body and an upgraded interior.

The challenge for the designers was to hold on to the original design and proportions of the first generation, of which 800,000 have been sold since its introduction in 2001.

But they also have to match the new regulations for pedestrian safety that strongly influences the design of the front of the car. They came up with a rounder, higher nose and because of that a 0.7 inch higher beltline. Also, the front overhang had to be 2.4 inches longer, providing the necessary safety space between the front of the car and the engine. By shortening the greenhouse, the height of the new Mini could stay thesame as of the current model.

Also the interior is new, with different door panels and a grip in the roof on the passenger side, with new sport seats and a little bit more knee space for the rear passengers, because the back of the front seats lack the hard plastic panels. The foot wells in the front are wider now and by using different lining in the luggage compartment there is a gain of 0.35 cubic feet of space.

Although the 2007-Mini was still covered with some tape, you could get a fair impression of its new body. But you would need to park it next to a current model to really see the difference.

It is easier to judge the ‘driving dynamics’ of the Mini Cooper S prototype that was available on the race track. The turbo engine impresses immediately. Not only with its power, but also with the 177 lb-ft of torque that is available from 1,600 rpm. This engine accelerates quickly and eagerly and the torque is even briefly boosted to 192 lb-ft by a short increase in turbocharger pressure, the so-called ‘overboost’ function.

Not for a single moment could I feel a fraction of turbo lag. The six-speed manual shifts well, but I would prefer a shorter and more precise throw. The transmission needs a better barrier to prevent you from accidentally shifting into reverse. But after expressing my concern to the engineers, they said they had already recognized the problem and that it is easy to solve.

Maybe not so easy will be the noise reduction of the turbo, that has a high pitched sound. A different design of the turbine wheel might do, but to get that BMW has to go back to their supplier.

The new Mini is equipped with electro mechanical power steering that incorporates a sports switch. The suspension has been redesigned to fully match the potential of the new engines, with McPherson in the front and a central-arm rear axle, that is quite unusual in the segment of the small front wheel drive cars. A mechanical limited slip differential will be available for the Cooper S.

Getting to know the new Mini was not difficult. The ideal position behind the steering wheel (tilt and depth are adjustable) is easily found. Steering is very precise and the car does exactly what you want it to do. Especially in tight corners it is direct and very communicative. In longer bends the ESP system interferes a little bit.

Not ideal on a race track but very safe on public roads. My first impression is that the Cooper S is well balanced, its new suspension can handle the power and overall the car has really grown up. Personally, I like it much better than the nervous character of the current one.

But to be honest, for the real daily life driving test we will have to wait until the official press event at the end of the year. As we drove the Cooper S on wider and lower tires than it will get in standard trim (195/55/16 run flat tires), and that really makes a difference on a race track.

The new Cooper will get standard 15-inchs wheels and a mobility kit. The Cooper S will get bigger brakes.

The new Mini Cooper and Cooper S will be available in Europe before the end of this year and will reach the North American market in the course of 2007. The base version, the Mini One will get an engine with approximately 70 horsepower and will arrive on the markets by the end of next year.

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