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The new MINI – First driving impression on the roads of Germany and Austria! (Part 1)

The third generation of the very successful MINI, internally known by the code F56) was introduced for the first time at the LA motor-show in November 2013. A couple of weeks later the international media test-drive and launch event took place in Costa Rica, and many of the international magazines had only good stuff to say about the new MINI generation.

Unfortunately no motoring media representative from Egypt attended the international media test-drive of the F56, probably because Costa Rica is too far away from Egypt and it would have been a very long and exhausting trip.

A couple of weeks later I had a chat with Mr. Farid El Tobgui, Chairman of the Bavarian Auto Group, the official BMW and MINI importer in Egypt, in which we talked about the situation of MINI and BMW in the Egyptian market, and how those two brands are perceived by both the Egyptian consumer as well as the professional media. He explained and promised that changes will happen. And some promising and positive changes happened indeed, at least with MINI.

Not only did we finally get a chance to test-drive the new MINI Cooper on a secure training- and test-track at the MINI Driving Training in Germany, but Ahmed Wahid at MINI Egypt also made lots of efforts to arrange a couple of MINI test-cars in Cairo, such as the Paceman, the Countryman and the MINI Cooper hatchback with the new 3-cylinder engine, so that we could test them on the streets of Cairo where they are supposed to be driven when sold to their new owners.

So, when we at Auto Arabia finally got a chance in July 2014 to test-drive the new MINI hatchback model (six months after the international media launch in Costa Rica) at the MINI Driving Training as well as on the roads of Munich and some parts of Austria, I was quite anxious to find out myself about the many improvements and modifications in the exterior, the interior and in the engines which we read about in the many international reviews over the past six months, and to find out if those new modifications were indeed as good as the other professional motoring journalists wrote or not. And I was not disappointed !

Before taking a seat in the new MINI on the first day in Munich, I took a look at the exterior first.

The new 2014 MINI has some very characteristic design features such as hexagonal radiator grille as well as headlamps and rear light clusters with wide chrome surround.

Other high-end details underscore the sophisticated nature of the new model as MINI describes it, such as five exterior paint finishes and a roof in contrasting colour available as an option at no extra charge. Available for the MINI Cooper, MINI Cooper S and MINI Cooper D is on request and without extra charge the option of having roof and exterior mirror caps in contrasting colour.

The headlamps have been newly designed and are now available with daytime driving light. As an option, you can order LED headlamps including daytime driving ring with integrated direction indicator, adaptive light distribution, LED turning light and LED fog lamp. The rear lights are also optionally available in LED technology. In addition to that MINI owners can also order optional the lighting package with LED interior lights and orange-coloured ambient lighting.

The vehicle length has increased by 98 millimetres, the width by 44 millimetres and the height by 7 millimetres. The new MINI also comes with a longer wheelbase (+ 28 millimetres) and a larger track width (front + 42 millimetres, rear + 34 millimetres) as compared to the predecessor model (differential figures relate to MINI Cooper).

The length of the new MINI is now 3 821 millimetres (MINI Cooper S: 3 850 millimetres), the width is 1 727 millimetres, the height is 1 414 millimetres and the wheelbase is now 2 495 millimetres.

When you look inside the new MINI you will notice an optimized spatial comfort on all four seats. You will also notice a new seat design with larger adjustment range at front and longer seat surface at rear (+ 23 millimetres).

You will also feel and notice more shoulder room and more foot space as well as increased comfort when you sit on the rear seats. The luggage compartment volume has increased by 51 litres to 211 litres, which makes the MINI now better prepared against the other competitors in that point.

The rear backrest is foldable with 60 : 40 split and there is also an optional storage package including a luggage compartment floor which can be locked into place at varying points.

After exploring the new exterior and interior changes of the new MINI while we were still on the parking lot, it is now finally time to start the our first driving impression on the German and Austrian roads.

The first day with the MINI was quite a long one with some very fast stints on a couple of Autobahn sections with no speed-limit, as well as marvelous and picturesque country-roads with both long and short corners which were amazingly enjoyable with this road-hugging MINI, especially since the new MINI still offers the typical go-kart feeling like in the first-generation MINI.

The MINI we tested in Germany was equipped with the 2.0-litre engine producing 192hp. But this is not the only engine among the new generation of engines with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology offered in the new MINI.

There were three model variants available at the market launch back in January 2014:

- MINI Cooper with 100 kW/136 bhp 3-cylinder engine,
- MINI Cooper S with 141 kW/192 bhp 4-cylinder petrol engine
- MINI Cooper D with 3-cylinder diesel engine (85 kW/116 bhp);

The expansion of the model program also included the entry-level variants MINI One D (3-cylinder diesel engine, 70 kW/95 bhp) and the MINI One with 1.2-litre engine (3-cylinder spark-ignition engine, 75 kW/102 bhp). Meanwhile there is also the MINI Cooper SD with 2.0-litre turbo-charged diesel engine producing 170-hp.

The new MINI comes with a 6-speed manual transmission as standard and as an option offers the 6-speed automatic transmission or sports automatic transmission, which is also newly developed.

The extensive MINIMALISM technology is including an automatic engine start/stop function likewise in conjunction with automatic transmission and optional GREEN mode, which has improved driving performance figures and reduced fuel consumption. This led to the biggest efficiency advance in the MINI Cooper with automatic transmission: The acceleration from zero to 100 km/h is now 2.6 seconds faster while the average fuel consumption is now 27 per cent lower.

The 192-hp of the MINI Cooper S enable you to enjoy the acceleration at any road speed and at any rpm. The engine power is extremely addictive and you feel like you want to race and enjoy that Go-Kart feeling the whole time.

The 136-hp of the MINI Cooper are completely different. When you start the engine you hear a some-how rough and metal-like sound for a couple of seconds. But then this sounds disappears and the exhaust-sound catches your attention. As soon as you start to mingle with the other road users in the Cairo traffic you forget completely that you are driving a ‘3-cylinder’ car. The engine harmonizes extremely well with the 6-gears automatic transmission and paired with the traditional go-kart feeling it is amazingly fun to drive, even if not as fast and quick as the 192-hp MINI Cooper S !

And while the Start-Stop function worked very fine during our test-drive of the MINI Cooper S in Germany, it did not feel so smooth and ‘comfortable’ with our MINI Cooper test-car in Egypt. Probably because it was working non-stop in the horrific Cairo traffic. Therefore I preferred to keep the Start-Stop function off all the time while driving in Cairo, especially since the air-condition was turned on the whole time. But more to that in a separate review about the MINI Cooper 1.5 which we tested in Cairo, and which will be published shortly.

Back to our MINI Cooper S test-drive on the roads of Germany and Austria, where you could notice immediately the Intensification of the typical MINI go-kart feeling which apparently came through an extensively revised suspension technology, due to reduced weight and increased rigidity.

The new MINI is now equipped with a new single-joint spring strut front axle with aluminium swivel bearing and also axle supports and wishbones made of high-strength steel.

The new multilink rear axle also comes in an optimized lightweight construction and space-saving geometry, while the refined electromechanical power steering now with Servotronic comes as standard.

The live-saving Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is now standard including Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Electronic Differential Lock Control (EDLC), and in the MINI Cooper S it also includes Performance Control.

The new MINI comes with new spring and damper set-up with triple-path support bearings, whereas the Dynamic Damper Control is optionally available for the first time in a MINI.

In addition to that the MINI now has a refined brake system which is adapted to the increased driving performance. The F56 is fitted as standard with 15-inch steel rims and wheel covers (MINI One, MINI One D) as well as light alloy wheels in 15-inch (MINI Cooper, MINI Cooper D) or 16-inch format (MINI Cooper S). Light allow wheels are optionally available up to 18 inches.

One of the most important changes inside the new MINI is the new display and operating concept. Finally the instrument cluster which shows road speed and engine speed moved from the middle of the dashboard to its correct place, namely on the steering column, where it now also features a color display for vehicle status details and fuel level.

The central instrument comes with new display elements and coloured lighting configuration including LED ring for visual feedback in response to numerous operating functions, including a 4-line TFT display as standard or optional colour display up to 8.8 inches in size.

The operation of navigation, entertainment, telephone and vehicle functions can now be done through using the MINI Controller in centre console with the relevant feedback provided on the on-board computer.

The start/stop button is at the centre of the toggle switch bar on the centre console and can be activated without key insertion.

Another major improvement is that the power window lifts moved from the centre console to the door trim panels which is now less confusing. The operating panel for lights is located in the dashboard. Female MINI drivers will surely appreciate that both the driver’s and front passenger’s sun visor now both have lights, which makes checking the make-up very easy when it is dark outside.

Talking about lights and darkness, it is very difficult to search for your personal belongings on the back seats when it is dark outside because you will simply not see anything. A Light-package for the back seats would surely be a good idea for the next LCI.

The glove-compartment is air-conditioned which is really practical for the hot weather conditions in Egypt and the GCC region and there are enough cup-holders and lots of storage places inside the cabin.

Safety-wise, the new MINI can surely be considered one of the safest cars in its class in terms of both active as well as passive safety features.

Not only has the body structure been weight- and crash-optimized, but also the standard safety features include front and side airbags, side curtain airbags, 3-point automatic seat belts on all seats, with belt tensioners and belt force limiters at front, ISOFIX children's seat mounting at rear, Run Flat Indicator and partially active engine compartment lid to optimize pedestrian protection.

Especially the Run-Flat Indicator is very important in Egypt and the GCC region. If you get stranded with a flat tire in the mid-day summer-heat in Dubai or in the middle of the night on the dangerous ring-road of Cairo, then you will know what I mean.

The new MINI comes with a significantly extended range of innovative driver assistance systems, such as the MINI Head-Up-Display, the parking assistant, the rear-view camera and the Driving Assistant including camera-based active cruise control, collision and pedestrian warning with initial brake function, high beam assistant and road sign detection. You cannot really ask for more in this segment.

In addition to that the MINI company decided to offer the new MINI with extensive standard fittings and high-end options to increase comfort, the premium characteristics and the individual flair for its future customers. Those standard fittings and options include among others the rain sensor with automatic driving light control, the heated windscreen, Park Distance Control, Comfort Access, electrically operated glass roof, roof rails, electrically heated and folding exterior mirrors, interior and exterior mirrors with automatic anti-dazzle function, seat heating, 2-zone automatic air conditioning as well as a rear spoiler in John Cooper Works design.

Available is also a large selection of decorative roof and exterior mirror options, bonnet stripes, seat upholsteries, interior surfaces and Colour Lines. In addition to that future customers can also choose between the MINI navigation system, the Professional navigation system, MINI Radio Visual Boost, Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system, DAB tuner and a DVD changer.

And while the new MINI is offered in Egypt with the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine (136hp) it is offered in the Middle East with the 4-cylinder 2.0-litre engine (192hp). Those are the specs of the most important engines in the current MINI model range:

MINI Cooper S:
4-cylinder petrol engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology (turbo charging, direct injection, fully variable valve control, variable camshaft control),
capacity: 1 998 cc,
output: 141 kW/192 bhp at 4 700 – 6 000 rpm,
max. torque: 280 Nm at 1 250 – 4 750 rpm (300 Nm with overboost),
acceleration (0–100 km/h): 6.8 seconds (automatic: 6.7 seconds),
top speed: 235 km/h (233 km/h),
average fuel consumption*: 5.7 – 5.8 litres (5.2 – 5.4 litres)/100 kilometres,
CO2 emissions*: 133 – 136 g/km (122 – 125 g/km), exhaust emission standard: EU6.

MINI Cooper:
3-cylinder petrol engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology (turbo charging, direct injection, fully variable valve control, variable camshaft control),
capacity: 1 499 cc,
output: 100 kW/136 bhp at 4 500 – 6 000 rpm,
max. torque: 220 Nm at 1 250 – 4 000 rpm
(230 Nm with overboost),
acceleration (0–100 km/h): 7.9 seconds (automatic: 7.8 seconds),
top speed: 210 km/h (210 km/h),
average fuel consumption*: 4.5 – 4.6 litres (4.7 – 4.8 litres)/100 kilometres,
CO2 emissions*: 105 – 107 g/km (109 – 112 g/km).

3-cylinder petrol engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology (turbo charging, direct injection, fully variable valve control, variable camshaft control),
capacity: 1 198 cc,
output: 75 kW/102 bhp at 4 250 – 6 000 rpm,
max. torque: 180 Nm at 1 400 – 4 000 rpm
acceleration (0–100 km/h): 9.9 seconds (automatic: 10.2 seconds),
top speed: 195 km/h (195 km/h),
average fuel consumption*: 4.6 – 4.7 litres (4.8 – 4.9 litres)/100 kilometres,
CO2 emissions: 108 – 109 g/km (112 – 114 g/km).

MINI Cooper D:
3-cylinder diesel engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology (turbocharger with variable turbine geometry, common rail direct injection),
capacity: 1 496 cc,
output: 85 kW/116 bhp at 4 000 rpm,
max. torque: 270 Nm at 1 750 rpm,
acceleration (0–100 km/h): 9.2 seconds (automatic: 9.2 seconds),
top speed: 205 km/h (204 km/h),
average fuel consumption*: 3.5 – 3.6 litres (3.7 – 3.8 litres)/100 kilometres,
CO2 emissions*: 92 – 95 g/km (98 – 99 g/km), exhaust emission standard: EU6.

* Fuel consumption depends on the selected tyre format.

3-cylinder diesel engine with MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology (turbo charging with variable turbine geometry, common rail direct injection),
capacity: 1 496 cc,
output: 75 kW/95 bhp at 4 000 rpm,
max. torque: 220 Nm at 1 496 rpm
acceleration (0–100 km/h):11.0 seconds ,
top speed: 190 km/h ,
average fuel consumption*: 3.4 – 3.5 litres /100 kilometres,
CO2 emissions: 89 – 92 g/km, exhaust emission standard: EU6.

Part 1 of our first driving impression with the new MINI ends here. In Part 2 we will tell you how the new MINI performed on the second day during the MINI Driving Training on the testing circuit.

We will also tell you in Part 2 what we experienced at the MINI Driving Training and why rain and a couple of media colleagues, who were not so experienced in testing car, prohibited us from driving the MINI on the test-track while it was raining.

So after the first driving impression of the new MINI, will it be able to become a serious competitor in its segment or even a best-seller in Egypt and the Middle East?

Well, the situation in Egypt is quite different than the one in the GCC region. In the GCC region the MINI is not that expensive in relation to the purchasing power in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the UAE. So, it has very good chances to become extremely successful against the Audi A1 and the other competitors.

In Egypt, where the purchasing power is much less than in the GCC countries, it will need much more work and much more out-of-the-box marketing and communication strategies, far away from the traditional ones.

Staying away from the weekly automotive supplement of Al Ahram and Akhbar El Youm newspaper, which are extremely unprofessional and full of advertorials and paid ‘editorials’ and at the same time concentrating on other professional motoring media in the TV, radio or digital media is essential for MINI in Egypt, in order to reach its potential customers in an effective and credible way without running the risk of harming the credibility and trustworthiness of the brand through those misleading ‘weekly automotive advertorial supplements’.

Using the previous and current success of MINI in the different motorsport series such as the Dakar or the MINI Challenge is also extremely important for strengthening and underpinning the versatility, reliability and quality of the different MINI model.

And with the changes which Bavarian Auto Group chairman, Mr. Farid EL Tobgui, mentioned to me before and with the professional engagement and enthusiasm of the MINI team and Ahmed Wahid, I am confident that 2015 could be a very successful year for MINI in Egypt when those changes and new strategies would be implemented together in a professional way.

It is a pity that BMW Egypt does not offer such Driving Trainings or test-cars like MINI Egypt is currently doing, although they belong to the same Bavarian Auto Group.

And since the Bavarian Auto Group has recently enjoyed a significant improvement in the customer service & after-sales as well as in the customer-satisfaction due to the personal efforts of its chairman Mr. Farid El Tobgui in solving customer problems and further improving the reputation of the BAG, I hope that BMW Egypt can keep up with the professional media activities of the MINI Egypt team. Maybe a rotation every 3-4 years among the marketing and communication departments of the Bavarian Auto Group, just like it is the case within the BMW Group in Munich, would be very beneficial and helpful for the Bavarian Auto Group and further strengthen its position among the other German premium brands in Egypt.

Anyway, stay tuned for Part 2 as well as more MINI test-drives coming soon, including a detailed test-drive of the MINI Cooper hatchback with the new 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine which we tested in Cairo, the Paceman, the Countryman as well as their ALL4 versions and hopefully also the 4-doors MINI hatchback, which could be part of an interesting comparison with its brother, the BMW 1 series.

Munich – Cairo

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