As a result the interior package will be very similar to the current car’s, with detail changes to components like seats and interior trim squeezing an extra few millimetres of leg, head and shoulder room.
The overall feeling of the cabin will still be a cosy, sporty environment, with design themes such as the central speedo remaining. Interior plastics will be of a much higher grade, however. The windscreen will also stay upright and relatively close to the driver. After exploring new styling directions, including a taller, more conventional supermini-type package, Mini has decided to keep the exterior close to today’s model.
The bonnet line will be higher to incorporate better pedestrian protection, shielding the windscreen wipers below the bonnet line, and also to smooth airflow over the windscreen. The headlights will remain as single, round units. Rumours of a twin-headlight design are dismissed by company insiders as ‘too much like Mercedes-Benz’. The bonnet design itself has been changed. In place of today’s clamshell, which is expensive to make, could be a conventional bonnet with split lines between the headlights and grille – a nod to the original Issigonis Mini.
The front grille has also been redesigned, as can be seen on the prototype pictured overleaf. Deeper and slightly narrower than today’s grille, the three-bar design is a more prominent feature of the face of the new Mini. The shape of the grille is also closer to the original car’s. Significantly, it is more upright than today’s design, to comply with forthcoming pedestrian-impact laws.
Under the main grille, the lower air intake is considerably bigger than today’s car’s. That’s because the new Cooper and Cooper S will be powered by turbocharged engines and their intercooler is located low down at the front of the car.
The car pictured in our scoop photos (right) has to mimic the exact shape of the new Mini’s nose, because it is testing the new P105 version of the family of engines co-developed with Peugeot and Citroën. These engines will transform the Mini, whose main weakness has been its gruff, iron-block single-cam engine, developed in the late 1990s for BMW by Chrysler.
‘We’re confident that we have a very smooth, strong-performing engine with good economy. This is a very good engine,’ said Erich Sonntag, BMW’s project manager for the new engine.
The new Mini will again be offered with a choice of three 1.6-litre engines, with the entry-level One and best-selling Cooper each getting a worthwhile boost in power. The One will produce 115bhp and 117lb ft of torque (up from 89 and 103), the Cooper 143bhp and 176lb ft of torque (up from 113 and 110), and the Cooper S 168bhp (the same as today’s offering). No torque figure is available yet for the S. The One’s 1.6-litre unit will be naturally aspirated, while both Cooper and Cooper S will get turbochargers.
But also under consideration is a plan to add a second, lower-powered Cooper model, powered by the non-turbo One engine. Fitting between the One and Cooper, it could allow Mini to increase prices for the high-output Cooper and S and fill the gap with a more affordable second Cooper model. Since the new Mini will keep roughly the same dimensions as the current car, its weight is tipped to stay approximately the same, too, at around 1100kg depending on version. With the new One equalling today’s Cooper in power output, the entry-level Mini should get a reasonable hike in performance as a result, matching today’s Cooper with 0-60mph in 9.0sec (the current car manages only a rather sluggish 11.0sec).
But the performance of the next Cooper promises the biggest improvement. With 143bhp on tap — a 28bhp increase — it should be capable of 0-60mph in 8.5sec. That’s a big gain over today’s car’s 9.8sec.
The extra performance will be most noticeable on the move. With a massive increase of 66lb ft of torque, the new Cooper will offer as much torque at 2500rpm as today’s car does at its 4500rpm peak. As a result, in-gear acceleration promises to be hugely improved in the new Cooper. The Cooper S should retain the same performance as today’s car.
Key features of the new engines are much better fuel economy and emissions, which will help Mini parent BMW hit the car industry’s tough voluntary target of reducing average C02 emissions for all its cars to 140g/km by 2008.
The new engines are said to be 10 per cent more efficient, suggesting combined fuel economy figures of 43mpg, 42mpg and 35mpg for the One, Cooper and S respectively. But the biggest news for hot hatch fans will be the Cooper S Works, which is again part of the product plan.
With a turbo replacing a supercharger in the S, the tuning potential will only be limited by concerns of reliability. Today’s Works makes 210bhp, but in future that should rise to as much as 230bhp. BMW technicians and Cooper Garages are already working on the project.
With the launch still over two years away, possibly following a first showing at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show, prices are unconfirmed, but a One is likely to start at around £11,000, a low-power Cooper around £12,500, the high-power version £14,000 and the S £16,000.
There’s still a long way to go until the Mini is replaced, but it’s already shaping up to be a major event in 2007.