Perhaps July in New Zealand isn’t the best time to launch a refreshed model. As I landed in Auckland, it was bucketing down.
We had a drive program all set to go to Taupo for a night and then back, after the initial presentations – maybe the weather in Taupo would be better.
One thing was for sure – the weather conditions would be a great test for the new Mini Hatch.
First off, Kenny Aulia, Head of MINI brand in New Zealand, gave us a breakdown of the current MINI sales. Of the three and five-door models, in 2017 43% of them were a Hatch, 39% Countryman, and 12% were the Clubman.
Some preliminary numbers for the year to June so it’s running about the same, with 46% the Hatch and 41% Countryman. According to Kenny, 10% of all Countrymans sold are plugin-electric – one in ten isn’t too bad a number.
2019 will see the global launch of plug-in electric Mini Hatch, but we have no details on the car than that.
For the 2018 MINI Hatch range, there’s a few new colours – Solaris Orange, Emerald Grey, and Electric Blue.
There’s been no changes to the engines in this model year, but gearboxes have been upgraded across the range, with the Hatch and Cooper S now getting a 7-speed DCT automatic instead of 6-speed, and the John Cooper Works (JCW) model now an 8-speed. There’s also a new gear lever for all models, looking suspiciously like a BMW unit.
On the outside of the car, there’s a new headlight design, some piano black trim instead of chrome, and newly designed rear taillights. If you are keen on the ‘Union Jack’ taillights, these are still available on certain models.
On the inside, there’s now a 6.5” touchscreen as standard, and SatNav is also standard. Finally a reversing camera is standard equipment.
Certain models and option packs will come with the new ‘MINI Connected’ system, which features Wireless Apple CarPlay via BlueTooth for your iPhone. MINI Connected uses a 4G SIM card for data: there’s no plan costs yet, but it will last for 3 years from new. Pricing plans for data after the first 3 years will come later.
MINI Connected includes:
- Real Time Traffic info
- A MINI Connected App
- Intelligent e-call – which can make an emergency call on your behalf after a crash (for example)
- News and weather
MINI are claiming a significant increase in customer value with the new model. While the prices are going up slightly, the new standard equipment should more than make up for this.
- MINI Cooper was $35,550, now $35,990
- MINI Cooper S was $43,700, now $44,500
- MINI JCW was $54,500, now $54,900
These are prices for a 3-door manual. You need to add a $1500 premium for 5-door model and another $3k for an automatic gearbox.
Typical Auckland weather, it was sunny when we left MINI/BMW HQ 90 minutes later. My co-driver and I grabbed a 3-door Cooper S Hatch in Solaris Orange, one of the new colours. It sure stands out! Does look good though, and certainly suits the MINI shape and probably the buyer demographic too.
Unfortunately all four cars on this drive are automatic, this 3-door hatch now fitted with a 7-speed auto. I got in the passenger’s side so I could see what it was like without driving it. We hit the motorway in a couple of minutes so I sat back and checked out the interior. So similar to the previous model, it was hard to see any major differences.
This first car was optioned with a panoramic sunroof which helped lighten up the cabin heaps, The other options included some bonnet stripes and the auto transmission, and this moves the base price to $44,500.
This car is fitted with the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, putting out 141kW of power and a decent 280Nm of torque.
I had a play with the new (standard across the range) 6.5” touchscreen, and it’s a breeze to use, with good clarity. There’s a very BMWish central controller for it all, or of course use the touchscreen. I had a play with the MINI Connected system, which is also very similar to the BMW Connected Drive, with options to show the weather or news etc.
The handbrake in this model is an old-school manual one, and that’s fine. One thing that really stood out in this car was the tyre noise. With 17” rims and Hankook 205/45 profile tyres, tyre noise was quite dominating, especially on coarse chip seal.
We changed over so I could have a drive, and it all come back to me: MINIs are fun to drive, even the base model automatic. There is something about them that makes you want to push them along. The ride is more than acceptable, bordering on excellent in my view. The new transmission is super-smooth, and is perfectly matched with the car. Silky smooth changes at just the right times.
A few full-throttle passes got the exhaust doing little barks on the upshift, and this was in ‘Mid’ (normal) mode. In this 3-door body, that 2.0-litre is a good match.
Car Two: John Cooper Works Clubman
We stopped for lunch in Whatawhata, and then moved into our second car that would take us to Taupo. While this launch is for the MINI Hatch, MINI NZ have got us also driving the Clubman and Countryman just to remind us what they are like. We could hardly refuse a blast in the JCW Clubman. The Countryman and the Clubman are unchanged at this stage. Some of the new features of the MINI Hatch will flow down to these models at a later date.
Our JCW Clubman was the ALL4 model, so AWD, and our car was fitted with $2K in options to bring it up to $71,200. Finished in British Racing Green, it looks superb. It also sounds superb, with crackling and popping out the exhaust on the upshift and downshift. Yum.
I went passenger first again, and again tyre noise was the most dominating thing. I don’t recall this from previous MINIs, so wondering if there’s been a tyre change along the way. This JCW has 19” rims with runflat tyres. The interior is still similar to the Hatch but with more piano black trim and obviously more goodies. It’s dark in here though, with no sunroof and black headlining.
I searched for the seat heaters, but unfortunately even at $71,000 these are an extra cost option.
We stopped at Waipapa Dam for a few pics, then I took the wheel for one of my favorite roads in the country, which runs from the dam to Mangakino. I used to live around here so know this road very well. The last time I had been on it was on the BMW X3 launch, when I drove an X3 M40i on this road, and it impressed me then for the size of that car.
I was expecting the JCW to be that much better than the X3, and it didn’t disappoint. Even with the almost torrential rain at times, the JCW stuck like something to a blanket, the exhaust popping and snarling as I used the paddles to move it up and down gears, sticking between second and third. This road has some excellent corners, and sometimes the radius decreases as you go around them – a perfect place to test out a car that was designed for this sort of road.
The JCW pretty much nailed it, even though I was going a bit slower than I normally would due to the weather. It sat almost flat on every bend, with steering feel in Sport mode giving much more feedback than in ‘Mid’ mode.
Car Three: MINI Cooper Hatch
We overnighted in Taupo, the next morning hitting the road to Paeroa for lunch. This time, we got into a 5-door MINI Hatch, with the 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder engine. I called shotgun for the first half of this leg, and it was all a bit déjà vu from the 3-door model. Looking in the rear of the 5-door, there’s not a lot of room for passengers’ legs in there.
The base cost of this model is $37K, but our car had $5K in options to push it to $43K. This included the new colour, Emerald Grey. We all know about my feelings re grey or silver cars, so I’ll say no more. The 3-cylinder cars are fitted with 16” rims and runflat tyres, and tyre noise was obviously less. Still a decent amount of road noise, but tyre noise was diminished.
Around halfway, I jumped into the driver’s seat to give the Cooper a drive on some back roads. Man, that engine is a gem. Quiet, smooth, torquey. It’s one of those engines where you wonder if you need anything more than this. Impressive piece of engineering. I wonder though how it would go with 4 people on board, but it went beautifully two-up.
All the way from Taupo, it poured down – torrential at times. The FWD Hatch was excellent and took the weather in its stride – it was hard to pick this as a front wheel-drive car at all, and there was no hint of a lack of traction against the ALL4 models. Sure, we didn’t push it as hard, but it was still very good.
Overall handing too was a delight, the car sits nicely on the corners and it’s a doddle to line it up through the S bends.
We stopped at Paeroa for some lunch at the L&P Café – including those who had L&P-flavoured batter on their fish. None of us were keen to try out the L&P-flavoured Hollandaise sauce though.
Car Four: MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4
For our last 2-hour run through to Auckland Airport, we got the only car we hadn’t been in – an AWD Countryman. Driving this car reminded me just how big it is. A nice drive for sure, but large. This car is fitted with the same 2.0-litre engine as the 3-door hatch, and you could feel that the performance was a bit more subdued with that extra weight. It’s not underpowered, but it doesn’t have the same get-up-and-go as the hatch. To be expected though, and the Countryman is still a very practical car.
Tyre noise on this one was better too than the others. Still lots of road noise however. This is an area MINI needs to work on – other manufacturers have it all over them on this front.
This Countryman did have optional seat heaters, and they were welcomed.
The base price on this car is $61,890 and ours had $7K in options to bring it to $69,000.
Sorry people, there can’t be one. At least, not until we get a new MINI Hatch for a week-long test, then we can tell you what it’s really like.
First impressions are that it’s still a fun car, has some nice equipment that is now standard, and has a little too much tyre and road noise.
But we’ll leave any more comments until we’ve lived with one.