What The Heck Are You Thinking, MINI?

Every decade has a different flavor when it comes to hot hatches. In the 1980s, they were especially popular. Peugeots, Ford, VWs and Opels… you name it. Back then it was all about having a light car that was cheap to buy. Things sort of festered and oozed along for a while until about 2004 or so, when the market reached the mature-puberty phase. Many of you probably remember the "WOW" factor of having a 2.5-liter turbo Focus RS or a crazy V6 with chrome pipes in the Alfa 147 GTA. Round about that time, MINI also came out with the supercharged Cooper S, a car which set your pants on fire.
When I think of those cars, I tend to imagine them as a bit too zealous with their bench presses, too eager to take steroids. Like muscly bodyguards unable to get through a door, they had torquesteer and were unable to corner.

I think 2013 is the year this market graduated college. Refinement, quality, efficiency and flexibility are the words of the day.

While the C-segment continues to set new benchmarks, the B-segment hot cars are charging up the flanks. Joining the Polo GTI, Ford's peppy Fiesta ST and Renault's complex new Clio RS 200 EDC have managed to set new benchmarks with really small yet potent turbo engines.

A clear trend for downsizing or hybridization is forming. Peugeot seems to want to push 1.6-liter turbo technology the furthest. They have announced a 270 PS unit which is going into the RCZ R and maybe the 308 R. This almost gives them top bragging rights, since their engine comes close matches the A45 AMG's for specific output.

Wow, what a technology battle! But wait, what's MINI, the first company to offer a forced 1.6-liter B car, doing? Nothing good.

Last week, they announced two all-new engines going into the third generation hatchbacks. One is a 1.5-liter three-cylinder, the other a 2-liter, but both featuring TwinPower Turbo technology and both burning petrol. The 1.5 offers 136 PS / 134 bhp, the 2.0 boasts 192 PS / 188 bhp, which to me sounds like a "Cooper" and "Cooper S".

Instead of surfing a giant wave of exploding dinosaur juice for outright victory, MINI is going to offer us a diluted car that uses the worst of BMW's technology… again.

For a good few years, I've noticed that BMW just doesn't let its little brother play with its best toys. The auto gearboxes they have are slow, the 4All isn't as good as it could be and there's this palpable lack of much-needed technology in the cabin. It's almost as if BMW doesn't want MINI to be good at anything other than design.

Needless to say, my biggest problem is with the 2-liter engine, which first of all is an insult to the "Mini" name, and secondly sounds totally underpowered on paper. Kia has a more powerful 1.6-liter turbo, so does Ford, so does Renault, and Peugeot, and Citroen, and Opel… heck, so does a John Cooper Works. And let's not forget, 2-liter engines make 200 hp without the need for turbos.

I'm sure the new Cooper S will be faster than the old one, that it will be more economical and refined, but it's just so painfully obvious they are intentionally screwing us that I just can't forgive them for it.

Remember, 2013 is a hot hatch battlefield. To me, it just looks like BMW has sent out some cannon fodder, some quite ugly cannon fodder in fact.

I know we've only seen the new MINI Cooper S in sneaky spy photos, but almost everybody seems to agree it's not a particularly nice car, not considering the premiums you have to pay.

The Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS are both impressive in their own way. One is very cheap and the other just piles on gizmos and gimmicks for days. The rear diffuser on the French car is longer than my forearm, definitely not a fake.

I know what you're thinking: "oh, but a MINI is as posh as Starbucks". For once, I agree with you, but does it have all-LED headlights like a cheap-ish SEAT Leon SC? Will it have 4G internet like the Audi A3? Is adaptive suspension standard (adjustable damper availability has been confirmed)? That's what I want to know.

It doesn't really matter what I think of MINI's plan, but if they're wrong here, the reputation of one big name in small cars will be tarnished for good.
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
Mihnea Radu profile photo

Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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