The same but very different when you look closely. That pretty much sums up the redesigned 2007 Mini due to make its debut at Paris next month.

After letting a select bunch of journalists - not including just-auto - loose in some lightly disguised prototypes last month, with only dash and exterior details hidden, BMW has now revealed more on paper.

Then there'll be a full press preview before Paris and another press conference at Paris. Sigh - j-a blissfully recalls the days when one press launch was more than enough…

After five years, and little change except an extra engine (Cooper S), a mild styling update (mostly new tail lights) and the addition of the visibility-challenged-with-hood-up convertible, the Mini has remained much the same yet grown sales in all but its final year - over 800,000 shifted around the world and 200,000 in the UK alone.

The new one looks so much like its predecessor current owners can sigh in relief their car is not instantly, well, so previous generation, darling. Yet every panel is different and there are new in-house-made four-cylinder 1.6-litre petrol engines, new suspension and an all-new but little different-looking interior.

Mini claims there is more usable space for both front and rear seat occupants and owners will be able to choose from an even wider range of colours, interior specifications and options in order to personalise their car.

Engines

The new Cooper variant has a 120hp engine and  accelerates from 0-62mph (100km/h) in 9.1 seconds and a top speed of 126mph.

This engine has fully variable valve control based on the BMW group's unique Valvetronic system. This adjusts intake valve lift and opening times to meet power and performance requirements. The main advantage is that it replaces the conventional throttle butterfly on 'normal' engines to translate any movement of the throttle pedal directly into engine speed instantly.

In addition to variable control of valve lift on the intake, valve timing is also controlled on the outlet stroke. This enhances the torque curve to deliver high torque at low engine speeds and high power at high speeds.

Together these two technologies reduce fuel consumption by up to 20%. Fuel consumption in the EU test cycle is down by approximately 12.5%. The CO2 emissions on the Cooper are now 139g/km and 164g/km on the Cooper S - a reduction of 43g/km.

The Cooper S is powered by a 175bhp intercooled and turbocharged engine and covers the 0-62mph sprint in 7.1 seconds and has a top speed of 140mph.

CO2 emissions have also been reduced meaning that both models will move down two places in the UK's emissions-related 'road tax' ratings.

The Cooper S engine is a direct injection unit. Intake air is pre-compressed by a twin-scroll turbocharger with intercooler. Exhaust gases are split and forced through the exhaust ducts of two cylinders each, separated from one another in the exhaust gas manifold and the turbocharger. Response time when accelerating is virtually instantaneous.

The high performance is also enhanced by advanced valve management - four valves per cylinder being operated by two overhead camshafts. The camshaft on the intake side comes with infinitely variable valve timing to manage both engine output and torque while minimising fuel consumption and emissions. The exhaust valves are sodium-filled in order to offset the higher temperature loads typical of a turbocharged engine.

The on-demand water pump in the coolant circuit helps to reduce fuel consumption since it is only activated when the engine has reached its regular operating temperature. This helps to save fuel in the warm-up phase and the catalyst is able to reach the temperature required for optimum operation earlier.

A new One version will follow in the first half of 2007 with 95hp 1.4-litre engine. There will also be a new diesel with "the most advanced and sophisticated turbodiesel technology in its class", according to Mini.

Transmissions

Both the Cooper and Cooper S come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. As an option, a six-speed automatic transmission will become available for both models (in place of current CVT units). Paddles on the steering wheel allow the driver to change gear manually.

Suspension

As with the first generation, spring and damper settings of the Cooper S are firmer and "more dynamic" than the Cooper. As an option both models are available with an identical sports suspension set-up, comprising harder springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

The front axle is based on the MacPherson spring strut principle and features an anti-roll bar to reduce body sway to an absolute minimum. The central-arm rear axle is new to the Mini and claimed unique in this segment. Its longitudinal track control arms are made of aluminium that reduces weight by 6kg over the former model.

Electric power-assisted steering is now used and offers a choice of two different steering control maps. The standard set-up ensures a well-balanced steering response in all speed ranges. The second map is activated when the sport button is pressed and the power steering becomes even more direct. The electronic map for the accelerator is also modified by the sport button to give a more instant response.

The Cooper comes as standard with 15-inch light-alloy rims and 175/65 R 15 tyres. Run-flat tyres are standard on the Cooper S that has 16-inch light-alloy rims running on 195/65 R 16 tyres. Seventeen-inch rims running on 205/45 R Run-flat 17 tyres are available as an option on both models.

Body

Explaining the styling similarities to the old model, Mini said the design team brief was "continuity in concept, whilst modernising traditional design details and engineering features. The second generation remains immediately recognisable visually and dynamically".

The new car has grown slightly to meet future safety requirements. The cars are 60-61mm longer with more rounded contours at the rear. The round, clear-glass headlights are now fixed to the body and have been turned slightly to the outside to maintain the geometry of the car from the front. The indicators, formerly isolated in the front valance, are now housed within the main headlight units.

The radiator grille is now made up of a closed, self-contained element without the former dividing line made by the upper edge of the bumper. This design is reminiscent of the air intake scoop on the classic Mini.

The Cooper S has a 'stronger' front end due to the bonnet curving up approximately 20mm more to provide extra space for the turbocharged engine underneath and to meet pedestrian impact regulations.

The rear lights are now slightly larger and feature separate external surrounds.

On both models, vertical air flow edges on the C-pillars and individual spoilers at the rear end of the roof enhance aerodynamics - the Cooper now has a drag coefficient of 0.33. (vs 0.35).

Customisation, which most owners of the current model embraced with enthusiasm, starts with a wide range of paintwork colours. Twelve colours will be available, seven of which are new.

Cabin

Inside, the centre analogue speedo remains but adds all entertainment and (optional) navigation functions.

The centre console below is slimmer for more space in the footwells. The door lock remote fob and ignition key is now a round signal sensor. When inserted into a slot beside the steering wheel it allows the driver to press a button to start and stop the engine.

New ambient illumination included in the optional lights package is claimed to be unique in the automotive industry. The colour of the interior lights in the roof lining, the door storage compartments and grab handle recesses may be changed at any time in five stages from 'warm' orange to 'sporting' blue. This is controlled from a new panel of toggle switches in the roof lining. The toggle switches in the dash that operate the electric windows, seat heating and central locking were a real hit with current model owners and have been made larger on the new car.

A 'colour line' option allows personalisation. Colour highlights in the lower sections of the dashboard flow on into the door linings, where they are combined with the materials on the trim surfaces. This option is available in five colour shades, with the trim surfaces coming in four exclusive variants over and above the versions already standard: glossy black piano paint, dark brown grained oak, brushed aluminium, and an extra-fine gloss surface.

A set of 16 chrome-plated trim rings for the air vents, cup holders and instruments is now offered.

In the rear, previously rather cramped passengers get recessed knee cut-outs in the front seats lined with material rather than the traditional plastics.

Safety

Both models have six airbags standard while ABS anti-lock brakes, EBD electronic brake force distribution and CBC cornering brake control are also included. ASC+T automatic stability control + traction is standard on the Cooper S with driver control while DSC dynamic stability control is optional and includes hill (start) assist on manual models.

Price and build

UK on-road prices will range from £11,595 to £15,995.

The latest Mini line will again be built at Plant Oxford (nee Austin Rover large car; BL Cowley plant, Morris Motors, etc.) which is currently gearing up to increase capacity to 240,000 by 2008, more than double the planned production capacity prior to the first car coming off the line in spring 2001.

The new BMW-designed engines will be assembled at the Hams Hall plant in the English Midlands and the body panels and sub-assemblies will come from Plant Swindon (once Pressed Steel).

Graeme Roberts