mini 1

What is it? Grown up at last.

What’s in it? A 141-kilowatt two-litre four-cylinder with a six speed auto.

Is it thirsty? I used 8.0 litres per 100 km in the city, 6.8 in the country. The official combined figure is 5.5.

Drive away $41,513.

Thumbs up A high fun factor and a great personality.

Thumbs down It’s still expensive, and new run-flat tyres cost $329 each.

The first Mini I drove, one of the originals of last century, was scary. I couldn’t believe the engine noise which underlined the fact that there was precious little between that engine and me. The doors were thin and clanged loudly, the steering column looked like a spear pointed right at my chest.

I felt far safer in the second Mini I drove, at the launch of the retro models in 2001, but there were still too many compromises for me. No rear seat space at all, a speedo that was hard to read despite being the size of a dinner plate and a weird driving position. It was a heap of fun but given the price, well, I couldn’t see it as a proposition.

mini 2The new model changes all that. The comfort is up, the prices are down. It took 55 years, but the Mini finally feels like a proper car. And you can now have one for less than $31,000, or a couple of grand less than that 2001 model. The engine is more powerful but has gone from four cylinders to three and there’s more space inside, especially in the clever cargo area. But rear seat legroom is still abysmal.

Don’t fret though, there’s still plenty of ways to spend money. Auto adds around $2500 and the Cooper S tested here was fitted with 11 options (totalling $4270) from a list of 45 to take its price fractionally south of $50k. But at least the Mini is now a proper car.

The one I drove was on run-flat tyres which have a particularly rigid sidewall, and along with sports suspension they made the ride hard and sharply defined. But oh, the handling. This thing changes direction like a surfboard at Bells Beach, indeed you must re-assess your expectations because what is quick in most cars is a doddle in a Cooper S. There’s lots of power too, it’s quick off the line and maintains unbroken enthusiasm through all six gears.

Most importantly there’s refinement. The cabin has the quietness of a luxury car, the equipment levels are good, the seating is excellent (let’s not speak of the rear seat) and the now clearly defined speedometer is directly ahead of the driver.

The Mini is still just as rewarding to drive but the compromises on comfort are now gone. You may not get much metal for the money, but you get heaps of fun.

Published October 2014



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