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The most affordable model of the iconic Mini range is perky and fun to drive, but a long list of desirable options come at a hefty price.
Report: Ernest Litera.
BMW’s Mini and Ford’s Mustang have proven to be the most successful modern interpretations of iconic vehicle models. Employing fundamental design DNA and classic styling cues from their ground-breaking forebears, they have best managed to recapture historic individuality and excitement, albeit underpinned by today’s advanced engineering, safety and efficiency.
For Mini, a range including convertible, five-door and barn-door Countryman models offers diversification, yet the original three-door Cooper and Cooper S remain the marque’s most aesthetically and emotionally appealing.
Despite the historic significance and attraction of the Cooper S model, the entry-level three-door Cooper remains the top-selling version and we requested the $29,990 (plus on-road costs) six-speed manual to fully immerse ourselves in the driving dynamics. BMW, however, chose to supply the seven-speed dual-clutch auto-equipped version, adding $2500, and then delved deeply into option kits, adding more than $15,000 to our test car – now $47,450 before registration.
Individuality is key to the Mini, which follows the spacious, cube-like cabin architecture of the original – only now, it’s physically as large as many small cars. Reinforcing its emotive difference is a busy cockpit and a dashboard bristling with retro-styled gauges and classic rocker switches, effectively fronting a full suite of modern interactive electronics.
Press the starter button and there’s a sense of awakening provided by the $2200 Multimedia Pro package, including voice activation, glowing colours circling the 8.8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, 12-speaker audio and an elegantly rising head-up display.
It’s a distinctive but also very tactile environment for drivers, in this case with added comfort from the $1700 leather-trimmed sports seats. There is, however, decidedly awkward lumbar adjustment for both of the manual front seats, an obstructive centre armrest, and a clamber to access the rear seat. Surprisingly, four adults can sit comfortably once they’ve climbed in, with a small amount of luggage space available in the rear. Access to the front seats is notably easy, and vision on the road is excellent, although near-vertical windscreen pillars take some getting used to.
Heated seats, electric glass sunroof and window tinting are added in the $2300 Climate package. The convenience of park assist with front and rear distance sensors, plus electric anti-dazzle mirrors, alarm and concierge services will set you back a further $2100.
There’s space for two child seats with convenient anchor points, ISOFIX mountings, and folding the rear seats liberates a decent load space. The Mini doesn’t carry a spare wheel, relying instead on Pirelli run-flat tyres, in this case mounted on $700 light alloy 17-inch wheels.
They deliver a firm hit over small bumps, and while the ride quality is also quite firm, it’s generally well insulated on all but the worst roads. The Mini’s inherent liveliness around town and cornering agility on twisting country roads remain unchanged thanks to the squat, wheel-at-each-corner stance. Unfortunately, electric power-steering feel in the straight-ahead position has lost some sensitivity.
There’s serious get-up-and-go combined with pleasing dynamic qualities.
Performance is always sprightly and entertaining in the Cooper via a turbocharged 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine producing a decent 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque. There’s an unfamiliar three-cylinder pulse at idle and an unpleasant-to-use stop/start function, which thankfully can be turned off.
The six-speed manual transmission is standard, but the optional seven-speed dual-clutch auto proved notably adept. Take-off is dulled slightly by the automatic’s dual-clutch engagement and slow-spinning turbo; but on the move, there’s serious get-up-and-go combined with pleasing dynamic qualities thanks to excellent mid-range turbo and throttle response. Acceleration of 0 to 100kmh in 9.0 seconds and 0 to 400 metres in 16.6 seconds is impressive.
There’s a curious mix of selectable driving modes and vital safety features rolled in with comfort accessories in the costly $4500 Chili pack. It means the desirable safety feature of forward collision warning with autonomous braking is packaged with dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, LED lighting, clear indicator lenses and the Mini Excitement package. Without the Chili pack’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB), the standard Mini Cooper would not achieve a five-star ANCAP safety score. Our fuel economy over the week-long test averaged 6.2L/100km and on an easy run we matched the 5.3L/100km government figure.
The Mini range comes with BMW’s conservative three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and drivers are alerted to servicing needs via a driving condition monitor.
While build quality and finish are pleasing despite plenty of retro plastic fittings, there is an inordinate cost to making your Mini look and feel this good. Bonnet stripes in black cost $200, chrome line interior $300, sports leather steering wheel $350, malt brown trim $250, illuminated interior in piano black $450, and so on.
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