When less is enough

It’s the most ba­sic Mini and it comes clos­est to the orig­i­nal’s spirit

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@carsguide.com.au

THE orig­i­nal Mini was min­i­mal­ist — a rugged body, buzzy en­gine and cramped seat­ing for four adults. It was de­signed to pro­vide minia­ture mo­bil­ity and spawned the trans­versely mounted fron­twheel drive setup that now pro­pels most cars on the road.

It was also cheap. That can’t be said of the mod­ern ver­sions but with a new gen­er­a­tion to ar­rive in Aus­tralia in late March or April, BMW has tweaked the prices of its ex­ist­ing stock.

In terms of value and phi­los­o­phy, the en­try level Mini Ray is the clos­est mod­ern in­car­na­tion of Sir Alec Is­sigo­nis’s orig­i­nal vi­sion.

VALUE

Mini pric­ing can be looked at in two ways. It is ei­ther an ex­pen­sive small car or the cheap­est way to get BMW build qual­ity and en­gag­ing dy­nam­ics. Those who opt for the for­mer view aren’t prospec­tive Mini buy­ers in any case and will wind up in an Asian ve­hi­cle with more space and prac­ti­cal­ity.

Sub­scribers to the lat­ter view will opine that $25,600 is a cheap en­tree to Euro qual­ity and the kart-like han­dling for which the brand is fa­mous. The six-speed auto adds $2350.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The 1.6-litre four-cylin­der en­gine has been soft­ened from Mini Cooper tune to im­prove fuel econ­omy. The re­sult is a diesel-ri­valling of­fi­cial fuel use of 5.4L/100km. Opt­ing for the auto up fuel econ­omy by 1.3L/100km and adds 1.8 sec­onds to the 100km/h sprint.

Shift your own cogs and the time is 10.5 sec­onds. That’s not scin­til­lat­ing but straight-line per­for­mance isn’t the Mini’s pre­serve — JCW vari­ants ex­cepted. The Ray, as in all Mini hatches, hangs on around cor­ners like a tod­dler cling­ing to its par­ent’s neck and is just as hard to shake loose.

DE­SIGN

Rear space is larger but the back isn’t some­where any­one will want to sit for longer than a trip to the lo­cal — like­wise the boot is a ves­ti­gial ap­pendage rather than a prac­ti­cal as­set and will take three or four shop­ping bags or one suit­case.

Prac­ti­cal­ity isn’t high on the Mini agenda — it’s a make-do kind of car.

The in­te­rior is pseudo-retro. There’s a big ana­log speedo in the cen­tre of the dash that ab­so­lutely no one uses but looks cool. Ev­ery adult Carsguide put in the car made do with the small dig­i­tal dis­play in the tacho.

The switchgear, though tac­tile, takes some get­ting used to. Big chrome switches set into the roof or mounted at the base of the cen­tre con­sole op­er­ate ev­ery­thing from the win­dows to the in­te­rior read­ing lights.

SAFETY

Five stars and six airbags pro­vide re­as­sur­ance be­yond the dy­nam­ics and build qual­ity. ANCAP notes the Mini earns 13.02 out of 16 in the off­set crash test and “pro­tec­tion from se­ri­ous leg in­jury was mar­ginal for the driver”. That’s be­cause there isn’t a lot of frontal area to crum­ple. Own­ers will need to do some­thing spec­tac­u­larly stupid to throw it off the road, though.

DRIV­ING

Light weight and a multi-link rear sus­pen­sion make this a supremely con­fi­dent cor­ner­carver. What the Ray lacks in ac­cel­er­a­tion, it atones for with grip and poise.

The steer­ing isn’t ra­zor sharp, which helps around town, but is weighted to per­fec­tion and never want­ing for feed­back to the driver.

The brakes aren’t fe­ro­cious — they don’t need to be — but re­sist fade and have more than enough bite to pull the light­weight car back into line.

The en­gine hap­pily revs to the red-line or trun­dles around shop­ping cen­tres and the Ray’s diminu­tive size makes park­ing akin to slot­ting in a Match­box car.

And the Mini hatch is one of very few cars where there’s no doubt­ing where the bumpers are, which makes a rear vi­sion cam­era — or park­ing sen­sors — thank­fully re­dun­dant.

VERDICT

Laugh as the luridly ac­cen­tu­ated Mini Ray cruises past but be aware it will wipe the smile from your dial through the twisties, es­pe­cially down­hill. It might lack the hum­ble price of the orig­i­nal but the Ray is true to the Mini ethos in all other as­pects.

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