When less is enough
It’s the most basic Mini and it comes closest to the original’s spirit
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.