Mondo MINI

Big­ger and more re­fined, but the new Five-Door still feels small and play­ful

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS -

HEN­LEY-ON-THAMES, U.K. – The ter­race at Faw­ley Court, a grand manor built in the 1600s and once oc­cu­pied by Wil­liam of Orange, over­looks top­i­ary gar­dens and a deer park that once stretched all the way to Hen­ley vil­lage. It’s easy to pic­ture the lords and ladies who once min­gled on the sweep­ing stair­ways framed by sculpted balustrades, cham­ber mu­sic float­ing across the or­na­men­tal ponds and for­mal gar­dens.

How­ever, the cheeky lit­tle cars lined up on the ter­race dis­patch those ro­man­tic ghosts rather quickly. All dressed in Union Jack liv­ery, they span gen­er­a­tions of Minis from the 1960s orig­i­nal, to the lat­est — a five-door ver­sion of the Cooper hatch that is the three­mil­lionth “New Mini” to roll off the pro­duc­tion line since 2001.

When Sir Alex Is­sigo­nis stuffed the first trans­verse en­gine be­tween the front wheels of a tiny new Bri­tish car in 1959, he also turned the au­to­mo­tive world on its axis. The Mini was not only a rag­ing suc­cess, it com­pletely rev­o­lu­tion­ized car en­gi­neer­ing con­ven­tions. De­sign­ers were no longer con­fined by the tra­di­tional long hood, nor to make al­lowance for trans­mis­sion tun­nels pro­trud­ing into pre­cious cabin space. Thus, a new gen­er­a­tion of small, front-wheel-drive cars was born.

Sir Alec was knighted in recog­ni­tion of his ge­nius, and lived long enough to see the Mini sell more than five mil­lion units.

While the orig­i­nal was born out of ne­ces­sity, launched dur­ing a time of fuel cri­sis and the need for com­pact yet ef­fi­cient trans­port, its suc­ces­sor, un­veiled by BMW in 2001, had a more ex­clu­sive ap­peal. While the new Mini’s char­ac­ter­is­tic cute­ness paid trib­ute to the orig­i­nal, un­der its skin it was es­sen­tially a BMW.

The new Mini has its pas­sion­ate devo­tees, but it has also earned plenty of crit­i­cism over the years for sub-par in­te­rior qual­ity de­spite its pre­mium price. While var­i­ous it­er­a­tions and sizes of Minis have since ap­peared, some of which clearly an­swered cus­tomer’s needs, oth­ers of which are fad­ing qui­etly into obliv­ion, the new Mini Five-Door fi­nally boasts a cock­pit wor­thy of its BMW parent­age.

The Cooper Hatch has been a fab­u­lous suc­cess, but its char­ac­ter­is­tic three-door con­fig­u­ra­tion has also proved lim­it­ing, in a seg­ment dom­i­nated by five-door ve­hi­cles.

The Coun­try­man, which sells well here in Canada, is not only much larger, but will only be avail­able as an all-wheel-drive crossover in the near fu­ture. Buy­ers crav­ing the Mini’s leg­endary go-kart-like han­dling were ei­ther forced to en­dure the cramped con­fines of the ex­ist­ing hatch or shop else­where, opt­ing for a Ford Fi­esta or VW Golf.

With the Five-door, Mini hopes to lure back those cus­tomers with prac­ti­cal­ity and ex­tra room. What’s more, while pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tions such as the Pace­man or Coupe were in­con­gru­ously awk­ward, the new­est car man­ages to look like a Mini.

The Mini Five-door is 161 mil­lime­tres longer than the hatch, which gives it 72 mm of ex­tra legroom, and 15 mm of added head­room. Ex­ter­nally, it’s only marginally wider than the two-door model, but the en­gi­neers have man­aged to carve out an ex­tra 61 mm of in­te­rior el­bow width. Cargo space in­creases by 67 litres to 278 L, or 941 L with the rear seats folded flat.

While the in­te­rior still main­tains the whim­si­cal play­ful character of its brand­ing, it’s light years ahead in de­sign and qual­ity. The sig­na­ture gi­gan­tic round graphic in­ter­face re­mains, but the speedo has been re­lo­cated to the more er­gonom­i­cally friendly gauge pod and the win­dow con­trols are on the arm rests where you’d ex­pect them to be.

Switchgear feels BMW-solid and well crafted, and up­hol­stery in our Cooper S test car is high-qual­ity leather, while base mod­els are fab­ric. There are the fun touches we’d ex­pect from a Mini: se­lect­ing Sport mode not only quick­ens the throt­tle re­sponse, but the speedo’s outer ring glows red, and the graphic dis­play reads Max­i­mum Go-Kart Feel. The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, con­trolled by a tog­gle taken di­rectly from the BMW parts bin, in­cludes all the req­ui­site con­nec­tiv­ity apps, in­clud­ing, un­for­tu­nately, Twit­ter and Face­book. And that’s all I’m go­ing to say about that.

There are sev­eral choices of colours and ma­te­ri­als avail­able, and the “Mini Yours” pro­gram of­fers myr­iad ad­di­tional cus­tomiza­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties.

It’s a com­fort­able and rel­a­tively roomy en­vi­ron­ment, although the company’s claims that the rear will seat three is a bit am­bi­tious. Two, cer­tainly, as long as they’re not large peo­ple.

We drove both Cooper S and SD (Diesel) vari­a­tions of the lat­est Mini, over some pas­toral routes be­tween Hen­ley and Ox­ford. There’s lit­tle room for er­ror on those nar­row roads, as most of them are bor­dered by tow­er­ing hedges and have ab­so­lutely no shoul­ders. From the wrong side of the car, while “lor­ries” whizzed past dis­con­cert­ingly mere inches from my right shoul­der, I ac­tu­ally gave silent thanks that all of the avail­able press cars were au­to­matic.

While there are six en­gines avail­able for a va­ri­ety of mar­kets, Cana­dian-spec cars will be limited to a pair of twin-scroll turbo-pow­ered gaso­line en­gines: a 1.5-L three-cylin­der pro­duc­ing 134 horse­power and 162 pound­feet of torque, and a 2.0-L four-cylin­der with 189 hp and 207 lb ft. They’re avail­able with ei­ther a six-speed au­to­matic with start/stop tech­nol­ogy or a six-speed man­ual.

On the road, the Five-Door Cooper S ex­hibits the same romp­ing play­ful­ness that’s made the hatch such a favourite. It doesn’t feel small, but gives the im­pres­sion that it’s a more solid and sub­stan­tial pre­mium car.

Over rough, cob­bled city streets, and pock­marked coun­try roads, the sus­pen­sion de­liv­ered a sup­ple and con­trolled ride while in reg­u­lar Com­fort mode. Switch­ing the Dy­namic Damper con­trols to Sport firms up the han­dling con­sid­er­ably. One thing that is no­tice­ably ab­sent is the typ­i­cal rat­tling we’ve come to ex­pect from pre­vi­ous Minis. The in­te­rior is put to­gether well and is free of squeaks, noise, and rat­tles.

After a full day of driv­ing in mostly busy traf­fic con­di­tions, we av­er­aged 9 litres per 100 km in the Cooper S, and 6.2 L/100 km in the Cooper SD. Un­for­tu­nately, there are no plans to bring the diesel Mini to Canada.

The Five-door Mini ar­rives here in late 2014, priced to start at $22,240 for the three­cylin­der Cooper Five-door, and $26,740 for the four-cylin­der Cooper S.

PHO­TOS BY LES­LEY WIM­BUSH / POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

The all-new 2015 Mini Cooper S Five-Door was de­signed for driv­ers want­ing the go-kart ap­peal of a Mini, but re­quir­ing some ad­di­tional pas­sen­ger and cargo room.

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