Built for the young at heart
BRIAN BASSETT leaves the herd behind by putting foot in the latest version of a motoring icon
WHEN Sir Alec Issigonis sketched his initial idea for the Mini on the back of a tablecloth in 1956, his revolutionary compact design was a perfect response to a world in turmoil.
The car was a huge success. By the time John Cooper completed production in 2000 and the brand went to BMW, over 4,5 million had been produced.
It is described as the most brilliant motoring package in history and was voted the second most influential car in the 20th century after the Model T Ford. For allowing us to spend a week with the Mini Cooper S Hatch we are grateful to Ian Grieg, sales manager at SMG Rocks in Umhlanga.
The Mini Cooper S Hatch is still the basic box shape with wheels at the corners, but the original proportions have been reinterpreted and are now irresistibly eye-catching, effortlessly contemporary and well built. The sloping bonnet ends in a front grill with big air intakes and is flanked by LED headlight modules and fog lamps built into the front bumper.
The electric side mirrors are colour coded and, at the sides, deep creases break the scale of the metal and lead the eye to the rear tailgate, which is dominated by large tail light modules and centrally-placed double exhaust outlets flanked by rear fog lamps, while a centrally placed Mini badge on a black background reinforces the car’s overall identity.
The design is finished off with chrome door handles and petrol cap and 18-inch chrome spoke silver alloys — no problem finding this car in a parking lot.
The Mini is easy to access and not as low as it appears. The interior is pure theatre. The speedometer and half-moon shaped rev counter are in front of the driver, flanked by a petrol gauge which consists of a series of stepped orange lights. The centre of the dash is occupied by the Mini Centre Instrument with its 22,4 cm display screen, surrounded by an LED lighting panel which tells you which driving mode you are in.
The screen handles driving information and the radio/CD/ AUX/iPod, as well as the huge range of BMW connect services with supporting Apps and GPS, providing of course you have these extras on the car. A large knob and buttons between the passengers operates all the functions.
The shift gate has a surrounding ring which allows you to change driving modes and sport mode alters the car’s character.
The controls are framed by a three-spoke, leather-covered multifunction, fully adjustable steering wheel which handles the multi-speaker Harman-Kardon radio, as well as speed control and telephone functions, while the centrally-placed, leather-covered gear lever is tactile and enjoyable. The rear seats will take two adults for short distances only.
The front seats themselves are fully adjustable sport seats covered in durable cloth, with a leather option. The boot offers 211 litres of space with rear seats in place and 731 litres with the rear seats folded in 60:40 fashion.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
The Mini has a 4 star NCAP rating and offers the entire range of safety features you would expect fro m a BMW from ABS with EBD to child seat anchors, a whole range of driver assists and traffic driving aids; and of course the usual seat belts. There is also an onboard security and alarm system and keyless entry.
The Mini Cooper S Hatch is essentially a Go-Kart made to look respectable with some fine design.
The four-cylinder, two-litre engine delivers 141 kW and 300 Nm and in a car the size of a shoe, this makes for exciting driving.
The needle goes to 100 km/h in about 6,8 seconds while top speed is around 235 km/h. A sixspeed gearbox, a short, rigid chassis supported by direct, responsive steering, delivering immediate feedback makes superb handling at speed.
City driving is fun, leaving the herd behind at traffic lights and weaving in and out of traffic queues. Parking is no problem and for once I enjoyed reversing into a city centre bay.
Even with four adults on board and shopping in the boot the car is immediately willing and responsive. On the N3 passing long trucks is a pleasure, with the car accelerating from 80 km/h. Fuel consumption in the combined cycle after a heavy footed week was about 7,3 l/100 km.
The Cooper S is not just for the young, but for anyone whose heart leaps at the thought of going out each day to a car which delivers a funky and fun driving experience.
COSTS AND COMPETITION
Nothing good is ever cheap and the Cooper S Hatch is no exception. Prices start at around R372 000 and there is a long and expensive options list.
The car comes with a five-year or 100 000 km manufacturer’s warranty, as well as a three-year or 75 000 km maintenance plan.
There is no direct competition, but have a look at the Fiat 500 Abarth, Alfa Romeo MITO and Audi A1 Sportback.
Its over-the-top interior is what sets the Mini Cooper S (inset) apart from all the other hatches out there.