Built for the young at heart

BRIAN BAS­SETT leaves the herd be­hind by putting foot in the lat­est ver­sion of a mo­tor­ing icon

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

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.

STYLING

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.

IN­TE­RIOR

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Its over-the-top in­te­rior is what sets the Mini Cooper S (in­set) apart from all the other hatches out there.

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