Mini Cooper: Fun never goes out of fashion

This year marks the anniversaries of two things very dear to me. The one is the iconic Mini, which turns 60, and the other the original silver screen classic The Italian Job, who made the car famous to a large extent, which celebrates it’s golden anniversary.

As a kid back in the 1980s enjoying the privilege of being allowed to stay up on Saturday nights to watch the feature film on SABC I didn’t understand the movie’s plot at all, but that mattered none.

My lasting memories from the Michael Caine classic were the immense joy seeing those three Mini Coopers each stacked to the brim with gold bars fleeing hordes of police cars down stairs, through water tunnels and even over rooftops in the picturesque setting of Italian city Turin.

Our good friends over at BMW will never afford us a test car again had we attempted any of those crazy things with the Mini Cooper three-door hatch delivered to us recently, so we kept its four wheels solemnly on flat tarred surfaces the whole week. But even as boring as that sounds compared to the gold thugs’ grandiose heist, I’m glad to report that Mini hasn’t lost its unique mojo after all these decades.

You will struggle to find a car that is more fun to drive than a Mini. And even though the current Mini is not technically related to the Minis of old used in the movie, BMW has kept its unique appeal and they are still a nifty as ever, proved in the 2003 version of The Italian Job where our very own Charlize Theron helps mastermind another gold heist with three modern day Cooper S models used to haul the loot across Los Angeles.

Priced at R403 000, our test unit was powered by an enthusiatic three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine producing 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque – mated to a very smooth seven-speed dual clutch transmission – sending power to the front wheels. The match between the amount of power on offer and the car’s weight in my opinion strikes an absolute perfect balance.

All too often do you find that a smallish powertrain leaves a car feeling underpowered, while occasionally the power on tap is actually a tad too much. But in our Mini, the match was perfect. That, along with the low centre of gravity and easy manoeuvrability, makes the Mini an absolute pleasure to steer around city traffic.

In other words good old simple fun. If your everyday life includes transporting more than one passenger, I wouldn’t recommend the three-door version. The space in the back is not that bad for small children, but the rather wide doors do have their own challenges in tight spaces such as most parking bays at your daily grocery stop.

Although the manufacturer claims an average fuel consumption figure of 5.5 litre/100km, we struggled keeping the number below 8ish. But then again, we hardly drove on the open road and couldn’t resist the temptation of exploring our test unit’s deceptively quick acceleration.

The Mini Cooper does not feature a massive set of standard specifications, but we hardly noticed amid all the fun, which extends past the driving alone.

Getting up close and personal with the unique styling of the instrument panel, the retro switches on the roof and centre console and the funky design of the infotainment system and it’s more about what that car has going for it than what it hasn’t. And that is iconic style and oodles of character. In hindsight – maybe we should have tried driving down some stairs.

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today in print

today in print