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The Mini hits fifty-five years of age this year and it's only partially coincidental that there's a brand new model fresh out of the Oxford factory. The three-door hatch is the first of the now-traditional onslaught of new models to be spun off the Mini's platform.
For the first time, the Mini is powered by a three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, available in both the One and Cooper trim levels. We took the 1.5-litre Cooper for a run to see if such an engine - which is the immediate future of mainstream motoring - suits the fun image of the British icon.
The Mini range starts at $24,500 for the manual 1.2-litre turbo One before topping out at $40,200 for the speedy Cooper S automatic.
Our test car, the Cooper, starts at $26,650 for the manual with the six-speed automatic adding a stiff $2350.
The Cooper comes with standard air-con, interior LED lighting, multifunction leather-trimmed steering wheel, Bluetooth and USB, keyless start, cruise control, rear parking sensors, remote central locking and auto headlights and wipers.
The big dinner-plate shaped and sized central stack houses a crisp screen to run the infotainment system which is controlled by an iDrive-style rotary knob.
Our car also had the $3000 Pepper package which takes the screen size to 6.5-inches, adds an inch to the wheels to take them to 16-inches, the air-con becomes dual-zone climate control, music streaming becomes available via Bluetooth, the LED lighting can be personalised and you get a set of clear indicator lenses and front foglights.
We also had white bonnet stripes ($200), chrome interior and exterior packages ($290 and $200 respectively), anthracite roof lining ($300), park assist with front parking sensors ($700) and $800 metallic paint. This gave a grand total of $35,390. That's a lot for a four-seater hatchback.
The new Mini has its usual share of detractors, but it's a gentle evolution from the previous model. It still has the upright windscreen, stubby proportions and well-chosen wheel sizes to make it look nuggety and ready for action.
The frivolous options certainly added a bit of fun (stripes and chrome) and the bigger wheels fill the arches quite well. This Mini also largely does away with awkward plastic bits and to these eyes at least, finally gets the tail lights right.
Inside is the usual riot of circles and toggle switches. In front of the driver is a pod consisting of a circle for a cramped speedo, warning lights and high-res TFT information screen. A hemispherical growth on the speedo houses the tachometer.
The front seats look a bit weedy (to help maximise rear legroom) but are very comfortable, all the materials are very nice to the touch and everything works well. In fact, it's almost up to Audi standard. Some nice texture choices lift the overall blackness of the plastics.
The Mini comes with six airbags, ABS, brake force distribution and corner brake control and stability and traction control. There's also active pedestrian protection and a crash sensor. As yet, there is no Euro NCAP or ANCAP star rating, but expect five stars.
With the Pepper pack, the 6.5-inch screen hosts USB and Bluetooth audio streaming all controlled by a rotary dial on the centre console. The screen is a huge improvement on the old car but the standard stereo might be a bit weak for some. At this price one might expect sat-nav, but that's an extra.
The 1.5-litre triple is force fed by a twin-scroll turbocharger. Developing 100 kW of power and 220 Nm of torque, it's a vocal little thing, emitting a gravelly growl when you put the foot down. The engine features stop-start, an air flap for better aero when the engine isn't being exercised, brake energy regeneration and optimum gearshift indicator.
Mini claims 4.9 litres per 100 km for the conventional six-speed auto and you could probably get reasonably close to that if you're careful. We weren't and recorded 7.6 L/100km in traffic and enthusiastic country driving.
Minis have always been fun, even the slow ones. Anyone who doesn't step out of a 1959 Mini 850 with a smile on their face is dead inside and nothing has changed in fifty-five years. The engine will get you to 100 km/h in under eight seconds. But that's only half the story.
The Cooper is tremendous fun - the steering is terrifically darty, the nose going where you point it without any slop or slack. The engine's growly soundtrack and hint of turbo chatter encourages you along whether in fast moving traffic or out on the open road.
When slogging through peak hour, the start-stop wakes promptly and the triple quickly finds the torque at 1250 rpm, making progress feel effortless. It can sometimes jerk a little if you're in a hurry and, if the road is damp, you'll get a bit of wheelspin.
You can get four people in and it doesn't have too much of an impact on performance but you might find the complaints are a result of your enthusiasm rather than the sometimes bouncy, taut ride. We can't help wondering if the old-school bounce is deliberate.
The Mini is something out of the ordinary, which justifies its still-high pricing - it's nothing like an Audi A1 or the Clio. Mercedes doesn't even have a genuine competitor. It's also a barrel of laughs without being grating when you have to grit your teeth and join the commuting masses.
Strip away the options and go with the manual and it's almost good value while doing everything our test car did, possibly with an even better ride on chubbier tyres. The Mini remains a lot of fun even as it has put on weight and inches over the years.
|(base)||1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$16,499 – 22,990||2014 Mini Cooper 2014 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|5D HATCH||1.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$19,622 – 22,800||2014 Mini Cooper 2014 5D HATCH Pricing and Specs|
|Baker Street||1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$17,050 – 21,890||2014 Mini Cooper 2014 Baker Street Pricing and Specs|
|Bayswater||1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$19,580 – 24,750||2014 Mini Cooper 2014 Bayswater Pricing and Specs|