Retro Mini bigs it up in style stakes
On the road, new model is still the nimble little go-kart motorists have long loved
Model: Cooper D
Date Reviewed: July 21, 2014
There are only a handful of models able to marry retro styling with mass appeal and modern tech. One is the Porsche 911. The other is the Mini. Others have tried to manufacture a retro look and build a fun-loving image around a particular model. The end results are always as original as a Louis Walsh pop band.
Mini is a motoring phenomenon. It has adapted to new technology, adopted the latest safety rules and regulations and yet its distinctive styling would still be recognisable to Sir Alec Issigonis, although he may be surprised by its size these days.
I owned a Mini (of the old variety) many moons ago. I’ve clocked up a few thousand kilometres in both old and new. I’ve done laps on tracks, thrown a Mini around chicanes and even retraced the hairpin bends of the hills above Monaco in a vintage Mini in the company of Irish rally legend Paddy Hopkirk, who won the 1964 Monte Carlo rally on those roads in a Cooper S.
By now my interest in the premium supermini should have waned. Yet I can’t shake off that buzz of impish pleasure when I get behind the wheel of the hatchback.
Its German owners have been milking Mini nostalgia for all its worth for more than a decade now. A host of hit-and-miss derivatives have rolled out of the Oxford plant, from the market-savvy Countryman crossover to the simply silly Coupe.
The accountants were also busy and the second generation suffered from a deficit of quality fit and finish that seemed to reflect an eagerness to milk the Mini for profit before the public’s interest waned.
Tight turns However, 12 years on – and several million sales later – the jitters have gone and it seems the investment has flowed into a brand that has mastered the art of modern retro.
The fit and finish of the new Mini is much improved. The switchgear and levers on the outgoing model often felt flimsy, but in this latest car they seem of far better quality.
On the road, it’s still the nimble little go-kart we have long loved. It’s more spacious up front and spacious inside but it’s noticeably shorter than other regular superminis, and that means it can change direction in a heartbeat. It’s at its most impressive when it’s tackling tight turns while still holding its pace. It’s one of the most agile little cars on the road and that makes it a hoot to drive. For those who spend their time in town traffic, it’s also an easy car to drive and park.
It’s worth mentioning the steering at this point. Several car firms now offer adjustable weighting on their steering. Fiat has, for some time, offered a city-drive option that removes nearly all the weight from the steering, giving it the feel of an arcade driving game. It’s horrible. Korean firms have followed suit with a little and limp city mode.
All of these should study the Mini. From the motorway to the multistorey car park, the Mini’s steering has just the right mix of engagement and feedback without requiring you to work your biceps. Another benchmark for the brand.
The 1.5-litre diesel might lack a raspy engine note to go with the racy look, but it’s surprisingly potent for a block that puts out just 85bhp. The lighter body frame helps no doubt.
On this three-door variant, access to the back seats is also an issue for adults and, while there is decent headroom back there, the boot remains relatively small and you’ll find yourself flicking down the rear seats if you do a big weekly shop that involves boxes from the likes of Lidl or Aldi.
There’s a problem with tyre noise on the 17-inch wheels fitted to our test car. At higher speed or on poor surfaces we kept having to adjust the volume on the radio, a sign that the soundproofing could have been improved.
The new tech is also not without its foibles. Under the new road traffic rules you are not allowed to touch your phone while driving, but the Bluetooth connection that supposedly lets you play the music off your phone – in my case through Spotify – frequently froze.
This hatchback remains the best of the bunch and some distance ahead of its rivals. The five-door will arrive later this year, followed no doubt by a revamp of the current eclectic derivatives.
From the Audi A1 to the Opel Adam and a litany of other strained attempts to bring “fun” to rather boring brands, there are many imitators but only one original.
That said, it’s not cheap. Starting at €23,230, begin to add a few personal touches or one of the option packs (our test car had the Chili Pack option for €3,280) and the price starts to quickly soar.
While that’s also the case with the Audi A1, the Opel Adam is relatively good value. However, the Mini is simply better than its rivals and king of the supermini class.
The lowdown: Mini Cooper D (3dr hatchback)
Engine: 1,496cc diesel engine putting out 85bhp @ 4,000rpm and 270Nm of torque @ 1,750rpm
0-100km/h: 9.2 seconds
Fuel consumption: 3.6 L/100km
Emission: 95 g/km (€180 annual motor tax)
Rivals: Audi A1 1.6 TDI 90bhp Sport – €23,730; Opel Adam 1.4-litre (petrol) – €16,995