Classic car man Sheldon goes modern with MINI
I haven’t driven a new car in a few years, and the newest car I own is a stripped out 20 year old track car, so it’s a little strange that I’ve been given the assignment to pick up a brand-new Mini Cooper 5-door. But who’d complain about driving a free car?
I spend the first 20 minutes of driving the Mini by trying to find the big yellow button that the big central screen is telling me to push, to confirm that I won’t let the big central screen distract me from driving. I eventually find it between the seats, and it’s a wheel/mouse device which I then spend another 20 minutes playing with, as it works the menu on said big central display too.
Turns out it’s a bad idea to do that, as the electric steering is very unusual (to me). It’s very light, with little feel, and it’s extremely direct. After nearly changing lanes a couple of times, when all I wanted to do was correct slightly, I decide to leave the menu experimentation for when I’m stationary, and concentrate on driving.
Still haven’t found the radio.
I spend an hour or so in my driveway playing around with the menu on the central screen. I’m too scared to drive this thing until I understand a bit more about the car and its modern complications… I did find the radio, though, so that’s a win.
Nope, still not ready to drive it. I haven’t finished reading the manual, so I decide to have a detailed look at the MINI Cooper. It’s a pretty good looking thing; they’ve done a solid job making a 5-door look not too unlike the 3-door. I’m surprised they didn’t do the hidden rear door handle thing, like the Alfa Romeo 156 [Showing your colours there! – Ed], but maybe the MINI designers wanted to make the extra doors obvious. I don’t like the bigger front and rear lights of this new model; I thought the last model’s were just right. But, it’s still one of the few new cars on the road that is identifiable without looking for a badge.
It’s roomy enough in the back. I can easily sit behind myself, but then again I’m only 180cm. Four adults would be comfortable inside, but no way you’d get a third person in the back, unless you’re talking children. The rear door aperture is a little small, but the MINI 5-door Cooper’s rear entry is way better than clambering through a front door.
I finally decide I can handle driving the MINI again. I do about 200km, with a mixture of motorway and twisty country roads. Over the 200km, fuel consumption is about 5.5L/100km; pretty good considering I wasn’t trying to drive in an economical way. It’s a capable cruiser, although just a tiny bit too jiggly at highway speeds. The 200km is very easy to do though; it’s a very comfortable car, and it’s easy to find a good driving position.
Turning to ‘Sport’ mode via the little collar around the gear lever awakens the MINI on twisty roads. Throttle response is far more direct, steering firms up a bit, and it actually feels like a proper fast-ish car. It’s definitely fun, with strong torque and excellent handling. The steering seems better too, now I’m used to it.
The engine is fantastic. I was a bit sceptical about a 1.5-litre triple despite it being turbocharged, but it’s surpassed all expectations. It’s great torque means there is not a lot of point in hunting the redline; it’s done all its good stuff by 4000rpm or so. It does have a great burble at idle, and sounds superb when accelerating hard through first and second gears. Once you get above that you can’t really hear it anyway, but I was extremely impressed by the engine overall.
The missus isn’t with me today, so I go and find some tighter roads to really explore the MINI’s handling.
It passes the Sheldon test with flying colours. It’s a hoot when giving it some welly. In Sport mode it reveals a little slip, but the chassis retains enough composure to keep you out of trouble. It’s an excellent car for letting you think you can drive like a God, when actually you’re a bit of a gob.
It’s easy to make fast progress. The engine is punch, gearing is long but well suited to the engine, and handling is excellent, especially with another day’s experience with the steering, which by now feels just fine and proves that I was just used to the slackened steering responses of my 20 year old machine. In short, it’s very easy to put the Mini within an inch of where you want it to go.
And I still managed 7.0L/100km. Pretty good considering neither the MINI nor myself paused for breath.
I must say, the first couple of days with this Mini were a little strange. I’m surprised by how far cars have come in 20 years. It’s almost too easy to drive them. I was very surprised when it was telling me which gear I was in (in a manual), but then it was also telling me which gear I should be in next (for economy reasons). Hang on; I thought we had manuals so we were in control? And the last time I drove a small hatchback I had to rev it to redline to get anywhere.
The MINI Cooper 5-door is completely different. It’s has torque everywhere (but it does have a slight hesitation sometimes if you believe what the dash tells you is the correct gear). And while it’s a shame that it won’t let you turn off every driver aid, the way it handles with them on is so deeply impressive, it probably doesn’t matter.
I was sad to see the MINI go, but it’s opened my eyes as to what modern cars can do.
|Specs||2015 MINI Cooper 5-door|
|Price||$27,750 (plus on-road costs)|
|Engine||1499cc turbocharged three-cylinder|
|Power||100kW at 4500-6000rpm|
|Torque||220Nm at 1250-4000rpm (230Nm with overboost)|
|Power to weight||11.50kg/kW|
- Fantastic little three-pot engine
- Great handling; superb gearchange
- Iconic appearance
- No sat-nav at this price?
- Ride could be a little more comfortable
- Still expensive