This is where I’d like to begin my analysis of the new Mini hatch. Its makers claim that it harks back to the original. Now think back to the origin of the Mini in 1959 where a company had the simple vision to create a small car that was small in dimensions big on interior space and high in value for money.
BMW took over the brand at the turn of the century and since then we’ve seen three generations of BMW Mini hatchbacks and a host of variants. Much like the hipsters of today, the new Mini is aimed at creating a certain image by aligning itself with the original car’s ethos, except the latest generation is actually a very premium product in terms of pricing and quality - as I found out.
I have a bit of a soft spot for Mini under BMW ownership. The Cooper S was the car I was fortunate enough to learn how to drive and experience my first track day. So, suffice to say, I had high expectations for the new model. The new car is certainly an evolution of the BWM-era Mini design but is in many ways very different to previous models.
The previous generation ditched the Chrysler-based supercharged engine for a turbo set-up which was co-developed by the Peugeot Citroën Group (PSA). However, the latest model uses the new B48 BMW 2.0-litre engine.
The increase in capacity means more power at 141kW/280Nm but it’s the potential power the engine can produce that’s interesting. With a John Cooper Works version looming over the horizon, BMW has suggested that this engine is capable of up to 188kW/400Nm which is what we will probably see when it’s used in the updated BMW 328i or in the new 2 Series Active Tourer.
Not that this Cooper S is short on power; the electronic differential and dynamic traction control system are both already working overtime as you hit the loud pedal. The thing that impressed me was how the car managed to fight off the torque steer without eliminating it entirely which leaves the driver with a satisfying sensation through the steering wheel, like the car is scampering as it shuffles along.
Anyone who’s driven a Mini will know there’s something about the car that makes it feel altogether different and the new one maintains this feeling. I couldn’t help smiling every time I drove it because it doesn’t aim to get you from point A to B as fast as possible but rather, it wants to make the journey fun.
It accomplishes this with its boy racer soundtrack; it hisses, snarls and pops its way through the gears while the well-weighted steering and sharp turn-in response make its handling really fun. Then there’s actual performance, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.8 seconds for the 6-speed manual that I drove. This car is certainly well into the hot-hatch league.
In terms of fuel consumption, its makers claim 5.7 litres/100km. However, with a gentle right leg I managed around 7.0 litres/100km which is still impressive for a performance hatchback.
Then we get to the interior where an unmistakably ‘Mini’ cockpit greets the driver. The ergonomics are much improved for this model. For example, the electric window switches are now on the door and the speedometer in front of the driver while that massive central circular cluster is now used as an infotainment hub.
The infotainment system itself is brilliant as it’s modelled on the BMW iDrive unit where a central toggle switch can be used to select media devices via Bluetooth, USB and AUX or make use of the navigation or Mini Connected app suite.
In terms of practicality the new Mini is only slightly bigger than its predecessor yet it is a more practical car to live with. Its rear quarters are still only suitable for shorter adults but its boot is now a reasonable size at 211 litres which allows for two overnight bags.
The new Mini is certainly more substance than style which is saying something because it’s a very trendy little car. So in many ways it’s not like a hipster; it has genuine claims to its heritage in terms of offering a reasonably practical package with high levels of quality and the same driver-centred fun which is sure to make it a car that creates great memories. It does wear some very expensive clothing with pricing starting at R352 500 and an options list that can make things more daunting than a shopping spree with your hipster child in Cotton On.
The price does include a proper Motorplan of five-year/100 000km which does sweeten the deal somewhat and align it more with its BMW brethren.