ANYONE who loves cars must have rejoiced when BMW am10unced plans to build a new, bigger version of the iconic Mini at the turn of the century.
After all, it had been a familiar sight on VK roads since 1959 and it seemed that everyone either had a mini or used to have one.
It was guaranteed to strike a nostalgic note among many of a certain age, but the bonus was that the German giants came up with a quality, fun-to-drive car, and it went down a storm.
Like the Fiat 500, it was a small car that seemingly everyone liked. Now, as the Mini celebrates its 50th birthday, BMW has brought out four new Minis – Cooper, Cooper Sand John Cooper Works versions of the convertible, and the Mini One Clubman. I drove the Mini Cooper S version of the Convertible, a higher performance machine with turbocharged 1.6-litre, unit produce 175hp.
Whereas the Cooper chalks up 0-62 in 9.8 seconds and to-speeds at 123, the S hits the same speed at 7.4 seconds, and has a top speed of 138mph (the John Cooper Works does 0-62 in 6.5 seconds).
These new 21st century Minis are a different breed to the ancestors, although they do have one thing in common – sheer fun in driving.
Sure, they’re not exactly practical for a family but get the roof down, roll down the windows and it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
Former incarnations of Minis always drew comparisons to driving a go-kart and this bigger version is still as much fun. The shape of the Mini means it corners like it’s on rails, and you’re so low down that there’s very little body roll.
But despite its boxy shape the Mini is more than comfortable cruising on the motorway – but it’s obviously great for urban driving. True, the stiff suspension that’s necessary for that kind of control can be a bit jarring to start with and, if it hits a pothole while cornering, the front end does have a tendency to bounce fleetingly, but alarmingly. But you get used to it.
The six-speed gearbox is slick and precise, although the position of reverse seemed a little close to first gear at first, and the brakes slam a halt on things instantly, too,
Although the Mini is a small car, there is no problem for front seat passengers. The seats adjust well and there’s plenty of headroom with the top up.
You might get some complaints from passengers in the rear though. With the front seats fully back you’re hard pushed to slip a sheet of paper between the front and rear seats.
With the frOnt seats pushed forward you can get two adults in the back, but it’s a pretty tight fit.
The boot is understandably cramped but there’s enough room to fit a couple of small cases or a few bags of shopping, and the rear seats fold, too.
The interior gives a nod to its predecesor, with a large … nay, huge .. , circular dial in the centre. Most of the plastics used are of a good quality but the aluminium-type plastic seems a little cheap.
The switches for windows, heater etc are funky but difficult to work while driving.
Seats are comfortable and the heater works well in either heating up or cooling down.
But if you’re going to want to get the top down as much as possible jn the precious little summer we enjoy.
The Mini’s roof goes up or down in 15 seconds flat and it’s easy to operate. If the sun suddenly shines while on the move you can also open the roof 40 or so centimetres while on the move, creating an instant sun roof.
Wind noise is surprisingly muted with the top down – especially with the side windows raised – and decent with the roof on, too.
There’s a wind deflector that slots behind the front seats to improve things even further.
The engine gives off a pleasant rasp, reminiscent of the engines of old, but it’s not deafening even when driven hard. And the Mini is such fun that you’ll want to drive it hard and it delivers punch through the gears
The steering is nice and sharp but rear visibility is limited with the roof up and down, although it’s fine around front and sides. Parking is aided by sensors as standard, though. decent amount of kit as standard, both for practicality and safety.
The Cooper’s body has been’stiffened to compensate for the lack of a roof, and front and side airbags are standard, along with stability control, traction control and ISOFIX child seat fittings.
With the Cooper S, on top ofthe normal model, you ‘get 16-inch alloys, leather steering wheel, sports seats and some of that fancy aluminium-look detail.
You also get a dial next to the rev counter which is activated when the roof is lowered, and shows how long it’s been down. I’m sure there is a valid use for this but it escapes me at the moment.
This Cooper S, for all its performance, still manages fuel figures of 44 mpg, and the Cooper manages an even more impressive 49mpg. This frugality is also helped by a Stop-Start system of fuel conservation. Slip out of gear while stationary and the engine cuts out. Press the clutch and it instantly starts again, carrying on the Mini’s long tradition of meanness when it comes to fuel.
Although the Cooper S starts at £18,995, the options on my test car took it up to £22, 275. It’s not cheap but it’s stingyness with fuel coupled with BMW reliability makes it – and the sheer fun of driving it – makes this new Cooper S a serious contender.
And such is the Mini’s enduring popularity that resale values are always strong, some of the best you’ll find.
Great handling, blistering pace and brilliant fun, especially with top down – what more could you want?
Mini Cooper S Convertible
Engine: 1.6 petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual
Top speed: 138mph
Combined mpg: 44.1mpg
OTR price from: £22,275