Daniel O’Callaghan reports on life with a MINI.
In my recent review of MINI over twenty years of BMW ownership, I declared an interest in the shape of a MINI Cooper three-door Hatch, jointly owned with my partner, Murray, who is its main driver. I promised a long-term report on the car, and here it is.
We had owned a 2005 Skoda Fabia for nine years and 55k miles from new, which had served us very well as a runabout and carry-all. We wanted to replace it with something more fun and engaging to drive. It had to be an automatic, as Murray learned to drive in the USA and his UK licence still carries that restriction.
By coincidence, I was aware that MINI was soon to launch the third-generation F56 Hatch and had seen some pre-launch photos of it circulating on the internet. Murray, in no way a car buff, but a teenager in the (late) Swinging Sixties, rather liked the idea of one, so we took a leap of faith in BMW’s engineering and ordered one ‘off plan’ in January 2014.
Murray is no fan of the technology overload in modern cars, so we decided the specification with that very much in mind. We chose a Cooper (petrol) because that was more than adequately fast and didn’t suffer from the rather fussy body addenda of the Cooper S model.
Volcanic Orange was an easy choice of colour, firstly because it suited the car’s fun character and, secondly, because it was the other free option alongside a too-cautious white. We debated having the zero-cost option of a black roof, mirror cappings and wheels, but decided against it as we thought the look would be a bit gangsta for two middle-aged men. That turned out to be a good call, as our MINI appears to be a pretty rare orange example without this option.
One extra I was keen to have was larger wheels. The standard 15″ alloys not only looked too small within the big black plastic wheel arches, but also looked a bit cheap in their design. We chose 17″ items in a design that apes the old Minilite wheels, a popular choice for the original Mini back in the 1960s and ’70s. Mindful of the possible impact on ride quality of the larger wheels, we specified non-runflat tyres and an optional spare wheel and jack. (The runflats have a stiffer sidewall which makes the ride firmer.)
We resisted pressure from the salesman to go for sat-nav. He muttered darkly about this adversely affecting its trade-in value, but as we intended to keep the car for a long time and the hit to its second-hand value would always be less than the up-front cost, this seemed a rational decision for something Murray would never use. (We have a Garmin when the need arises.)
Floor mats, a three-spoke leather-bound sports steering wheel and some chrome flourishes inside and out completed the options and brought the price to £18.4k. Our negotiating hand was weak with a brand-new model, but we got the (ridiculously overpriced) paint protection thrown in for free and a modest reduction on the price. The car was delivered on 10th April 2014, making it one of the very first on the road in the UK. So, what’s it like?
First impressions were very good. The orange paint is deep, glossy and completely free of, er, orange-peel. Shut-lines, while not VW-tight, are consistent. The looks are, I accept, not everyone’s cup of tea, but we really like it and I think it’s still pretty faithful to the original, albeit scaled up by 25%. The front wing and scuttle area, which was rather fussy on the first R50 new MINI, is now much better resolved with partly concealed wipers and a single neat diagonal wing-to-bonnet shut-line.
Those who criticise the big gob front grille have forgotten the frontal appearance of the original Mini, especially after it was first facelifted and received the classic hexagonal grille. The frameless door windows and high-gloss pillar cappings make the floating roof really stand out, especially as it’s orange and not black, as so many are. I think the large tail lights, criticised by some, are in proportion to the rear end design. Thankfully they’re not the post-facelift ‘Union Jack’ items, which are a bit kitsch for our taste.
The interior is solid and well put together, albeit slightly dour when not optioned-up. That said, the interior chrome pack does brighten it up significantly. The big circular central dashboard feature no longer houses the speedometer, which is instead mounted in a pod above the steering wheel, with the crescent-shaped tachometer to the left and fuel gauge to the right. The latter is rather unusual, comprising a column of eight LEDs that extinguish as the fuel level drops. This was replaced by a more conventional gauge in the 2018 facelift.
The standard fit DAB/FM radio with Bluetooth mobile connectivity and USB port performs very well, but looks a bit cheap with its small, monochrome orange display. It is literally ‘a square peg in a round hole’ and has been designed, one might presume, explicitly to encourage buyers to go for the more neatly integrated sat-nav option instead.
In the concluding part, we’ll report on the MINI’s driving experience.