Our MINI Adventure (Part One)

Daniel O’Callaghan reports on life with a MINI.

All images : The author

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.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

15 thoughts on “Our MINI Adventure (Part One)”

  1. Good morning Daniel.

    I think your lead photo shows off F56 in the best possible light – it does indeed look quite true to the R50 but enlarged 25%. But it’s also driven by your meticulous choice of specification, for which I enjoyed reading your rationalisation. There is an art to speccing a car, especially one geared around customisation like the Mini is, and often the fully loaded version that the company will highlight as the ultimate aspiration is a step too far – certainly the case with F56 and those troublesome front spoilers and aggressive wheel options. Your choice of spec highlights the best bits of the design.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Martin. I absolutely agree about over-speccing a car and spoiling it. That protuberance on the front of the Cooper S is horrible to my eyes:

      My favourite aspect of our MINI is actually the rear-three quarter view, a photo of which will accompany Part Two of this review. It makes the car look nicely squat and purposeful, I think

  2. This is of interest to me because I am kinda-sorta looking at automatic superminis as a shopping trolley for my mum, who is somewhat encumbered with a slightly dodgy clutch leg, and it’s a lot harder to find a decent one than you would imagine. Daniel, did you look at anything else before settling on a Mini? The problem is that I (and more importantly my dad) won’t touch anything with a self-imploding DSG, robotised manuals like Dualogic are a hopeless joke, and while Minis have a proper slushmatic, the pricing in Oz, even used, is beyond silly. I keep coming back to the Mazda 2 or Swift, with the Jazz a possibility, although I really cannot stomach the styling. (Admittedly a largely irrelevant consideration, this, given it isn’t my car.)

    1. Hi Stradale, I’m afraid we were a bit lazy and didn’t look around too much. Like you, I’m a bit wary of most dual-clutch (troublesome) and CVT (whiney) automatic gearboxes, so the torque-converter unit in the MINI, which is very unusual these days in a car of that size, appealed to me.

  3. I used to think I was finnicky and particular about spec until I read a column by Peter Robinson on ordering his first car when he moved to Italy (a Dedra 2.0 i.e. SE, no less). I then realised I am completely normal, at least in comparison. I quote merely part of Robbo’s process:

    “I’d work out the touring range from the average fuel consumption at various constant speeds to see if I could drive home from Stuttgart without refueling. By multiplying the km/h per 1000 rpm in fifth gear by various engine speeds I’d know just how practical it might be, in theory, to cruise at 4000 or 4500 or 5000 rpm.”

  4. One hiccup concerning the spec that word-count constraints didn’t allow me to include above concerned the indicators. Back in 2014, the standard front indicators (within the headlamps) and side repeaters were orange in colour, not clear. The clear option was something like £100 extra. The standard darkened tail lights remained unchanged with this option. Not being able to see any good photos of the orange items in the brochure, we naively assumed they would look fine on an orange car, do didn’t bother with the option.

    When I first saw our car, a few days before it was due for delivery, the first thing that caught my eye was the orange side repeaters, which clashed horribly against the colour of the car! Swapping those for clear items would have been simple enough, but I didn’t want to do so without also swapping the headlights to match.

    Even though the car hadn’t even been delivered, MINI first quoted us around £800 for the change, effectively billing us for all the new parts, without anything back on the unused items fitted to the car. Needless to remark, we weren’t happy and argued that we had had no opportunity to see what we were ordering “off plan”. Eventually we haggled this down to around £250, which was painful, but an essential change.

    Even fitting the new headlamps caused some head-scratching at the dealership, apparently requiring some reprogramming for the car to accept the different items. I believe that the clear option is now standard since the facelift.

  5. Hi Daniel,

    I really enjoyed reading this review of your Mini. It’s well explained and detailed, just like with your C-Elysée review. Keep up the good work.
    I will read part II when I’am in the mood ok ?

    1. Me too I have a bright colour on my car. On my sexy Clio 2 It’s called ‘Terre de sienne’, a kind of burned orange that looks nasty or beautiful depending on the angle, the light and one’s own mood. Mine is in slightly better conditions than the car pictured below. In the whole of the internet there’s pretty much only 1 guy, in Germany, that sells spray cans of the coveted ‘Terre de Sienne’ on Ebay for 32 euro per can (with free varnish spray).


    2. That colour really appeals to me. There’s a similar metallic orange now available on the MINI:

      Nice (but not nice enough to pay, I would guess, atound £13k to trade ours in for a new one!)

    3. NRJ, you could buy the Clio in your photo for less than half the cost of the aerosol. It’s advertised at €15!

    4. Yes it’s nice on that Mini too, kind of subdued.

      Isn’t that crazy that you could by a car, or the remnants of it, for half the price of a can of paint Daniel? What does that says about the world we live in ? I haven’t a clue but it’s still crazy.

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