Daniel O’Callaghan concludes his running report on his partner’s 2014 MINI with an assessment of its dynamics, its ergonomics and his conclusions.
The driving experience and refinement is where the third-generation new MINI really distinguishes itself positively from its fun but flawed predecessors. It has a nice turn of speed, 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds, which is 0.1 seconds quicker than the manual, and a claimed (but untested!) top speed of 130mph.
The torque-converter automatic gearbox is very smooth, kicks down readily and has a manual override if wanted, which we’ve never used. This gearbox has now been superseded by a dual-clutch unit. The three-cylinder 1.5 litre turbocharged engine pulls strongly and has a nice, gruff engine note.
Driving our MINI back-to-back with an R50 owned by a friend shows it to be a little less pointy and playful, but with much better ride quality, notwithstanding the optional 17” wheels.
Our longest unbroken journey has been a repeated 125-mile drive to and from Lincoln on ‘A’ roads of (very) variable quality. This takes about 2½ hours and the seats are more than adequately comfortable for this, leaving us with nothing but age-related stiff joints when we arrive at our destination.
Space up front is very generous for a small car. I’m just under 6’ tall, but very long-limbed, and even I don’t need the driver’s seat nearly at its rearmost position, as in my Boxster. With some compromise on the part of the driver and front seat passenger, two adults can be accommodated in the rear for short journeys. The boot is, of course, small, but the rear seat backs can be dropped in a second for more space when needed.
Our MINI has been totally reliable but was the subject of two recalls early in its life, for minor issues that now elude me. Fortunately, it was not one of a small batch of early cars that suffered manufacturing issues that required a replacement engine to be fitted. Servicing was covered by the MINI TLC package for the first five years, with nothing extra to pay. Its first paid-for service in April 2019 cost a very reasonable £135 including its MOT test. I should clarify that it’s a very low mileage car, with just around 12k miles recorded in six years, so this saves on mileage-related service costs.
The car is garaged when not in use so still looks showroom-fresh, with only a couple of very minor stone chips on the front, expertly touched in by Murray. The only part that deteriorated was the winged MINI emblem above the rear licence plate, which started to bubble and delaminate recently. A replacement cost an outrageous £31!
Criticisms? A few, concerning ergonomics. The indicator stalk is annoying. You press it lightly for three flashes, or firmly through a resistance for a continuous signal. Unusually, in either case the stalk returns immediately to its central ‘off’ position. The problem is that the indicators are reluctant to self-cancel so, when you go to cancel them, you sometimes find you’re now signalling in the opposite direction, much to the confusion of other drivers.
This wouldn’t happen if the stalk gave you a physical status indication, by staying in place when pressed firmly, then clicking back into the central position when it self-cancels. This is how indicator stalks generally work, and the MINI’s arrangement is a retrograde step.
The wiper stalk is also confusing. Instead of ‘push down for a single sweep, click up once for intermittent, twice for slow and three times for fast’ which is, I thought, near enough an industry standard, you press a button on the end of the stalk for intermittent. If I used the car more regularly, I’m sure I’d get used to it, but I have to remind myself every time I drive in the rain.
Because of the large circular central feature, the minor switches and row of toggle switches below are rather low-set, forcing you to look down to identify and operate them. Finally, the continuously variable fan control is strangely non-linear in its operation, the biggest variance in speed occurring towards the very end of its rotation.
So, there you have it, our experience of running a MINI for six years and 12k miles. It’s still a car with much to like and very little to dislike. The F56 is a very different car to the original ‘new’ MINI, the R50. It has matured to the extent that it is much easier to live with day-to-day, but has sacrificed some of the R50’s fun-factor for this enhanced usability. Looks apart, it’s best judged on its own merits as a sophisticated, grown-up supermini rather by comparison to any namesake.
Given the new MINI Electric’s steep price and limited range, I think we’ll be holding onto it for some time to come, until the EV market matures further and we can make a better informed decision about its replacement.