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We drive the "New Original'' Mini

Here are our thoughts

The Mini Cooper can be traced back to the original Mini by BMC and designer Sir Alex Issigonis in the 1950s, and since the relaunch of the Mini range in 2001, the car has been a huge success. I mean, everyone at least knows one person who drives a Mini right? (And a lot of people secretly would want to drive one). Well, I got to attend the launch of the #NewOriginalMini in Cape Town last week. After reluctantly going go-karting at Killarney (which was great fun), we went on to drive this revived hatchback all over the Cape Winelands and a part of the coast the following day.

The updated Mini is still a small car, but it has matured with a bulkier and more refined look. The nice thing about the Mini is that it stays somewhat the same, yet changes slightly over time- and that is exactly its trademark. It seems contradictory, but it makes sense once you take a look at the car. This model is bigger, more chunky- but there is no immediate difference from the 2001 edition- which in a way gives this sporty hatchback a classic touch.

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It might still bare the old look  and traditional transversely mounted engine and front-wheel drive configuration, along with its solid stance, but it has a whole new platform with new tech and engines. With the new Mini there is a new generation of engines with Mini TwinPower Turbo Technology. The models that are available are the Mini Cooper with a 100 kW 3-cylinder engine and the Mini Cooper S with a 141 kW 4-cylinder petrol engine. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard with an optional 6-speed automatic transmission or sports automatic transmission.

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The exterior might not have changed a lot since the 2007 edition, but when you step inside you know you are in the new Mini especially in the S with its luxury, sports car feel. It doesn’t feel like you are driving a small hatch. The slight changes which makes the car larger does have an immediate impact (98 mm longer, 44 mm wider and 7 mm taller) with a big improvement to the interior space. It’s noticeable that the rear seats are more spacious, but I doubt it will fit more than two normal-framed people comfortably.

With the slightly bad weather that hit us on the Friday, we got to test the car in very wet and misty conditions. That is where the Mini’s steady stance and the performance control feature came in handy. You can feel the car is planted to the ground. The accurate steering with the low driving position means the Mini feels like a solid car on the road. The one thing that stood out though was the road noise which was pretty noisy, especially with the Cooper S  which has a much firmer ride, but keep in mind that these cars were created with the ‘go-kart’ in mind.

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The new Mini also has ”key-less” driving with the automatic engine start/stop function. As soon as the key is inside the car, the engine of the new car can be started by pressing the toggle-type start/stop button. Another feature that was also surprisingly refreshing is the electronically adjustable modes. A choice of green, mid and sport gives a variation of throttle response, gearbox mapping and ride comfort. As a responsible citizen, I drove in green most of the drive, but you do feel a big difference between green and sport mode. With that said, even in the Eco-friendly green mode you have no problem picking up speed and overtaking other cars on the road. And with all the driving info directly accessible in front of you, you can easily check out the car’s fuel consumption and plan your trip.

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What is noticeable in the updated Mini is the strong influence from BMW with the intuitive BMW ”iDrive” based system and its rotary dial controller now a standard piece of kit in the form of ”Mini Connect”.  The idea of this is that you can also plan your trip while you are physically away from your car. Support for Android devices is now included and optional Internet radio and satellite navigation systems. The car also offers optional driver assistance systems like the parking assist and rear-view camera which made it a breeze to reverse and park. Further driver assistance include the camera-based active cruise control, collision and pedestrian warning and road sign detection. You wouldn’t think that such a small car contains so many extras.

The new interior of the Mini is bolder than before, but then you notice the design still features plenty of retro touches which is great. In the middle of the dash is a large, circular display for the infotainment which is circled by an illumination of colour that can be programmed.

Space can be a bit of an issue. It might be a tight fit if you are planning to go away for a holiday with other passengers, but we managed to fit our overnight luggage into the boot.  As I mentioned, the new Mini’s interior space has improved with this slightly larger model,  but if you have a family I’d give this car a skip.

Mini has definitely hit the spot with this new edition- this one is bigger and better than ever, but still not the most practical car in its class. The Mini Cooper may not be a car for everyone, it’s more for the individual with a certain taste that wants to opt for the fast lane.

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Once you experience the car and consider the standard features you won’t feel it to be too pricey. The price increase for the Mini Cooper is 12,6% and 9,3% for the Cooper S.

Mini Cooper 6-speed manual: R287 500

Mini Cooper 6-speed automatic with Steptronic (205): R304 400

Mini Cooper S  6-speed manual : R352 500

Mini Cooper S AT 6-speed automatic with Steptronic (205): R368 400

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