WHAT WE LIKE: The modern Mini is one of the most lively, playful front-wheel-drive cars you can buy. Credit for the fun and snappy personality goes to the alert steering and the nimble chassis, and yet the powertrain is really this Mini’s strong suit. Where the stiff suspension returns a harsh ride quality, the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four delivers both performance and refinement. Borrowed from the BMW 320i, the Cooper S engine offers a smooth, broad powerband, so the car charges hard from idle and revs willingly to the top of the tachometer. And even with our heavy feet, we’ve averaged 7.8L/km over more than 48,000 Kms. The direct-injected engine is helped by a stop-start system that’s nearly seamless, something that can’t be said for the more expensive BMW 3-series, where every restart rattles the car and its passengers.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: This third-generation Mini made great improvements on the ergonomics of its predecessor. Traditional window switches on the door panels replaced cheesy toggle switches in the center stack, and the climate-control system is now handled with more conventional knobs. But there’s still room for improvement. Our staff universally despises the bizarre interplay among the parking brake, the center armrest, and the iDrive-like knob that controls the stereo and the navigation system. The infotainment controller sits low and far back in the center console, requiring a tight, uncomfortable bend in the wrist to use it. That awkwardness is compounded by the fact that setting the parking brake causes the armrest to ratchet into a raised position. The elevated armrest makes it nearly impossible to reach the control knob, so every time you get in the car, you have to release the parking brake and separately lower the armrest. And for some, the conflagration even gets in the way of shifting—whether it’s positioned up or down.
Besides the ergonomics, there are the hard plastics and busy design that aren’t becoming of a R400 000 car. “Everything seems unnecessarily cheap on the inside,” wrote features editor Jeff Sabatini, setting up the perfect segue to . . .
WHAT WENT WRONG: It wouldn’t be another 12 000Kms in a Mini if nothing broke. This time it was the lumbar-adjustment knob that came off in the driver’s hand. We reported it during the routine service at 45000kms, and the dealer determined that a replacement part needed to be ordered.
When we returned 24 days later to have the lumbar knob installed, we also had a new problem for the service department to tackle. The secondary glove box, a small bin high on the dashboard, no longer opens or closes. Instead, the faux-carbon-fiber panel that doubles as its door stands proud of the surrounding trim by about a half-inch. The dealer didn’t have the necessary replacement hinge assembly and door on hand, so we’re once again waiting for a replacement. Sometimes it seems as if it would be easier to secure parts for an original Mini.
WHERE WE WENT: Road warrior Dave Beard shuttled the Mini Cooper S back from Cape town to Jozi in August. “I won’t beat up on the suspension like it beat me. It’s taken enough flak in this logbook,” he wrote. He then went on to rant about the stiff run-flat tires, a leading factor in the Mini’s harsh ride. Beard’s attitude wasn’t helped by the nasty expansion joint in PE that damaged two tires in the middle of his trip. Replacements cost us R10000. At least the powertrain lived up to his expectations. Over nearly 3200kms, Beard averaged 128km/h and 8.5 mpg.
Months in Fleet: 17 months Current Mileage: 53297kms
Average Fuel Economy: 7.5 Fuel Tank Size: 55 Fuel Range: 560km
Service: R0 Normal Wear: R0 Repair: R0 Damage and Destruction: R10000