The best value MINI you can buy in SA
Johannesburg - I love fast MINIs. In fact, I love most MINIs. I do however love the MINI One the most.
I came to this conclusion after spending a week living with Mini South Africa's press unit, a rather spartan-looking red number with narrow, small wheels and tyres.
It's not the kind of MINI that gets pulses racing when you look at it and if you peer under the bonnet you won't find any kind of dynamite engine propelling it.
It does, however, boast a fantastic mix of MINI qualities that I've come to appreciate.
For instance, you get a wonderfully familiar, low-slung seating position and a compact, easy-to-turn steering wheel. There's no leather in here or any sort of fancy trim pieces, like the 3D printed stuff you find in the high-end MINIs, but it's got this quality touch to everything, even the hard plastic surfaces. Normally, hard plastic in entry-level cars can feel gritty and cheap to the touch, but that's not the case in the MINI One. You can tell that the bean counters didn't put too much pressure on the interior design team to cut costs.
WHAT'S A MINI ONE?
The MINI One is the cheapest way for you to jump into a brand new MINI in 2020. It's an important car for the manufacturer, as it's one of the best-selling MINIs around the world. As a fleet or pool car, or as a runaround for congested European cities, the MINI One has done well, winning sales in a shrinking market for hatchbacks. In South Africa, it's been well-received too, however, more Cooper S models find homes in SA, testimony to our need for speed.
Nevertheless, our three-door MINI One came with the BMW Group's 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol three-cylinder engine that serves up 75kW of power and 190Nm of torque in this guise.
Mated to a fast and smooth seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox (a six-speed manual is available as standard), it's the ideal kind of recipe for a city car. It also helps that the MINI One weighs just over a ton according to the disc on the windscreen. The lightweight nature of the car, combined with the quick-shifting 'box and its pert and nimble handling gives it a fun, kinky character. It really doesn't mind being chucked into a corner.
The car's 195-wide tyres, mounted on 16-inch wheels also aid in giving it a bit of an edge or fun factor because of the higher sidewall height. This added tyre flex and just the right amount of body roll when loaded gives it a really fun-to-drive feeling without the need to drive at outrageous speeds. In fact, if you enjoy driving and you want something that's fun and basically foolproof, the MINI One can't be touched for its dynamic feel.
Sure, it's not going to set the tar on fire, nor will it be able to hold its own against a well-driven Polo TSI Highline, but it's really one of the best MINIs right now, for me, from a ride and handling perspective. There's a compliancy in the car over harsh bumps and broken surfaces and it really proves that MINI has come a long way with its suspension tuning, particularly in the One.
FAIR BIT OF KIT
Being the cheapest MINI on sale in SA means it does without several of the cool connectivity and luxury items (you'll hear the salesman tell you about) as standard.
As standard, you get remote-controlled central locking with an anti-theft alarm, four speakers with a basic radio, driver, passenger, side and head airbags, a multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth interface for calls, airconditioning, traction and stability control with ABS and Isofix anchor points for baby seats.
On the point of baby seats, I use a rather bulky multi-stage JOIE seat for my three-year-old, and for the life of me, I could not get the seat into the rear of the cabin to fit it in there. The front seat would not move forward enough and the opening of the door wasn't wide enough. Perhaps a more compact seat would be an easier fit, but if you are planning on transporting your baby bear to and from places, I'd suggest taking your current baby seat along on the test drive to see if it fits, else it means investing in a new one.
Those options for the One that I mentioned earlier include full climate control, cruise control, leather upholstery, an advanced connectivity pack that enables you to stream music via the internet, larger alloy wheels and much, much more.
The car can get really expensive if you tick all the options boxes, and at this point (if you're kitting it out) it might make more sense for you to buy a Standard MINI Cooper, but if you want to buy a no-frills car as it is, rest assured you won't want for any high-level features in the One.
It's a high-quality mobility solution that just happens to be priced at a premium, like the Audi A1 that it competes against.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
It depends. If you enjoy driving, but you don't really want to pay double the price for a JCW or a Cooper S, you can still have your MINI fun in the One. It's large enough for a pair of adults to comfortably road trip in, and it can even work as a runaround for moms and dads, as long as you get the child seats to fit.
The car's automatic gearbox is a gem in traffic, and it's relatively high torque from as low as 1350rpm gives it a "large-engined" feel. It also helps that the engine gives off this wonderful thrum, not intrusive like most three-cylinder cars, but soothing and actually quite grunty sounding when you rev it out.
There's a sense of character in the car that's cool, that's chilled and that doesn't coax you into turning into a robot racer, which happens to be the case every time there's a Cooper S or JCW in the driveway.
MINI claim that the ONE with an automatic gearbox sips unleaded at a rate of 5.3l/100km in a combined cycle. I ended the test cycle in the high 8l/100km range, mostly because I went for a proper burn through the Cradle of Humankind, a route we normally use for testing more powerful vehicles, and it was so much fun.
This is the sensible person's MINI. A MINI that is just quirky enough to feel special inside and out.
If it came as a five-door, it would be a no-brainer, as the best possible Mini you can buy without stressing about repayments and high insurance rates.
Put this car on your shortlist for your post lockdown test drives and you'll see what I'm banging on about.