The Mini One might sit at the base of the Mini range, but it manages to distill the essentials of the brand experience
SINGAPORE — You’d hardly be able to tell, but the third-generation of the reincarnated Mini range has just received a facelift and is now here in Singapore.
Well, when I say here… As of publication time, only the bookends of the range are on sale: the firecracker John Cooper Works, and entry-level One, in three and five door form. The Mini Convertible, as well as Cooper and Cooper S-engined cars, are still snarled up in the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) homologation process. Hooray bureaucracy…
In any case, what we have here is the Mini One five-door (or Mini One 5 Door, as it’s officially known) the most important One/one in the Singapore market. It’s basically Mini’s bread and butter car (with a paint colour to match), the model making up half of the brand’s sales here.
What’s new? At first glance, almost nothing, really. In fact, it’s the same with the second and third glances too.
It’s only if you stare really hard that you might notice the Mini emblems are now of a slightly simpler, flatter design, and new LED headlamps replacing the old halogen units, with ring-shaped daytime running lights that double as the indicators.
Round the back, things are more distinctive. The tail lights are now LEDs as well, and feature a Union Jack motif. Cute or kitschy, you decide, but you certainly couldn’t mistake this car for anything else at night.
Step inside and you’ll instantly clock the upgraded infotainment unit in the dashboard. Where before it housed a slightly sad, old-fashioned monochrome display, a smart 6.5-inch full-colour touchscreen now takes its place. If you look a bit further down, you’ll also notice a new gearlever, smaller and smoother in shape.
That’s a clue that the Mini engineers haven’t been slacking off, as it represents the most significant change to the entire car – a new drivetrain. Out goes the old six-speed auto gearbox, in comes a seven-speed dual clutch, and the three-cylinder engine’s displacement has been increased from 1.2 to 1.5-litres.
The turbo 1.5 is of course the same engine we’ve seen throughout Mini-owner BMW Group’s smaller cars, such as the 216i MPV and 318i sedan.
Not that these upgrades can be felt, as almost all the stats are completely the same: power (102hp), acceleration (10.2 seconds) and top speed (192km/h). Only torque has risen by 10Nm, to 190Nm.
The new gearbox is also indistinguishable in its operation, apart from the smaller gearlever providing a more satisfying and less clunky shift action than before (yes gentlemen, there is such a thing has having too big a knob).
But that there’s nothing new to the way the One drives is of little consequence, because the driving experience is still one of the best around. It’s no rocketship, but still plenty sprightly considering the low power output, no doubt helped by the eager throttle response and thrummy soundtrack.
Get to the twisties and there’s even more cause for delight, the amount of entertainment on offer a true surprise for a relatively inexpensive car. There’s no slop in the steering and the weighting inspires confidence, which is good with a front end this darty.
At the same time, grip levels are comically high and the chassis balance has a beautiful poise to it, so much so that even some deliberately ham-fisted steering and brake inputs would not unsettle the car.
Leave the sport mode switch well alone though – it simply adds weight to the steering, doing nothing but making it feel gloppy and cumbersome.
But while the new Mini shares its dynamic traits with its legendary forebear, it doesn’t, unfortunately share the same cleverness in interior packaging. Despite being slightly longer than European rivals like the Audi A1, the Mini five-door offers much less for passengers than it does the driver.
Rear legroom is tight, the boot is small, the rear door aperture is narrow, and though there are seatbelts for five, there will certainly be fights over who doesn’t sit in the middle, as there’s a massive lump in the rear bench and the centre console runs all the way to the seat base.
That said though, the same Mini spokesperson also mentioned anecdotally that many Mini five-door customers had been trading in more practical hatches like the Honda Jazz, which might indicate that in tiny Singapore, it’s sufficient to get by.
And although the rear doors bring a weight of expectation that the car’s dinky size can’t live up to, having an extra pair of doors is still infinitely easier than having to clamber past the front seats.
Ultimately, the Mini 5 Door is more about form than function (unless you count keen dynamics as a function). Practicality generally isn’t high on most Mini buyers’ priorities anyway (there’s the larger Clubman and Countryman models for that). The small size might throw up the occasional frustration, but there’s constant delight to be had in the quirky interior style and premium build quality.
The facelifted Mini might not bring anything new to the game, but like a rock band performing at a live concert, the fans won’t care one bit; all they want are its greatest hits.
Mini One 5 Door
|Engine||1,499cc, in-line three, turbocharged|
|Power||102hp at 3,900rpm|
|Torque||190Nm at 1,380-3,600rpm|
|Gearbox||7-speed dual clutch|
|Top Speed||192 km/h|
|VES Band / CO2||A2 / 123g/km|
|Price||S$104,088 with COE|