Mini Cooper S (with Mini Connected) 2011

Mini Cooper S with Mini Connected

Mini 1

The Mini Cooper S treads a fine line. It’s not incredibly practical, with a boot the size of a shoebox, 2 seats that are about as comfortable as garden furniture, and another 2 seats that are about as useful as a pork chop in a synagogue.  These drawbacks are unfortunately the price you pay to have the other exceptional characteristics of the car, so it’s all about compromise. You need to be a very specific type of person to drive a MINI and in my mind there are three different drivers (generalization warning ahead!)

Firstly, ‘The handbag-on the-arm-glass-straight-GHD’d-hair-sexy-woman’

It’s the MINI’s smorgasbords of customizable options, unique looks and “cute” factor that attracts her to the car. The Cooper S I drove had burnt orange paintwork, with white wheels, racing stripes, mirrors and roof. Every person that saw it, whether they were 25 or 55, said it looked “cool”. The MINI is not a new car, and I still found it turned heads wherever I went.

Bi Xenon Headlamps

You could say the interior is slightly more tailored towards the female driver, its switchgear unlike anything you’ve ever seen, with unique ‘mood lighting’ that allows you to change the colour of the ambiance lighting to ANY colour in the rainbow. (A very cool touch, and always gets the “oooh” factor from anyone that gets in) The seats are all leather (optional), with everything you’d need (Electric windows, mirrors, climate control and steering-wheel mounted controls). My only big criticism, albeit one that is obviously hard to please considering the size of the car, is that there isn’t enough space to put things, and I found my stuff sliding all over the floor like the deck-crew of Deadliest Catch.

The next buyer is what I will call the ‘I roll my own cigarettes, jegging clad, scarf bedazzled, instagramming hipster’. The MINI speaks to this new breed of hipsters for the reasons above (I’m unique, just like everyone else) but also the ability to connect with everyone on their social platforms. This is, as far as I know, the only car on the market that boasts the features that Connected brings to the MINI. In a nutshell, Connected, well, connects every social aspect of your iPhone to the MINI, allowing you to stream feeds (Facebook, RSS, Twitter, Web Radio) straight to the colour screen front and centre on the dash.

Interior by night

There’s a couple other games, using game theory, in the Connected app, that reward you with points for certain styles of driving, but overall the ability to see what’s going on within your online social profiles right there on the dash is pretty effing cool. It connects to any iPhone using the Connected app (download for FREE) and can also do the other (calls, music) functionality via Bluetooth should you not want to plug in. It’s a great system that will evolve to functionality far beyond just viewing, but also interacting (such as the connected system on recent BMW’s, allowing you to Google via the car).

The final buyer is of course the driving enthusiast. ‘The spiky hair, tight name-brand muscle shirt, speed junkie’. If you’re like me, and you enjoy sheer driving pleasure, then this car is, no doubt, one you will like. It’s no long distance cruiser, but rather a medium distance twists and turns rocket ship. The 135kW 1.6litre Turbo (previous generation were supercharged) engine is a great motor, with nearly no turbo lag, strong shove all through the revs. There’s ample torque all through the revs, but it does cut the fun rather quickly at 6,500RPM. I had a steptronic (Automatic) with paddles on the steering wheel, which, I must admit, I was very weary of at first. The auto quickly grew on me, making it a pleasure to drive in traffic, and very easy to drive when throwing through the twisties. Purists will disagree, but I enjoyed the auto box when the speed picked up, because it meant I could keep both hands firmly planted, as the MINI does tend to tug at the wheel with all that power to the front. There is also a short overboost function that ups the torque to 260Nm for a short period of time, should you need to make that gap you’ve judged badly.

Mini, Front 3/4 View

Another incredible little button is the SPORT button, situated right in front of the gear lever. This little button dials up throttle response, noticeably tightens up steering as well as dials in a sport function on the gearbox (for the auto). It’s an incredible change of character to the car, and really brings a HUGE smile to my face when bobbing through traffic, or out on a swooping open road. The car gathers speed quickly, and thanks to low profile run-flats with sports suspension, the handling is sublime (read jaw shatteringly hard). You’ll get the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) to kick in fairly easily, but the short wheel base, FWD, and lightness of the car makes it OH so much fun!

Fuel consumption, although I didn’t bother, was actually fairly good (considering) at around 7.2l/100km

Mini with filter

Over and above, this car came pretty well kitted out, with dynamic xenon headlamps, puddle lighting, chrome detailing and various other options to make it well specced. These options (and vast customization) come at a premium. Starting out, this Cooper S will go for roughly R306 000 (incl emissions tax) and I tried to work out the optional extras, which came to about R46 000, putting it at around R355 000. It’s not cheap, but it’s heaps of fun, stands out of the crowd, and will keep you smiling. If you can put up with the stiff ride, size, and price, it’s definitely worth a look if you recognise yourself in any of those above mentioned driver profiles

Mini Cooper Coupe / Roadster – 2012

MINI (BMW Motors) recently announced they will be bringing the Mini Cooper Coupe to SA. They claim it the ultimate in go-kart feeling. Now if you have never driven a Mini Cooper S, I don’t know how much more go-kart like they can go without actually strapping your ass into one. Distinctively it sets itself apart from the rest of the range by being 29millimeters lower than a standard MINI and features a “helmet roof” with a noticeably snug cabin and a serious departure from the “boxy” nature, now featuring a very sleek swooping roofline.

The new shape allows for a very sleek and hunkering stance to the traditional but still recognizable Mini shape. Why another model you ask, and how is this different? Well this one is exactly what it says… a Coupe. There’s only 2 seats, and Mini has squarely positioned this as the ultimate in drivers enjoyment and ultimate performance. This said, with MINI adding the Countryman not just a year back, this new model will hopefully further grow sales of the MINI brand.

MINI says; “Engines will range from the standard  90 kW of the MINI Cooper Coupé to the MINI Cooper S Coupé (135 kW) all the way up to the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé – a thoroughbred athlete producing 155 kW” Performance figures 0-100km/h for the Works (6.4Seconds) Cooper S Coupe (6.9Seconds) and Cooper Coupe (9seconds) featuring the well known BMW Valvetronic system optimising both emissions and engine responsiveness. The new Coupe will also feature an active rear spoiler which optimises airflow at higher speeds.  These active rear spoilers seem to be all the rage these days, I sometimes wonder if they are more aesthetic than anything else.

The chassis, set up squarely for driver enjoyment features standard DSC+T fitment, and optional EDL (Electronic Differential Lock) which should help with keeping those front wheels pointing where you’re grinning to go. I suspect this will be a hard ride, but will no doubt provide an incredibly rewarding experience, as the chassis has even been modified to keep the weight balance slightly forward, optimising traction. MacPherson struts have been used up front, and the multi-link rear suspension at the rear, helping to maintain optimal road grip at all times. MINI notes that ” The suspension components have been meticulously adapted to the sporty personality and specific weight balance of the MINI Coupé and the body calibration on all model versions emphasises their sparkling handling characteristics. ” Sounds jovial. Remove your fillings now ladies and gents.

All cars come standard with a 6-speed manual, but a six-speed automatic gearbox with Steptronic function can be ordered for the MINI Cooper Coupé and MINI Cooper S Coupé as an option. ” With its exceptionally short shift times and direct “target gear” finding capability on downshifts, the automatic likewise showcases the sporting character of the MINI Coupé.”

All in all it sounds like a very focused 2-seater MINI, and in all honesty, I spent last week in the back of a Cooper S and can say that most of them in my mind, are 2-seater anyway (unless you’re tall like me, and want to lose a limb). That said, with a lower stance, a focused chassis, lower drag coefficient and those great MINI turbocharged engines, this should be an incredibly entertaining car to drive.

The MINI Coupé goes on sale in South Africa in the last quarter of 2011.

Mini Cooper Countryman S – 2010

I’ve got to hand it to the guys at Mini, the Countryman launch was an experience that rightfully complimented the ethos of the new Countryman brand. Starting off at Constitution Hill for breakfast, we were taken down for a sensory experience that included interactive floor projections, and a box-like 3-screen short film. This all to get into the spirit of ‘getting away’. It all was very impressive, and seemed like no expense had been spared. We headed out in the basic 1.6litre first, all the way out past Lanseria in convoy to a secret destination for a fully catered picnic lunch and massages. In true mini style, everything had been ‘mini-fied’ including the bathrooms (it’s the small touches that really count)
The way back we had the pleasure of the Countryman S All 4 (4 wheel drive) to Randlords in central JHB for afternoon drinks. There was never a moment that we were left unattended or wanting for anything, they even provided an Ultamix CD for each car to enjoy. It truly gave one an indication of what you could do on a day with your Countryman, solidifying the “get away anywhere” nature of the car. Impressive stuff. Enough about the launch day, let’s get down to the cars.

Looks wise – don’t let the pictures fool you, the Countryman is substantially larger than the current Mini, with an aggressive flat front grille (gaping or with slats) and a clean, much larger, bubble rear. Ground clearance has been raised, as this Mini is positioned for the “get out of town” persona, allowing it to easily traverse a gravel road to the lodge or your mountain-biking trail. This said, it isn’t to everyone’s liking. The team in our car commented that it reminded them of a London Taxi cab from behind, and was a clear departure from the ‘cute’ Mini feel of before. You can clearly see this car is aimed at a predominantly male audience, and it comes across in the looks, colour schemes and myriad of options that all give the car a more macho physique

Interior and build quality– I have never been a huge fan of Mini build quality, as the cars seem to rattle a lot more than you’d expect. I must say that’s all been sorted out in the Countryman. The interior is classic Mini. Notable differences however is the optional MiniConnect, which allows you to sync your iPhone (and soon BBerry) with the car’s infotainment system, running a Mini App on your phone, to display all your social media applications, listen to international radio, Google Search via the car, and much more. I only saw a limited demonstration of it, but it’s the best integration of phone to car I’ve seen. Also interesting use of slide-rail technology allows different things to be bolted to the centre-tunnel (in our model a sliding sunglasses holder) which is an interesting design and functional element. Two things that differentiate the interior of the Countryman from any of the others, is the (obvious rear doors) but also rear seating & legroom. I can only compare it to the likes of a Mercedes Benz ML in terms of sheer amount of space. Somehow, they’ve managed to free up a large amount of space in the back, which is great! The other obvious gripe of other Mini’s was boot space, and this Countryman definitely improves on that with a larger boot size. This all very in line with the “getting away” tagline of the car

Engine – basically, unless you’re used to driving a donkey cart in the yellow lane, don’t go for the basic 1.6. The engine strains to get the heavier Mini moving, and takes a full 365 days to 100km/h. Much more to my liking is the 1.6 twin turbo which pushes out 135kW and on overboost delivers 260NM of torque. If you’ve ever driven a Mini, this is the engine you fall in love with. It’s incredibly keen to push through the revs, but requires work from the short –throw gearstick. There’s an auto option too, but the real fun is in the manual. The other drivers (that weren’t Mini drivers) didn’t like the very evident turbo-lag in 1st and 2nd gear, something that Mini drivers get used to. You need to keep the turbo spooling above 2000RPM to really make it hussle.

Handling and brakes – Once again, a myriad of options to improve the handling make every one a different ride.(Sports pack, larger wheels etc) In standard 1.6 guise, the handling was not usual Mini stuff. It was fairly wallowy in the bends, and passengers in the rear found themselves bobbing around. The Countryman S All-4 showed NONE of that. Glued to the ground, with typical Mini poise, it really comes alive in the twisties, and is especially interesting to push with the 4wheel drive models. Interesting fact, the 4wheel drive system used is a very basic adaption of the BMW X-Drive system, allowing power to be sent to front or rear axels (up to 100% in certain driving conditions)
The CountryMan S also comes in standard front wheel drive, however I’d opt for the All-4, in my view, if you’re gonna use it as a ‘go-explore’ car, I’d want the capability to do it. (That said this is NO soft roader, and I suspect this 4wheel drive option was only introduced as a necessity for the European and US markets because of the snowy stuff)
The great thing about the Countryman is the fact that, because of the increased ride height, and some magic dust, they’ve managed to make it handle like a normal Cooper in most situations, but be a LOT more comfortable. It doesn’t crash over bumps, or imperfections in the road, (every road in JHB) but rather coasts right over them, which is the best part of the Countryman in my books.
All the models come standard with ESP, ABS, EBD and I found braking to be on par with what one would come to expect from new vehicles.

Steering – on both models, steering was precise, light enough in the parking lot, yet weighted when the going gets interesting (as it should in a Mini)

Pricing – Well, how long is a piece of string. No really. Mini’s are probably, second to a Bentley, the most customizable cars on order today. This personalization however, does come at a premium. The sad fact is that if you want it to look rough / sporty / outdoorsy / girly / different, you’re gonna pay for it.
At time of posting this review, the cheapest 1.6 Countryman (manual 6-speed) was on offer for R287 500, and the most expensive 1.6S All-4 (manual 6-speed) starting at R393 000. *** Note that this is pre ANY options, so that’s just the base price you can work off of.
I specced one up at a dealership the following day (albeit rather liberally) to around R477 000 (2 Packages, different rims, colours, and Mini Connect included)

Value for money – I’m not so sure, it’s quite a bit of money for a Mini, and honestly there’s just some things that should be standard at this price range that isn’t. It’s hard to compare it to anything like a Rav4 or a Freelander II because it’s not a real off-roader, or even an Quattro Audi A3 sportback … no that doesn’t work either. So the verdict is still out on that one.

What really caught my attention, is that this car is to someone out there, a quirky, head turning city car, with all the amenities… and a dirt road traversing, bike and picnic basket carrying weekend getaway car too. Pretty impressive if you think of it that way.

Mini Cooper S Cabriolet – 2010

I’m not going to hark back to the age old mini, it mobilised a nation, and stood head and shoulders above its much larger rivals at many a rally. I’m not going to tell you how the closest thing they compare to are go-karts in an old underground parking lot, or tell you it’s exactly like you saw in the movie, The Italian Job.

Unfortunately, you’re more likely to receive a blow-job from an unsuspecting passer by in Sea-point in the Mini Cooper Cabrio, than represent anything as cool as any Italian job movie scene. (Especially not with Charlize Theron breathing heavily next to you) See, unfortunately, the Mini Cooper range is a largely emancipating range of vehicles for any man.

It’s a knife’s edge.

The car is a handling dream. Endless grip (go-cart like) and the engine screams louder than a bat outta hell. They really are the most entertaining little cars to drive. Incredibly engaging, fun … and will have a smile on your face no matter what Malema headline you pass.

The other side of that knife, however, is a little flamboyant, and feathery. See, unfortunately, you either go the full tilt, and purchase the Mini JCW (John Cooper Works) or you just don’t go Mini at all. Especially not a cabriolet. It’s the fastest way to the front seat of a Cher concert this side of the YMCA.

Speaking of things that shimmy and shake, there is the Mini’s interior. Unfortunately, and this is a general convertible problem, the structure loses its rigidity due to the fact that they’ve lobbed off the big steel part that is the roof and the C pillar. This causes one hell of a lot a body flex, and thus rattle and shake in the interior. I really noticed this over Johannesburg’s poorly tarred roads. What of course, doesn’t help, is the amazing compliment of rims on offer from Mini. The one I drove had a stellar pair of 17″ rims with some low profile rubber. Looks good, feels…well…like you’re shaking everything in the car to find an ounce of gold somewhere. Seriously, not comfortable.

This comfort however, is the sacrifice you make for superb handling. It must be one of the few cars I’ve driven that you can easily get the ESP to come on from 1st to 2nd, and then even on into 3rd. Flying down one very badly blacktopped road in the suburbia of Morningside, I found the Mini struggling to keep contact with the road, skipping over into the next lane as I made my way over into oncoming traffic. There is really so much power driven to the front wheels that you have to pay more attention than you ever did at Varsity lectures, because that steering wheel demands 1-on-1 focus from you at all times. But damn that makes it fun!

Overall, it’s an amazing car, incredibly entertaining and fun to drive, albeit a little uncomfortable…most of the time. The looks are a debatable topic, with the recent refresh, and many customization options available, you really can make it your own to stand out of the crowd. I have, and will never be a huge fan of convertibles because of the serious drawback to handling. It’s no different in this Mini, however I think for the sheer enjoyment of an open top drive, and if I lived in Cape Town, and had a small deli in Franschoek, and enjoyed wearing long scarves that draped in the wind behind me as I cruised along, then yes, I would buy one. However I do neither of those things….so I’d have to opt for the John Cooper Works…with the roof on thanks.