Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, CanadianDriver.com
A half-century ago, a revolutionary little car hit the market. The Mini was small, front-wheel drive, had its wheels pushed to the corners to improve stability and make the most of its interior space, and it was inexpensive. The redesigned version by BMW retained all of that – except for the low price-tag, of course. In honour of the birthday, Mini has released a pair of special-edition packages: the 50 Camden, and my tester, the 50 Mayfair, named for London’s famous upscale neighbourhood.
Available on both the Mini Cooper, and on my turbocharged Cooper S tester, the Mayfair adds $5,000 to the $29,900 price-tag of my vehicle. That gives you a package of “Toffy Lounge” leather and trim, 17-inch alloy wheels with run-flat performance tires, heated sport seats, auxiliary grille-mounted driving lights (which only come on with the high-beam headlights), sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, USB port, and the Mayfair 50 badges, which are really what this vehicle’s all about.
As mentioned, the Mini isn’t inexpensive anymore – the least-costly Cooper Classic model will run you $22,800, and checking off all the available options on the $29,900 Cooper S, even without the Mayfair, will top $42,000. Call it the price of admission: nothing else on the road looks or drives like it, and that’s its appeal to fans, who buy it not for its practicality or perceived value, but because they simply want one.
Both the Mini Cooper and Cooper S use a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. On the Cooper it makes 118 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, but with my tester’s turbocharger attached, that rises to 172 horses and 177 lb-ft, which peaks at a mere 1,600 r.p.m. To use the technical term, the Cooper S scoots. For every action there is a reaction, though, and hard acceleration is accompanied by a ferocious tug: you’ll have to consider the torque-steer as part of the charm.
Power goes to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission, as in my car, or a six-speed automatic, which can be added for another $1,490. The row-your-own is a slick system, with a pleasantly notchy shifter, nicely-weighted clutch pedal and big chrome shifter ball, and just adds to the fun of driving this little car. A Sport button adjusts the throttle response and also tightens up the steering – I felt the change in the get-up-and-go, but honestly, I didn’t really detect that much in the steering wheel. On an automatic-equipped model, it also alters the shift points. The official figures for the stick shift are 7.8 L/100 km (36 mpg Imp) in the city, and 5.7 (50 mpg) on the highway; in combined driving, I averaged 8.4 L/100 km (34 mpg Imp).
Little else on the automotive scene tackles curves and corners quite the way the Mini does — Lotus, perhaps, but be prepared to pony up at least $60,000 for that. The Mini’s quick steering immediately sends the front end in the direction you’ve indicated, although it stops just shy of being twitchy, and the steering wheel communicates everything the tires are feeling. The chassis is exceptionally stiff, which gives it great “tossability” into corners. The trade-off is that the rigid construction transmits every road imperfection straight into the cabin, especially with the run-flat tires: potholes are going to be messy.
Although the Mini makes the most of its interior space, there is a limit to what you can fit into a box this small. The front seats are roomy enough for legroom, but two larger people in the front chairs may find themselves at close quarters in the shoulder department. Both front seats slide a long way forward, so it’s surprisingly easy to get into the two rear seats. The legroom back there is tight, but the seats are far more comfortable than they initially look: rather than being the flat slabs found in many smaller cars, they’re huggy little buckets. Package space is also at a premium: with the rear seats up, the cargo area is a mere 40 cm long. The seats fall flat, but they’re not level, and sit 20 cm above the cargo floor, opening the space to a length of 110 cm.
The dash and centre stack offer a great design, but it’s more form over function, and it will take some time – as well as the owner’s manual – to figure everything out. The huge dial in the centre pays homage to the original Mini by incorporating the speedometer. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be: it’s not the proper location for such important information. Instead, I use the tachometer dial, which is placed in front of the driver; the vehicle information screen inside it can be configured to show a digital readout of how fast the Mini is travelling. The climate controls, cleverly shaped to mimic the brand’s winged logo, are fiddly little buttons, and the fan speed and temperature dials toggle rather than spin.
The stereo buttons are also clustered in Mini-style wings, but oddly, the power/volume button is off by itself, alone and lonely below the CD slot. A chrome button opens the lower glovebox, but don’t forget to touch what seems to be a solid decorative dash panel above it: there’s another storage cubby hidden behind it. Five identical toggles for the door locks, windows and fog lamps require too much attention too far down the stack when driving. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the exterior door handles, too: they look fantastic, but they require that you squeeze them to open, which can be difficult if your hands aren’t all that strong.
The Cooper S, before adding the Mayfair package, comes standard with bi-xenon headlamps, automatic climate control, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel, sport seats, heated mirrors, auto up/down windows, and stereo auxiliary input. Given its hefty base price, though, it’s surprising that you just get “leatherette” seats with manual adjustment, no seat heating (that’s part of a $1,500 Comfort Package that also adds a sunroof), no USB port (it’s part of a $750 Convenience Package that also adds auto-dimming mirror and rain-sensing wipers), and while the stock radio is prepped for Sirius satellite radio, it’s a stand-alone $550 to add the actual satellite tuner.
In a nutshell, the Mini isn’t cheap, and especially so if you compare it to other vehicles: you can get cars that are larger, carry more people, or have more standard features for less money. On the other hand, those other vehicles aren’t Minis, and that’s what this car is all about: it appeals to a select group of drivers who pay what it costs, because it is what it is. And for this year, and this year only, a very special Mini pays tribute to drivers who, over the last half-century, also wouldn’t settle for anything less.
Pricing: 2010 Mini Cooper S Mayfair
Base price: $29,900
Options: $5,000 (50 Mayfair package of Toffy Lounge leather and trim colour, 17-inch alloy wheels with run-flat performance tires, bi-colour sport steering wheel, chrome line interior and exterior, velour floor mats with white leather piping, driver and passenger heated sport seats, Mini 50 Mayfair door sill finisher, auxiliary headlights, Toffy mirror caps, glass sunroof, auto-dimming interior mirror, rain sensor, auto headlamps, Bluetooth and USB port)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $36,350
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com
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