Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The MINI...

Hi. Bevis here. The Pollitt’s finally let me out of my box for another N£2G update. Unfortunately the cruel swine left me without an airhole this time, and I’ve been subsisting solely on photons and quark matter, which isn’t easy. So as an act of vengeance – and sensory confusion forced by a lack of oxygen and vitamin D - I’m writing a thing about a car he hates: the MINI (I now hate you more - Pollitt).

A MINI, yesterday

Now, this is an interesting and brilliant car (and don’t let him tell you otherwise) for a number of reasons. It’s a BMW product, so you’ve got a guarantee of quality and reliability there, as well as frugality, security and relatively good residuals - although the latter have slipped of late, that’s why it’s here. It’s BMW’s first FWD production car too, and they’ve made a pretty game stab of it.

Before we go any further though, let’s get one clarification out of the way: you’re not going to be able to buy an awesome streetracer MINI for two grand. The Cooper S is a spectacular machine, both in supercharged mkI and turbocharged mkII guises, but that’s pie-in-the-sky on your budget. Pull yourself together and stop being greedy; if forced induction is your bag, search N£2G for some of the turbo’d motors we’ve looked at in the recent past. But if you’re set on a MINI, you’ll be looking at the base-spec MINI One or, if you’re lucky, an early Cooper.

This is a 'spensive MINI. Stop looking at it!

Here’s a cool fact about MINIs that you may not be aware of: the difference between the One and the Cooper is largely cosmetic. The Cooper’s more powerful but it’s the same engine, so you can chip your One, add a nice set of wheels and you’ve basically got a Cooper. A Bluefin will cost you £249, plug straight in and give you an extra 33bhp. That’s the kind of lazy, minimal-effort tuning we love.

This thing makes it go faster. Somehow.

The major hurdle we have to deal with here, let’s face it, is image. Estate agents across the land (and in London in particular – damn you, Foxtons!) have turned the MINI into a sort of default middle-class hatchback of choice; a car for people who want something small, that will make them (they think) seem a bit quirky and different, and that basically they don’t have to put too much thought into. These people tend to ignore the Fiat 500, which basically fulfils the same remit, because… well, you see MINIs everywhere, and there must be a reason for that. But the more important image concern is that of heritage. A lot of people – and by ‘people’, I mean ‘car enthusiasts’ in general – feel that the use of this iconic British moniker is a slap in the face when glued to a comparatively massive German car (that was designed in California!), not least one that has cynically spawned a whole stable of cars that are wholly un-Mini-like; SUVs, convertibles, coupes, blah blah. Hell, the estate version has totally the wrong name; ‘Clubman’ denotes a different face, BMW, not a bigger rear glasshouse. You’re thinking of Countryman. Or Traveller. You berks.

All of this is tommyrot, of course – you just have to bear in mind that the MINI is not trying to emulate the Mini. Sure, they’re trading off the heritage to the stupid, but it’s a thoroughly decent new car in its own right. Try not to picture Paddy Hopkirk in the ‘64 Monte, stop whistling the Self-Preservation Society to yourself, and just enjoy it for what it is: a well-packaged, nimble, capable little happybox.

Oh, wait - that's the old Mini! Moving on...

So what do you get for your money? Well, under the bonnet is the 1.6-litre Tritec engine, a Brazilian-built unit developed jointly by BMW and Chrysler. This may not sound that promising but trust me, it’s a little cracker – the One gets 90bhp, while the Cooper enjoys 115bhp; not the most impressive numbers on paper, but this is a sparky unit that thrives on revs, and is more than enough for country lane fun in a car that weighs 1,150kg. And remember that Bluefin option! You also get clever brakes – ABS, EBD, cornering brake control – a six-speaker stereo, tyre defect monitor and five three-point seatbelts. To be honest, the boot is pretty rubbish for putting stuff in unless your weekly grocery shop consists entirely of flat things – pancakes, sliced cheese etc - but the rear seats split 50:50 to fold, so it’s more practical than you think for going on holiday. As long as you don’t take anyone with you.

The dash and controls are cool, the servicing intervals are wide, it’s got a 4-star Euro NCAP rating, and there are enough of them in scrapyards now that you can pick and choose which alloys and seats you might want to fit, so you don’t even have to be that fussy about spec when you’re shopping around. Although if you do want to be fussy, you can – there are millions of them about.

Bevis thinks this is cool. Pollitt doesn't.

So, is our angry leader – the Pollitt-buro, if you will – warming to the MINI? Probably not. And he’ll like it even less when he reads this bit and discovers that I’ve cheated. You see, you can buy MINIs for under two grand, but they’re still pretty rare. The reason this is going onto N£2G now is to keep you, dear reader, ahead of the curve: there are plenty of MINIs currently hovering around the £2,200-2,400 mark, meaning that in the very near future there’s going to be plenty available for under two grand. Or, with some agile haggling, you could land one right now – remember, your negotiating points will be discolouration of the plastic arch surrounds and trim (half an hour of Back-To-Black will sort that out), faded paintwork on bright colours (sod it, you can’t see that when you’re driving it can you?) and iffy stereo wiring (easily sorted by a cheapish Halfords purchase, probably). There really isn’t that much more that goes wrong with them. Well, there is, it’s a car, anything can go wrong, but you know what I mean.

Why not buy one now and wind up The Pollitt? He’s been telling you to buy Focus ST170s, Type-R Accords, Volvo T5s and Supras for ages – imagine the look on his face if you buy a sensible little MINI. Priceless.