MALLORCA, Spain – The modern Mini is one of the few highly successful retro design stories in the motoring world. Although nothing like the size of the original Mini, which was a brilliantly engineered super-compact car, the modern version has enough of the classic’s cheeky aura combined with a certain degree of go-kart manoeuvrability, to satisfy the eager public for many years to come.
And so the story continues. Yes, we headed to Mallorca to take the facelifted Mini range for a test drive, on some suitably twisty mountain roads. We had three variations to sample: the three-door hatch, five-door hatch and convertible.
Concentrating here on the Cooper S version of the latter, what impressed me the most was the amount of work that has clearly gone into stiffening the body shell. There is no scuttle shake, which is something usually very noticeable by simply closely observing the rear-view mirror and monitoring vibrations.
Space, however, is scant in the rear (and suitable for small children only), but that’s to be expected with a compact design and the need for room to stow the roof. The latter first opens like a sunroof before much of the assembly is electrically folded away.
From the start, Mini has always offered a high level of personalisation. And just when you thought there was nothing left to offer, along comes a fresh catalogue of goodies. The latest comes in the form of “Mini Yours” customisation. You order your personal choices via an online shop, after which your items will be 3D-printed at facilities in Germany and delivered.
Your choice of name and colour for the side-scuttle rubber inserts is the starting point. We noticed one of the test cars with the name “Alec” on the side, seemingly as a tribute to the designer of the original Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis. But then we spotted some other names, such as Elizabeth, Margaret, Harry and Andrew. So, if you fancy nostalgia, royalty or a even touch a vanity (with your own name on the side), the choice is entirely yours.
A light projection onto the ground when you open the door can be similarly specified, as can names or statements on the passenger-side facia. One more nod to the model’s British origins is a partial Union Jack outline in the rear lamps (and a full one on the fabric material of the convertible roof). Additionally, a very long list of options and packages can be specified, so many that making your choices could take quite some time. Naturally, this will push up the pricing, in some cases considerably.
While the manual version we drove is still my transmission of choice due to the sheer slickness of gear-changes through the six ratios, the new dual-clutch with paddle-shifters is perhaps the way to go for the majority of drivers, thanks to its overall sportiness and the option it gives to leave cog-swapping up to the computers. The paddle-shifters do cost an extra R3 300, but are worth every penny.
Mini steering has always been very quick and direct. This remains, but a twitchiness has crept in so that a very delicate touch must be maintained on the wheel to keep the car pointing in a straight line. Power is more than sufficient at 141 kW for the Mini in Cooper S guise, while the ride on 17-inch wheels is firm but nothing quite as rock-hard as that of a 1960s Mini. No kidney belt required.
Twisty corners are the Mini’s main diet and there were thousands of such bends in Mallorca. We also had to make good use of the brakes as there are as many cyclists on the island as there are cars. They have the right of way, but everyone shares the road and takes their turn to enjoy the journey.
Ultimately, these small updates, along with the addition of a new dual-clutch transmission and yet more personalisation options, look set to keep the retro-inspired Mini brand on as healthy a footing as ever.