The move towards electrification charged forward a lot faster for some carmakers than others. Mini became the first BMW Group-owned entity to announce it would only produce fully electric cars from 2025, certainly something the car’s original designer Alec Issigonis wouldn’t have imagined 62 years ago.
First, a brief history of the brand. Before it was bought by BMW in 2000, the Mini symbolised motoring for the masses across its 41-year production run. Its success wasn’t guaranteed though, despite boasting radical innovation never seen before in the car industry at the time. Its packaging was ahead of its time and Issigonis’ design meant the three metre-long car could accommodate four passengers. The wheels were placed at each corner to utilise more interior space and the engine was mounted transversely for the cylinders to line up sideways and fill every inch of space.
Despite being a technological marvel at the time, the diminutive car owes its success largely to a group of influencers, movie and film stars and racing drivers who propelled it into popular culture in the 1960s. In terms of numbers, close to 5,4 million Minis were built by the end of production in 2000 as BMW planned to introduce the new model in the following year.
Fast forward 20 years and the introduction of the latest edition of the third generation three-door and five-door Hatch and Convertible models kicked off at the end of last month in South Africa. We’re likely to see an all-new model arrive in 2023, but for now, pricing for its hatch and Cabriolet and Cooper SE models have been released.
We drove the Cooper model in five-door guise at its launch in Johannesburg and the first thing we notice is its new hexagonal grille and standard LED headlights are the major headlines at the front. Heading to the rear and LED taillights sport the Union Jack flag design as standard, while the wheel arches feature black cladding. The newer exterior design elements are rounded off by a body-coloured strip on the lower section of the bumper. There are three new wheel options, available in 17- and 18-inches as well as a trio of new hues, Zesty Yellow, Rooftop Grey Metallic and Island Blue Metallic.
From the driver’s seat, the noticeable differences include newer surfaces and air outlets, a redesigned steering wheel and the standard five-inch instrument display. All models now receive the central 8,8-inch instrument cluster with piano black inserts as standard. The latest version of Mini’s sports seats in new light chequered colour, as well as an Ambient Light option with a laser-engraved LED ring, is now available.
Bearing the company codename F55, Mini has opted not to fiddle with the engine line-up, and even in Cooper guise the 1,5-litre turbocharged petrol motor with 100 kW and 220 Nm felt urgent enough to maintain pace with highway traffic between the Big Smoke and the capital of the Republic. Mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and boasting a claimed zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 8,1 seconds, the Mini Cooper’s sharp and direct steering feel to the front wheels is grin-inducing. The chassis feels great and offers a planted feel and offers lots of confidence when driving enthusiastically. There are two more powerful models placed above the Mini Cooper, however its sharp handling, relatively small footprint and sprightly engine offer thrills at low speeds, something we’ve always enjoyed about a Mini.
New to the updated range is a reworked chassis with adaptive dampers that do a good job of smoothing out the nasty surfaces of Gauteng roads. We dialled through the trio of driving modes, namely Green, Normal and Sport and each offer a tangible difference in output from behind the wheel. The eco-friendly mode labeled Green prods the dual-clutch to change gears earlier in the rev range and offers an icon in the instrument cluster to show how many kilometres the driver has ‘added’ to the fuel range. Moving the drive mode selector to the sportiest setting evokes a lovely thrum from the three-cylinder engine and the car offers quicker responses via the steering wheel. What’s surprising, in a good way, is that one could easily drive in sport mode permanently and still eke out a considerable amount of range from the frugal 44-litre fuel tank.
For the first time, adaptive cruise control and a Lane Departure Warning system are offered as we see another example of BMW’s features filtering their way into the Mini portfolio.
The changes inside and out offer potential buyers more options to personalise models from Mini. The tide is changing and with the Mini offering the country’s cheapest EV at R658 000 it’s also the beginning of the end for internal combustion-powered cars from the brand. One wonders what Mr Issigonis would think about that.
Model: Mini Cooper Hatch Five-Door
Price: R479 500
Engine: 1,5-litre, three-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 100 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque: 220 N.m @ 4 250 r/min
0-100 km/h: 8,3 seconds
Top Speed: 207 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5,7 L/100 km
CO2: 131 g/km
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch
Maintenance Plan: Three-years/75 000 km