Day one: Tra la la, the Mini is here. The spec sheet say it is ‘Volcanic Orange’. It’s actually very, very yellow. If your volcano starts spewing this colour you should probably take it to the doctor. It doesn’t look like any other car and nor does it feel like one. The screen pillars are unusually upright and the steering is quite heavy and very quick. Taking fast sweeping bends needs a steady hand or it looks like you’re circumnavigating a 50p piece. On the plus side, the exhaust gives a small but fruity pop on the overrun, which is nice.
Day two: There’s quite a lot going on inside the new Mini. The dashboard contains several different shapes and textures and the overall effect is one that makes you wish they’d stepped away from the CAD-CAM terminal about two weeks earlier. There are, however, some nice things going on. The little flipper that starts the engine, for example. And the way sport mode is engaged by turning a collar at the base of the gearlever. There’s also an illuminated ring around the screen surround in the middle of the dash that swooshes green when the stop-start activates, does a little red/blue movement when you adjust the interior temperature and which does lots of other show-y off-y things. It’s pointless but groovy. As a whole, the Mini feels well-made and grown up. But also lively and amusing.
Day three: The new-age Mini is one of those cars that seems to be getting worse looking with every generation. The first one was quite neat. The second one was more of the same but with worse detailing. This all-new mark 3 car is a bit of a jumble. The headlights are so big and bulgy it looks like they’d pop out if you squeezed the bonnet. The back lights have become inexplicably massive. The are several different shapes within the front bumper and none of them seems completely resolved. Likewise the indent around the side repeater which is vague and weak. Overall, it’s a bit messy. Mind you, what do I know. Earlier today I spotted my neighbour’s daughter taking a picture of the Mini. I’m crap at guessing ages but since she can speak but can’t drive I’m going to split the difference and say she’s about 11. And the Mini, in its jaunty custard paint and with its big friendly face, clearly appeals to 11 year old girls.
Day four: When you put the Mini into sport mode the central screen flashes up something about ‘maximum go-kart feel’. This is plainly drivel. No road car feels like a go-kart. If it did, the steering wheel would be almost horizontal, the engine noise would be appalling, driving one would require you put on some glorified decorator’s overalls and every journey would end with a man telling you to come into the pits because your stag do was now moving on to the paintball arena. It would be ghastly. And the Mini is not ghastly. In fact, it’s a tremendously nice car in which to engage in some bitch spankery. It turns in with enthusiasm, grips like a bastard and charges about the place with a great deal of vigour. The 2-litre turbo engine is greatly grunty. The ride is firm but not unpleasant. The chassis is generally excellent. This car has a rev matching thing that blips the engine on downshifts, saving you the trouble of heel and toeing. Pish and posh, you might say in the manner of a keen helmswright. But actually it works really well, even if you drive like a bellend in an attempt to catch it out.
Day five: I have discovered that the Mini contains three irritations. Firstly, the way your knee hits a solid part of the door during vigorous manoeuvres into left hand bends. Secondly, the way the stereo keeps playing even after you’ve switched off the engine and opened the door. You can stop this by dabbing the start-stop flipper twice but if you do the second one before taking your foot off the clutch the engine starts again which is also irritating. Finally, this car has two zone climate control but unlike almost every other car so equipped there’s no way to sync the temperature between the two sides when you’re alone in the car. All modern BMWs seem to suffer from the last two problems. Is there really not a single person on their development team with mild OCD?
Day six: Driving along the North Circular minding my own business a call comes in through the car’s Bluetooth causing the fairy lights around the central screen to unexpectedly light up blue. I’ve got to admit, I squawked with child-like wonder at this. The illum-o-ring is a gimmick but a very amusing one. It’s standard too. Many of the other bits of trim on this car aren’t. As standard, it’s a not unreasonable 18 grand or so but if you want the bonnet stripes, the extra interior chrome, the black wheels and so on you’re looking at a 25 grand car. I suspect that’s what many people spend. The Mini is the original small car people buy because they want it, not because it’s all they can afford.
Goodbye: Bye bye custard car. I think it could look a bit better and the interior is too busy but as a car to drive, one that manages to be calm and comfortable yet zesty and interesting, the new new new Mini is hard to fault. The chassis is great, the engine is strong, it has a funny light-up ring around the nav screen. When you think about the people who buy the majority of Minis, seemingly estate agents, recruitment consultants and other people called Emma, it would have been quite easy for BMW to focus on the light-up trinkets and not worry about making it a brisk, serious and very excellent hot hatchback. But they did. They really did.
The car talked about here is a Mini Cooper S. It has a 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 189 horsepower. It’s claimed to go from 0-62 in 6.8 seconds and on to 146mph. Without options it costs £18,650.