SINGAPORE, Aug 25 — These days, cars are getting so well-built, and come equipped with seemingly everything but the kitchen sink, that even the base models do not feel like they are merely the poorer version of the car you really want to buy.
The Mini One 5 Door is a perfect example of this new generation of entry-level models, which will not make their owner feel like he or she is missing out on all the frills that cars higher up the scale have to offer.
To begin with, the One is the starting point of the Mini hatchback model range. It is powered by a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine that puts out 102hp.
This means that it conveniently qualifies it for a Category A Certificate of Entitlement (COE), meant for cars with 1600cc engines — or smaller — that generate less than 97KW, which equates a lower COE premium.
The One’s sticker price of S$113,000 (RM355,106.20) (with COE) makes it more affordable than the rest of the Mini 5 Door models, which have engines that, for starters, require a Category B certificate.
Models in this latter range include the Cooper, which features a 136hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged unit, and costs an extra S$20,000 over the One.
Or perhaps the Cooper S 5 Door, which comes with a 192hp 2-litre four-cylinder engine, which would set you back S$168,000; while S$2,000 extra will take you to the top of the range, where you will find the rather confusingly named Mini Cooper S 5 Door Seven Edition.
While it is true that those latter, fancier models do offer higher levels of performance and technology — such as head-up displays (HUDs) that project speed readouts and other essential information on the windscreen — the Mini One 5 Door boasts a back-to-basics charm that is perhaps closer to the values of the original and iconic Mini that was launched nearly 60 years ago in 1959.
Back then, its simplicity and styling turned it into an instant classic, and showed the world that cool cars need not be expensive ones. In the 1960s, the biggest stars of the day, including John Lennon and Peter Sellers, were among the celebrities to have been famously seen in a Mini.
Under the ownership of BMW Group, today’s Mini is, admittedly, much larger than the original, but is designed to be just as recognisable.
Inside, the cabin feels intimate — just like the 1959 classic — with its low window lines. Yet it is cleverly styled to hide a generous amount of headroom so taller folks can still be accommodated comfortably.
From the driver’s seat, it is easy to forget that an extra pair of doors has been added, which increases this Mini’s practicality and enables it to be viewed as an alternative to small hatchbacks such as the Audi A1 or Volkswagen Polo, for example.
When it comes to rear legroom, however, the Mini, like some European cars of that size, is still no match for Japanese hatchbacks — such as the Honda Jazz or Nissan Note.
Then again, if this car were as spacious as the aforementioned vehicles, it would not feel like a Mini, which, really, is part of the experience.
Unlike its competitors, the Mini One 5 Door delivers a drive that is in a class of its own. The car we tested was the 1.2-litre version, and at no point while we were on the roads did it feel wanting in any way.
Despite the modest power output, this car feels much livelier than any other 1.2-litre vehicle — turbo or otherwise — to the point that it actually made me wonder if we had loaned the 1.5-litre Cooper by mistake.
While the extra 161mm in overall length has gone towards increasing the rear legroom and upping the luggage capacity to 278 litres, the extra mass resulting from this extension does not seem to have impaired the Mini One 5 Door’s handling in any way. It responds to the driver’s steering and accelerator inputs like a giant go-kart.
Although some would consider the Mini One 5 Door to be pricey for an entry-level model, its comprehensive list of safety and infotainment features would go some way towards justifying its cost. Run-flat tyres come as a standard fixture, for example. If a puncture occurs, the driver will still be able to keep going at up to 80kmh and head to the nearest tyre shop or dealer.
The car also comes equipped with driving aids such as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), which not only helps keep your car under control in adverse conditions, but also lets keener drivers have a bit of fun when the function is switched off.
You also have Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), which takes over to allow more generous drift angles, but will rein the car in if, well, your exuberance exceeds your talent.
The bottom line is that if you are looking for something that is fun to drive but does not break the bank, the Mini One 5 Door is the car that makes being sensible feel good.
Mini ONE 5 Door
Engine: 1,198cc 3-cylinder turbo, 102hp, 180Nm
Performance: 192km/h, 0-100km/h 10.5 seconds, 5.1l/100km, 119g/km
Price: S$113,000 with COE. — TODAY