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Motoring: Big things in Mini package

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 21st, 2008

It wasn't long ago when BMW bought the rights to the Mini-brand and shortly afterwards introduced the new Mini Cooper. Sold as a coupe or convertible, normally aspirated or supercharged, manual or automatic, this re-invented Mini was a huge sales success.

Now we have an even newer Mini, come and soon there will be all sorts of variants available on this platform like a new convertible, the longer Clubman and even an off-roader possibly called Crossman.

For now, you can only get the coupe version, with either the new naturally aspirated 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 118 hp in the Cooper, or the new turbo-charged (instead of the old super-charged motor) 1.6-litre, four-cylinder unit producing 172 hp in the Cooper S. Both engines can be had with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox. My Cooper test car had the manual gearbox, which is a great gearbox. It is so precise to use, the clutch and gearbox are perfectly weighted and hence every gear change puts a huge smile on your face.

The base engine however didn't give me much joy. While in ‘sport' mode it is decently quick, it just is not as much fun as it could be. From a performance point of view, I'm much happier with the new VW Rabbit with their base engine, a healthy 150 hp, 2.5-litre five-cylinder motor. However, while the Rabbit is decent on fuel economy, the Mini Cooper is sensational. This car is so good on gas I wondered why bother with hybrids. The government agreed, and thus grants buyers of the Cooper with a manual gearbox a $1,000 rebate. On the highway, the fuel rating was under 6-litres/100 km, and even despite some heavy footed motoring and lots of city driving, I still averaged 8-litres/100 km. So the Mini is easy on your wallet, which is great in these times of over $1/litre gas.

The interior also deserves to be called great. I love the toggle switches, the big retro-styled instrument binnacle in the centre of the dash looks like one of Flavor Flavs clocks. By the way, if you opt for a navigation system, the centre display becomes the nav system and a smaller speedometer gets added next to the rev counter on top of the steering column.

I also liked the comfortable seats and the stereo was great too. However, space for back seat passsengers is tight, and the trunk is small. Looking at the trunk you can see why the British call it a boot, it's about the same size as my winter shoes.

My only other complaint about the interior is with that big speedometer in the centre. During daytime, the glare from it can be distracting.

I do like the fact Mini gives you the option of a full panoramic sunroof, which not only tilts open for the front seat passengers but also the rear. However only the front glass-piece slides open.

So the newer Mini is great on gas, has a good interior, and while styling is a personal thing, I think it looks great too.

So you'd think, case closed, that this is all the Mini has to offer. I have not told you about the very best thing - its handling.

Mini's have always been known for their handling abilities, and this Mini just takes it up a few notches. First thing I noticed was that the ride is more comfortable than the model that went before it. But when you toss it around corners now, it is more planted, and gives better feedback through the steering. This car is phenomenal fun in the corners. If I owned one, I'd always take the most curvy route to the office.

Not only is the handling great in the dry but also in the snow, with winter tires, this Mini was even more impressive. It just gripped and made its way through snow covered parking lots like it was a snowplow. This Mini is turning out to be a great machine.

A base Cooper starts at $25,900, and depending on the options you pick, you can easily get it up to $40,000 for a loaded Cooper S. That is a lot of money for a small car, but when you equate the styling, fabulous interior, and its handling abilities, you'll realize that the Mini is actually a bargain. Would I have one? Yes. Make mine black with red-stripes and I'd have the Cooper S. Now if only I could get a raise so I could afford one.
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