There's something not quite right about this relationship. On paper, the F56 Mini Cooper should be right at the top of anyone’s RSVP feed. It’s small and sporty, punchy and pointy, and seemingly perfect for urban manoeuvrability. It has all the engineering genes to produce a frigging brilliant little hatchback, yet when Robbo recently asked me how we were getting along, and I paused, he said, “You’re not in love with it.” And he was right.
What the three-pot Mini Cooper lacks, and the four-pot Cooper S delivers, is a genuine high. Something that could see us bond like chewing gum to hair. After nearly 2000 kays in my six-speed manual Cooper, I’m struggling to find something I truly, genuinely love. But here goes.
Rear seat surprisingly comfy, but front passengers need to move forward a notch or two.
Contrary to what others think, I quite like the rear styling of the latest Mini, particularly its blobby tail-lights, and I’m always a sucker for frameless doors (until the seals stop sucking at highway speeds – ask any old Subaru owner). The Mini’s front cupholders are great for phones and keys and what not, while the one-litre Tupperware bottle I cart everywhere sits perfectly in the recess next to the handbrake. So practicality-wise it’s usefully inoffensive, even though its watered-down interior design means the new Mini is a little less Mini than it used to be.
It’s the dynamic aspect, though, that’s leaving me numb. Every now and then you get a taste of its delightful rear-end adjustment as it tucks into an urban corner, courtesy of super-keen steering and a neat leather wheel. But out on the open road, it simply doesn’t gel as well as it should.
Even on its non-run-flat 195/55R16 Hankooks, the Mini Cooper’s urban ride is rubbish, yet at speed on a typically bumpy Aussie freeway, there’s virtually no improvement in its bump absorbency. If you like a jiggly, constantly jostling ride, then here’s your car! And the Mini’s steering is arguably too reactive on a twisty road, especially when it’s wet, because those Hankooks don’t quite keep up with the steering’s demands.
So, highs that aren’t satisfying enough, mixed with a ride-quality low that’s borderline hateful. If the Cooper sounded raspy and keen, like a three-pot Mini should, then I could forgive some of its flaws, but it doesn’t do that either. If only it were a Cooper S manual with adaptive dampers.
DOLLARS AND SENSE
A $500 grocery shop is a big ask, not least for your wallet, but with a visitor staying for a fortnight, the new Mini’s increased cargo flexibility had a chance to prove its worth. I laid copious amounts of mineral water and anything else that would fit beneath the dual-height adjustable boot floor, and wedged the rest as tight as possible in the upper level. A few bags had to ride shotgun with the rear-seat passenger, but the little Mini did an admirable job.
This article was originally published in Wheels February 2015.