With the seemingly unending proliferation of Mini variants coming and going since BMW took stewardship of this iconic British brand — and there’s been some zingers, such as the baseball-capped Coupe and the three-door, crossover-ish Paceman — it’s nice to clean the palate once in a while.
This folks, is a base 2019 Cooper 3-Door. And with a starting price of $23,090, it’s about as close to original Mini ethos as you can get. No all-wheel-drive, luxury trappings, drive modes, crazy John Cooper Works power (and price), and no inflated, mutant Mini-esque body on a crossover platform. This is just a Mini, and by that I mean it’s compact, super fuel-efficient and it carves a corner with the giant-killing spirit that inhabited the original car, produced in England from 1959 to 2000. We’re talking simple, elemental fun in a cheeky package.
Full disclosure: My first car was a well-used 1968 Mini 1000. I put a header on it, a Thrush muffler from Canadian Tire, twin SU carburetors and “reversed” the steel rims to get a mean offset. I learned to swear under that tiny bonnet, and then it rusted out before my very eyes.
This third-generation “new” Mini is a far cry from that ferrous little ferret. It’s way bigger (although still tiny by modern standards), and with its eager 134-horsepower, 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine and wide-ratio six-speed manual, it makes for a surprisingly stable and serene highway cruiser. It’s the 162 lb.-ft. of torque from 12,50 rpm that does the talking — at 120 km/h, the tach shows a lazy 2,400 rpm. My ’68 Mini could only attain that speed going downhill assisted by a gale-force tailwind.
The six-speed manual is satisfyingly direct and the tall gearing has you rarely getting out second gear when puttering around town. It’s such a tractable little motor you never feel flat-footed, although don’t expect rev-hungry hi-jinx from this three-pot — it does it’s business in the mid-range. Still, it makes an endearing little snarl when you cane it.
This modern Mini’s cabin design is a cartoonish nod to the original, featuring a round, central speedometer and a row of toggle switches. Standard features for 2019 include leatherette upholstery, a 6.5-inch infotainment display, a back-up camera, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, 15-inch alloy wheels, and keyless start. A six-speed automatic transmission is available
Mounted on the steering column is an analogue speedometer and tachometer, and the central touch display shows all the menus and info that can be called up via the iDrive-like controller between the seats. And what would a Mini interior be without a bit of theatre? The start/stop toggle, illuminated in red, pulses like a heartbeat when the car is switched off, and the LED ring surrounding the central screen glows with varying patterns and colours, depending on what you or the car are up to.
Despite this cabin’s base spec, its still feels well built and reasonably premium in here. The black leatherette seats show a fine blend of comfort and support, and the well-contoured, leather-wrapped steering wheel fits nicely in the palms. There was nary a squeak or rattle, which suggest the Brits are screwing these things together well now. That wasn’t the case with the previous-generation Mini.
The only option of significance on this tester is the $1,300 Classic Line package that adds a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, heated front seats and front fog lights. Chili Red paint runs $590 and the white hood stripes add another $150. Also on the build sheet are 16-inch black alloy wheels for $200, but they aren’t pictured here as this tester was wearing winter tires.
Luckily, we were hit with the season’s first snow storm during my week with the Mini, bestowing upon us with a day or so of frozen, snowy surfaces. Lucky, you ask? Granted, for most, this weather was a complete drag, but the Mini proved a total hoot on this stuff. There’s nothing more revealing of a car’s inherent handling traits than slick surfaces, and here the Cooper could be flicked into easily controllable oversteer and low-speed, four-wheel drifts. A little counter steer and throttle, and you’re on your way.
Most front drive cars will understeer when encountering a slippery corner a tad too quickly, whereas this Mini can rotate its cute little derriere and get all rally-car fun on you. Okay, geeky stuff I know, but this does show why, on dry tarmac, the Mini is such a willing partner. It’s still one of the most entertaining devices for unraveling a snaking road.
If you invite your left brain into the debate on purchasing a 2019 Mini Cooper, of course it will bring up such tiresome points as the number of subcompact hatchbacks on the market that offer more room and features for considerably less money. But if you’re even considering buying this premium, whimsical throwback, it’s safe to assume you’ve told your left brain to stay out of it. Anyway, there is some logical ammo here — the base Cooper is the purest in the Mini stable, and all the Mini you really need.
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