Here’s the thing. The first car I ever owned was a Mini. I bought it for just fifty bucks all of 18 years ago. THAT is a cheap Mini. BWM Mini have just unveiled their version of a cheap (pardon, I mean affordable) Mini as well, it’s called the Mini One. So what is cheap?
In this case, it’s a Mini slightly bereft of some of its chrome bits and posh trinkets in a bid to bring the sticker price down below R200000. They’ve nailed it, with the vehicle costing just R198000 including emissions tax. So what’s changed? Not much to be honest, it is still ‘The New Mini’, with a bit less sparkle. The alloys have opted out in lieu of some clever blackened wheel caps that do little to mar the premium vibe of the marque, in fact it perfectly matches the black bits elsewhere including the tailgate handle. It’s a convincing look, and is continued inside the cabin where a rubbery steering wheel (that feels a bit low rent) resides. Does this bargain Mini still feel more special than the rest of the little hatches that lurk convincingly below two hundred grand? I’d argue yes, and that gem of a 1.6 litre Valvetronic motor with 72kW and 153Nm certainly helps the cause. It’s a bit lazy and the numbers don’t sound like much but it gets you to 100kph in around ten seconds and the payoff is a greenish 127g/100km. Fuel consumption as a result is at a low 5.4l/100km. But mostly it’s the feel of the little car, that remains special. Oddly it still turns heads despite its age or its budget trim level. And then there’s what happens when you’ve turned the engine over.
There’s an abused motoring cliché that goes like this; “It handles like a go-kart.” Every iteration of Mini from the 1959 Issigonis original to its 21st century rebirth and of course the improved model on which this is based has been lauded with this very trait. And it’s this attribute that the One exhibits in spades. Pin the throttle, drop the clutch and you’re off. It’s a sluggish revver but once you get going things liven up substantially. TIP: To show off your Mini One, find a series of roads that twist like spaghetti and keep the revs as high as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to row those cogs either. Pitch it into a set of turns, engine at the boil, and marvel at how the little tyke grips thanks to its four square stance and low centre of gravity. Where the original car used rubber cones at each corner, this one uses traditional springs and shocks to stop it coupled to its McPherson (front), Multi-link (rear) suspension from breaking your back. A modest curb weight of 1070kg boosts alacrity even further so you’ll find yourself braking less and using less effort to keep it at a speed. The turn in is sublime favouring accuracy and involvement for the over-light, over-engineered type you’ll encounter on cars from other regions. Cars that will most likely have a bit more performance on tap, admittedly. The usually army of acronyms still apply here including ABS, EBD and DSC with hill assist plus some new ones like CBC (Cornering Brake Control) and BA (Brake Assist) are in attendance with added peace of mind from the fitment of runflat tyres and six airbags.
So it’s safe, it’s fun and it even manages to retain most of its posh vibe. Mostly though, it still offers a fantastic steer so if you’re prepared to work a bit harder for your smiles per miles, then this one makes a lot of sense.