Life Motor News

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Where the new MINI hatch can take you by surprise

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

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The Mini: lots of changes on new platform

Cars, like life, have a way of surprising you - not always pleasantly - when you least expect. It happened to me while driving the new MINI hatch.

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I thought I was well prepared for most areas of my drive. But one 'snuck' up on me. Let me explain.

They've invested big time in this, made it larger than the old one (98mm longer, 44mm wider and a hair's breadth taller) and wrought myriad changes without breaking the mould. No surprises there.

The clamshell bonnet, round headlights and 'floating' roof do give it distinguishing visual characteristics over the old one. (I had to park beside a corresponding 'old' one to see the subtleties of the transformation).

The major - unseen but felt - development is the new platform on which it is built (it will also host many future small BMWs).

This has the ability, demonstrated in my drive, to confer an engaging mix of handling and ride - that's what MINIs are supposed to do. I'd be surprised if it hadn't.

This travelled better than the old one; the slightly raucous sharpness of the former's suspension system has yielded to a more sophisticated feel and feedback. However, I still think the settings are too stiff; there were too many thuds over poor roads. And there was a lot of tyre/road noise over moderately poor surfaces: enough for me to have to increase the radio volume.

But it was such fun and the level and amount of grip was extraordinary. I felt I was flying low.

I spent a lot of time in this and was impressed with the cabin. I think you have to feel and touch stuff to get a sense of the major improvements. Materials and plastics are now what you can call quality. There is still a big circular screen in the middle of the dash only this time it is an interactive display rather than the biggest speedo in small-car history. You can scroll around for phone, radio, navigation etc. Then there is a binnacle behind the steering wheel where you get key information on revs, speed etc. Frankly, it is all a bit too busy and scattered, despite keen efforts to more logically locate switches. And my seat adjustment (not to mention the shortest I've come across on a steering wheel) was poor. The little lever to adjust the angle of the backrest was hard to find and manipulate. Unpleasant surprise.

I also felt the gear shift was clunky and I initially had a little difficulty trying to get first.

For all that, I think it is a great little car. No, it didn't surprise at every turn but was never less than entertaining and engaging. I do feel a few small things let it down and, as BWW are so exacting on detail, why shouldn't I?

By the way, I can't wait for the 5dr hatch version (coming soon). It should make it a lot easier to get smaller frames into the back.

Yet when all is said and done there really is nothing like this out there. I'd say it does so much right, the drawbacks are all the more graphically contrasted. Now, I had noted the engine - the new 3cyl 1.5-litre diesel - being quiet, with a decent turn of foot and plenty of torque (pulling power). Then it began to dawn on me: the fuel gauge appeared to be stuck. I did a lot of heavy motorway driving (Belfast, Kinnegad) as well as many, many heavy shifts in, out and around town.

By the time I'd finished I had almost 800km on the clock. The on-board computer said there was another 120km in the tank. That's 920km. On a 40-litre tank. A litre every 23 kilometres? Or 65.5mpg. That's phenomenal considering my harsh, real-world driving. I was not prepared for that. Of course no one will buy a MINI Cooper D to cover the sort of journeys I did. But my experience with it surprised me. I had forgotten just what small diesel engines can do these days. Of course the diesel's frugality shouldn't, in itself, overshadow a fine package (despite my criticisms).

But there is something special about getting 60mph+ on a regular basis. It can give you that 'pleasantly surprised' feeling - every day.

MINI Cooper D: The facts and figures

MINI Cooper D 3dr hatch, 6spd manual gearbox, 3cyl diesel (1,496cc, 116bhp, 0-100kmh in 9.2 secs).

Test version (40-litre tank) does a claimed 78.5mpg — or 3.6l/100km — 95g/km, €180 road tax.

Price starts at €23,230 on the road. That means delivery and related charges ARE included so the price you see is what you get.

Standard equipment ranges from several airbags to a large menu of safety and comfort aids, devices and technologies.

There were many, many options on the test car. They included Media Pack XL, enhanced Bluetooth, multi-function controls for steering wheel, 17ins Cosmos Spoke alloys, automatic headlights and rain sensor, dual zone air con, LED headlights etc.

That brought the total price to €31, 727.26 on the road.

Scattered: Eddie wasn’t impressed with the round screen and binnacle behind the steering wheel in the new MINI.

 

I have had reason to use the bus a couple of times this past week and I've been shocked.

There is no other word for it.

Shocked at how careless and thoughtless we car drivers, in particular, can be.

I really don't know how bus drivers do it. Cars parked halfway up a path, the other half in the bus lane, pose a huge problem.

So do car drivers straddling the bus-lane line, pedestrians treating the lane like a footpath - as a launching pad for a dash across the road.

It was good, and enlightening, to sit upstairs on my 46A and 145. It gave me a different perspective on the mindsets of those who call themselves road users (I'm sure I've offended too).

I'm full of admiration for how bus drivers manoeuvre such large vehicles through such tight spots. But we road users are putting a lot of unnecessary additional stress on them. Next time you're on a bus, take a few minutes and observe. You'll be amazed how careless we can be.

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