Monday 18 December 2017

Motors: Mr Toad is happy in a Mini

The new Mini 5-door hatchback was launched at 'Toad Hall', so Campbell Spray goes happily poop-pooping

Mini 5-door hatch: A very grown-up car, but still providing oodles of fun.
Mini 5-door hatch: A very grown-up car, but still providing oodles of fun.

When does being a fan get in the way of good journalism? That's the question I have occasionally tried to address in this column.

It was also asked recently in The Irish Times by Karin Lillington, when talking about the behaviour of technology journalists in standing and applauding product launches by Apple, especially when they were made by the late Steve Jobs.

In motoring too I often have heard respected senior motoring writers stand up at functions to deliver what needs be only a polite thank you and instead gush at length about what a wonderful car has just been launched and how the assembled press are going to do what they can to help in its success. The orator often forgetting that we should serve the public rather than the industry.

Yet I am also sometimes conflicted and maybe the fan in me for cars like Saab, Volvo and Subaru often may have meant that a review was not as objective as it should have been.

It is the same with Minis. I have been in thrall to the brand since I was first driven down part of the soon to be unveiled bypass which would eventually be the M4 near London 45 years ago. And I have stayed hooked whether it was my girlfriend and her short skirt as she rallied her Mini Cooper 10 years later or when Frank Stephenson redesigned the marque to be bigger, bolder but still unmistakably Mini in 2001.

Since then three million Minis have rolled off the production line, ensuring the brand has an enduring place in marketeers' bank balances just as much as in its customers' overdrafts. For not only did Stephenson design a fine car that managed to hold to the go-kart principles of the original but built a platform for accessorising to the nth degree.

There are now seven varieties of the "new" Mini and the latest was launched this month, coincidentally just eight miles from where I Iived when I was first driven in one in 1959.

The launch venue was the Christopher Wren designed Fawley Court on the Thames at Henley. Incidentally, Fawley was the model in 1908 for Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows written by Kenneth Grahame who lived nearby.

The latest Mini is a real five-door version of the hatch which was itself upgraded and enlarged earlier this year. The five-doors now gives the marque a substantial presence in the 70pc of the city car segment from which it has been hitherto excluded. The Countryman version is another thing entirely and is a full-sized family car with real off-road potential.

As I poop-pooped like Mr Toad around the lovely Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside last Tuesday, I was superbly happy. The extra length to accommodate the rear doors and added luggage area hadn't compromised the handling one bit, while more space all round for driver and passengers put the Mini 5-door ahead of its competitors.

Even when I take off my fan's persona and put on that of critic, there is little to say except that prices are starting at €21,210 on the road. This is only a step up of about €710 from the three-door, although you must be warned to keep a sharp eye on the extras and customisation. It is a very grown-up car still with oodles of fun.

Let the stoats and weasels take over the towers, estates and hotels but this fan will go poop-pooping along and I will wager that the new 5- door Mini is going to do very, very well.

Sunday Independent

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