Sunday 17 December 2017

MINI-malist but mighty

RATING 83/100

I hate shopping for clothes but there are times when needs must. I usually grit my teeth, do what I'm told and get it over with. Correct me if I'm wrong, and maybe it has always been the case, but... is it mandatory for males seeking clothes to have to go through the ladies' lingerie department en route to the menswear department?

Images of the famous Father Ted scene of priests finding themselves in the midst of lace and silky thingies sprang up like spring flowers as I/we encountered the same minefield in shop after shop.

And for some reason, in a couple of big stores, believe it or not, we had to exit through the underwear section as well.

There's just no escape. You kinda have to go through them. And in trying not to look, you appear as if you are guilty of some misdemeanour.

MINIs (cars I mean) are a bit like that, too. There are so many of them and they seem to be everywhere as BMW inexorably builds and builds the range. And people, especially ladies, browse like hell. I know a number of the extended family who have a MINI and another who wants one.

Well here's another addition to the range. And you don't have to sneak looks at it. The new SD, the most powerful MINI yet, demands attention.

While it goes like the clappers (more of that anon), SD models distinguish themselves visually with a 'front apron' (BMW's own words) and an extra-large air intake. At the back there are twin exhaust tailpipes in the centre of the 'rear apron' and a fairly dramatic roof spoiler.

But it is what lies underneath that shapes everything. In this case it is the 2-litre 143bhp engine -- the most powerful to date in a road-going MINI. The new engine slots into the existing body frames -- hatchback, convertible, Clubman and Countryman.

It is hard to believe the same 'S' name adorned the old Mini way back in 1963.

If you were to tell people then that a diesel would power the car so many, many years later, those petrol lovers would have laughed you out of the shop.

This is a large capacity engine -- the biggest yet -- by modern MINI standards. We have become so accustomed to the excellent 1.6-litres.

And the power it pumps out (28pc more than the 'ordinary' Cooper D) was palpable. Now the easy part is putting in the power.

The difficult element is how you channel it and ensure you don't end up with wheels whizzing and the car zig-zagging as you take off. Fair dues to the MINI men/women. This powered its way around but it was always under control. What a great little chassis underpins the range.

Like certain elements of the lingerie department (I'm told), this also adheres to minimalism. In the MINI case it is called MINIMALISM technology. It is designed to cut emissions and salvage as much energy as possible. So it regenerates energy from braking; when you stop at lights and the engine stops (and starts automatically when you're ready to move off again) and so on.

The six-speed gearbox also helps keep its fuel consumption to 4.3 l/100km and road tax to €104 a year.

They're the pluses, but there are a few downsides. Firstly, €26,000 or thereabouts is a lot of lolly for a two-door hatch with limited room (though we managed three 'young' ones in there on a Sunday afternoon spin for some special ice-cream). I mean, you'd buy a really good large family car for that money.

Secondly, while the extra performance is fun and enjoyable, the other diesel MINIs are by no means slouches and are more than adequate for our roads -- and speeding laws.

Having said all that... it did have an allure all of its own. An impish, cheeky little number. Just like what you have to go through, but not look at, on your way to buying a couple of pairs of trousers and some shirts.

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