REVIEW | Is the stripped-down charm of the 2019 Mini One worth the price?
Brenwin Naidu finds out if it's not better to go for broke and pick the more generously equipped Cooper
What an utterly delightful car. That was my first thought as I approached the red Mini One, parked neatly within a bay of our Parktown office basement. Its large doe eyes and friendly smirk were instantly endearing – as with all products from the popular sub-brand owned by the BMW Group. The company felt that we should be reminded of what the most accessible point into the range delivers. A test that coincided with their 60th birthday celebrations.
Yes, there is an argument that contemporary wares from the firm are far removed from what the original represented. And that might be true. But times change. Cars are plumper, to meet stringent, modern safety regulations, in addition to containing the bounty of amenities we all expect from a new vehicle in 2019. Then we must consider the foremost, commercial aspect of ensuring the sustainability of an automotive brand. Share in different market segments is essential.
The three-door hatch in entry-level One specification manages to escape certain criticisms from the ardent purists. It is probably as authentic a Mini as you could get in 2019, convincingly embodying the basic, fun-to-drive and cheeky spirit of the dainty genesis.
There are not many frills to detract from that essence either: this One is equipped as standard with the bare necessities. You get fabric upholstery, air-conditioning operated with rotary dials and electric windows. Admittedly, that reads like a feature sheet for a car from the year 2005. Yes, power steering is also standard. So is a radio.
Pay about R10,100 more and you get the Connected Media infotainment system that resembles a shrunken-down version of the iDrive setup in a BMW. Albeit with livelier, Dr. Seuss-esque icons and more cheerful aural chimes. Chip in another R3,000 for a multi-function steering wheel wrapped in leather. And R1,700 for cruise control. Add R2,550 if you want a body hue other than the default Pepper White.
On the outside, its status as the cheapest Mini is made clear by the absence of colour-coding, with black plastic garnishes. It rolls on 15-inch alloys shod with 175/65R15 rubber. But as we said, frills are not what this Mini One is about. The party piece lies in the way in which it prompts and goads its driver into focusing on the task at hand: driving!
The six-speed manual is a treat to operate, with short shifts that render a truly mechanical feel. Performance from the three-cylinder, 1499cc motor is thoroughly fizzy, serving up 75kW and 190Nm. Seems modest, but then, the Mini One barely makes an imprint on the scales.
So, the least expensive way into Mini ownership leaves quite an impression. Or does it?
Least expensive should not be construed as a euphemism for cheap. This is a premium product, after all. Prices start at R313,000, which quickly escalates once you start ticking the option boxes. Sure, I might have rambled on about the greatness of simplicity. But the novelty of having a barebones car that costs a fair sum is unlikely to last until the first service. No matter how great the One might be to pilot. Might as well just go for broke and pick the more generously equipped Cooper anyway.