Pulling out of Perth’s Auto Classic Mini Garage, you know you are driving a rather special piece of machinery.
I was behind the wheel of the 3-Door 2015 Mini Hatch F56 Cooper S, and had a weekend to put this sassy six-speed manual through its paces.
It was Friday afternoon and I had to cut across town from Victoria Park in the early rush hour; hence this wasn’t going to be the right time for opening her up, but to appreciate what I was driving.
I’ve always loved the compact, feisty feel of Minis. This 2015 Cooper is no exception: sturdily build around those classic lines, it offers a clear sense of safety mingled with nippy driving flair.
I sampled my first Mini back in the Jurassic, a hand-me-down from my grandmother, her 1970 Mark II. Even though it was a good ten years old, it was a fun set of wheels; but things have come a long way in the intervening decades.
The latest Cooper feels snazzy, potent and full of panache. There’s definitely a racing lineage that matches any of its best high-performance sporty competition.
Yet as I crept, snail-like through the infernal, conga-line jams around Elizabeth Quay (pray, finish soon!) I had plenty of time to acquaint myself with the interior look and feel.
It’s a far cry from granny’s model. There’s an embarrassment of gadgets, knobs and hi-tech gizmos to tap, poke, twiddle, twist and fiddle – even a disco-like rainbow light show!
This might not be the purist’s cup o’ char, but I discovered that the circular rainbow LED ring on the centre instrument panel was a mood changer for both car and driver.
By flicking a small ring around the shift gate, one could put the car into different zenned-out or excited modes. Green, for example, was designed for relaxation, fuel efficiency, a healthier environment and driver chill-out. Mmm, ideal for Elizabeth Quay!
There are plenty of practical innovations too. The speedo has been moved from in front of the steering wheel to a transparent display on top of the dash. This is great for regulating one’s clip, and makes real sense for keeping eyes on the road in a city bristling with speed cameras.
The new speedo positioning also allows for more info on the driver dash, including a range of interactive displays. The fuel gauge is an orange barred light display in front of the steering wheel (why didn’t car designers think of this eons ago?). Heads-up display, park assist and reversing camera are also handy gizmos.
There’s dynamic cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, automatic windscreen wipers and lights, audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs and Bluetooth connectivity.
For a small car, this one’s comfy, but forfeits none of its sporty persona. There are smart leather/cloth upholstery options, molded sports seats, front armrest, and smart leather bound racing steering wheel.
Okay, there’s always going to be that two-door Mini issue of squeezing a couple of rugby front row forwards into the smallish back seats, but what a great reason to go on a diet, or befriend a few ballerinas.
Three in a row along the back would be an uncomfortably tight fit for shoulder space, while leg room depends heavily on the positioning of the front seats in relation to the occupants’ height – but that is true of many compacts.
The mod cons continue with automatic dual-zone climate control, Radio Mini Visual Boost with a large circular central display screen and audio streaming.
Further pluses include the easy-to-use Mini Navigation System. Along with the upgraded display screen comes the Mini Controller based on BMW’s iDrive system, to access infotainment, vehicle communication and navigation.
Once I got through the city it was on to Stirling Highway and down to Cottesloe, where I encountered the school exodus. Children don’t seem to walk or ride bikes to school in Perth anymore; mums drop them there in Tiger Tanks.
The Mini was soon wedged between lines of Porsche Cayennes, Range Rovers and giant Audis driven by young mothers with no rational reason for having such machines to do the kiddy milk run.
It struck me that while the Mini has a venerable rally and race pedigree, it would also be the ideal car for the school rounds. If it’s a status symbol you’re after, a Mini Cooper is definitely it, and even kids find them super cute. Do us all a favour, school mums!
I got home in my powder white and black Mini and parked in the street, which was a breeze, being the compressed, nimble chariots that they are. Even got a few compliments from the neighbours.
You can always recognize a Mini, as they haven’t changed much over the years. The recent models have more rounded aerodynamic lines, LED headlight configuration, and chrome trim, which adds to the look of the radiator grill and surrounds. The tailgate handle and rear fog lights are also smart additions.
The next day I decided to do a loop of the river, north and south, so I could get the Cooper S up to reasonable revs on the freeway, and finally get through the six-gear range.
It performed very well. I ramped up the excitement in Sport mode for that unique Mini go-cart feel, and the adrenaline rose with the torque level.
There was definitely a heightened response in the accelerator pedal, more direct steering and impressive road holding. Gearshift was smooth and seamless with increased acceleration progressing through the cogs. That distinctive mini engine pitch (a supercharged blender comes to mind) was music to the ears.
Pick-up while overtaking was impressive and there was a sense that, like a thoroughbred colt, much more pace was but toe-tap away. The 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder engine delivers heaps of power. I recall wishing I were on the Autobahn, not the Kwinana Freeway, but then who doesn’t driving in the Granny State.
Back in leafy Broome Street, I pulled up at the Cott sports grounds to get a few seaside snaps of the car. While I clicking away, a curious fellow pulled up in his own wheels.
“Hey, are you selling the Mini?” he yelled leaning out the window.
I informed him that I wasn’t, but the Mini Garage was.
“Pity, I’d have bought it off you on the spot. Love ‘em!”
On the Sunday we took the Cooper down to Freo for a test in the back streets and busy thoroughfares.
The Mini not only turns on a dime and fits in limited parking spots, it’s a gem for weaving through traffic and zipping down small streets (refer to the 1960s classic flick The Italian Job for verification).
Monday morning and it was time to return the wheels.
I took the Cooper S for an early morning run around Kings Park, albeit a slow one with the 40km limit. But I went there for a bit of springtime wildflower rubber necking, not to win Le Mans.
This Mini offers good viewing visibility so is a top touring car, particularly for one or two travellers on a road trip. The luggage compartment is surprisingly generous.
I zipped down from the Park, negotiated the dreaded Quay before the hideous morning traffic, zoomed over the causeway, and slipped easily into the last parking spot in Albany Highway outside the Imp café, where I popped in for the morning java and muffin.
Peering out the window over the morning paper the Mini looked a picture parked out in the hustle and bustle.
“Dang fine little car,” I thought. Then it was back to the drop it off at the Auto Classic Mini Garage.
Pop in and try one out. My bet’s you’ll keep it for a bit longer than a weekend. I miss that Mini.
The Starfish would like to thank all the team at Auto Classic Mini Garage and Bonnie Bullock at saranac.pr!
Auto Classic Mini Garage
10 Asquith St, Victoria Park WA 6100
(08) 9311 7533
Starfish Photographs: Peter Rigby