A more than capable car in a classic yet modern wrapper, the Mini is not perfect but if you buy one you know you've made a wise decision.
2011 Mini Cooper S
One of the few advantages - and there are very, very few - of aging is that, for the male of the species at least, there comes (a not necessarily unwanted) reduction in our desire to, ahem, roam. Our eyes wander less, our tendency to drool, our mouths quite literally open, is much reduced and there comes a certain contentment (and, guys, if you know what's good for you, you're nodding your head vigorously at this point) that we have chosen well. Indeed, maturity hopefully brings a certain satisfaction with what is in your own back garden rather than the far-flung fields over the next hill.
OK, forgive the rather obtuse way of stating the obvious; that our increased fidelity is more honestly attributed by our waning libidos rather than any great insight or strengthening of our moral fibre. Whatever the reason, we (hopefully) become a less testosterone-driven and more thoughtful family man, more content with what we have than what we're missing.
I'm beginning to get the same feeling about BMW's Mini Cooper. Perhaps it's old age, maybe I've just got a thing for Minis or, as BMW would no doubt like us all to believe, that its remake of the iconic microcar is actually timeless, but the 2011 Mini still seems as fresh as the day it was introduced in 2001. Yes, the taillights are now LEDs, the headlights are trimmed in black and they now swivel in turns, but it matters not. The basic shape, despite a complete redesign in 2007, remains the same and is not lesser in any way for it.
Though its brilliant styling is no doubt the most significant reason people fork over relatively big bucks for a relatively small car, it's hardly the only rationale for the continuing popularity of the Mini. Indeed, size limitations aside, the Cooper - especially the turbocharged S - are among the best cars available at any price.
For one thing, the Mini "drives" big. By that, I mean it has stability and comportment beyond its diminutive size. Side winds hardly bother the Cooper and its "riding on rails" stability at speed challenges even the best of full-sized German luxury saloons. A brisk 150kph feels like a mere buck ten behind the wheel of a Cooper S; no other small car on the planet can match its implacable manner.
Yet, it retains all the agility that a small car should. Wander off the motorway onto a twisty back road and the car that was just a cruise missile transforms into a go-kart. It dives for apexes like paparazzi for a Britney Spears shot. Grip, if you're riding on the Cooper S's 195/55R16 radials, is prodigious and roll, thanks to suspension calibrated sports car firm, is minimal.
The engine likewise punches above its weight. Though it displaces but 1.6L, the Cooper S really scoots - to 100kph in just seven seconds, says BMW - thanks to a bunch of advanced technology that includes turbocharging and direct fuel injection. Like the rest of the car, there are minor changes - horsepower is up nine to 181hp thanks to variable valve timing on the inlet camshaft - but performance is always more than adequate.
Inside, the Mini is equally inviting. Again, BMW will make much of the changes for 2011 - all of the buttons and switches on the centre console below the centre speedo are now black and the air-conditioning controls are bordered by a chrome ring, but really, it is the very goodness, or more accurately, the cuteness, of the basic layout that is the attraction. That large, centrally located speedometer, the equally rounded tachometer and the très retro array of toggle switches have all been a part of the Mini resurrection since its inception and not an iota less attractive for their consistency. Every time I sit in a Mini, I'm reminded that I could easily spend years behind this wheel and never grow tired of the view.
Of course, there are size limitations. The basic Mini is best at accommodating two adults. Four can fit, but those in the rear had better be diminutive. And you can forget about taking four persons' cargo. The boot only becomes even remotely expansive when the rear seats are folded down. If you need more room and are determined to Mini it, both the Clubman and the Countryman offer more space.
But what they don't offer is the satisfaction of sheer rightness of the basic Mini's design. No, the Mini is not perfect; the wind noise at speed is less than acceptable and the radio's reception is spotty. But, like the man who marries well, it's all overshadowed by the knowledge that, every morning, when you wander into the garage, you know that you have indeed made a wise decision.
Base price Dh135,000
Engine 1.6L turbocharged four cylinder
Gearbox six-speed manual
Power 181hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 240Nm @ 1,000rpm
Fuel economy, combined 6.6L / 100km