The MINI Cooper 3-door: keeping the icon alive

The world became a very uncertain place since the Brexit referendum of 2016. Last Friday, Theresa May announced her resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. After nearly three years of attempting to chart a course for a journey she voted against, the hot potato will now be passed to someone else. To live through a time when each day’s headlines seem to create greater pessimism, it’s hard to blame people for holding on to things from the past that give them a sense of pride and joy.

The MINI Cooper is still instantly recognisable

As far as car manufacturers go, no brand has made more overt references to its heritage than MINI. You only need to look at the current generation’s rear lights for a reminder of the brand’s British origins. Whereas other marques such as Porsche have sold larger and more utilitarian models like currywursts at a German food fair, MINI have always done their best work with their small hatchbacks.

The 3-door hatchback is still the best form factor for delivering MINI’s famous handling traits

Despite growing in dimensions with each generation, MINI’s three-door variants have continued to retain their well-known handling characteristics. In the age of power steering, the MINI’s steering weight is heavy but responsive; the vibrations from the idling engine can be felt through the steering wheel; and the gruff exhaust note can be heard from within the cabin, although it’s more muffled than before.

The suspension, while not as punishing as that from the previous generation’s, will still give your bum some air time if you so much as try to flex your right ankle before the rear wheels have cleared the speed humps. In my weekend with the car, I could clearly feel the imperfections on Singapore’s roads, communicated precisely from the ground; in Sport mode, the feedback is delivered through the tight chassis with an even sharper edge. The damping is just enough that you can comfortably drive the car on a daily basis, but it helps you learn a lot more about the roads you drive on.

Circles, circles everywhere

The faithful retention of MINI’s iconic traits means little has changed. For all the creature comforts that other brands are cramming into their cars – MINI’s parent company, BMW, is a prime example – the little British automotive brand chose to keep things simple, focusing instead on creating fun behind the wheel in every journey.

That brings us to a bit of a problem, however. Just like the MINI One I reviewed last year, the Cooper has pretty much the same styling: LED headlights and rear lights (both with the Union Jack motifs), single exhaust pipe, bumpers – even the interior and equipment. Both also have the same 7-speed Steptronic transmission with double clutch that is blindingly fast and extremely polished. The Cooper does offer owners the choice of two roof colours, two mirror cap colours, and bonnet stripes in black or white. It’s a MINI after all, and I suppose that sort of thing makes an important difference to those who would think of owning one of these.

The more substantial difference between the two lies in the cars’ performance. The Cooper produces more power and torque from the same 3-cylinder turbocharged engine: 136 hp and 220 Nm. This takes the Cooper to 100 km/h from a standing start in 7.8 seconds, 2.7 seconds quicker than the One.

That’s less time spent waiting for things to get moving, but does it necessarily make driving more fun in cars of this capacity? And how much of a premium would a buyer be prepared to pay for the real-world difference?

While the Cooper requires a Category B COE since it exceeds the 130 hp threshold, the MINI One gets away with the typically more affordable Category A COE. The difference in the two cars’ prices will vary depending on how each COE category’s prices fluctuate, but at the time of writing, the Cooper costs S$39,000 more than the One. I’ll put it to you another way: that’s nearly a 40% premium on the One to buy the more powerful Cooper.

The decision will very likely come down to what aspect of the MINI – and driving in general – you value more. The MINI One is a very competent and fun car as it is, if a little short on grunt at the top end. If you only plan to drive it within Singapore though, there’s really no need for the additional horsepower. The MINI Cooper, on the other hand, is zippier and will probably be a little more exciting to drive on a day-to-day basis. Should you decide to take it up north for a little excursion, I’m sure it’ll be a hoot. It also has a few extra bells and whistles like premium leather Chester seats, an armrest between the driver and front passenger, and keyless entry – none of which are available in the MINI One.

Whatever the decision, it’s much better having two attractive options than being forced to be enthusiastic about a thankless job negotiating with backstabbing politicians for an outcome you never wanted. All the best, Theresa.

Special thanks to Eurokars Habitat for this opportunity.

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