One for all: Driving the MINI One 5-door

I’ve driven quite a number of BMWs over the years, at least count, I think I’ve had the pleasure of sampling over 80 of Bavaria’s ultimate driving machines. But, embarrassingly enough, I’ve never driven a Mini before, and never really quite understood the appeal of anything other than their range-topping “S” or “JCW” models. Until now.

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Initially thinking it would be a nice progression, driving the “base model” One before making my way up the Mini food chain, I had thought that this drive would have concluded on a rather routine and mundane note since this was not just their “base model” Mini but the more practical (slightly less pretty) 5-door iteration. Boy, was I proven wrong. Pleasantly so too.

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But before going into that, let’s rundown the FAQs. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, this is the life-cycle impulse of the Mini One 5-door, itself being the third generation of Mini’s most iconic product. The One is also otherwise known as the “base model” and while it might look funny, I’ve been using those quotation marks for a reason. This “base model” really feels anything but.

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Stylistically, there is no mistaking the silhouette for anything other than a Mini. Even with 2two extra doors tacked on. It might not be as pretty as the 2-door cars but those extra openings around the back really do provide an added level of usability that is sure to bring in new customers to the brand.

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With such a distinctive shape already penned, visual updates were kept to a minimum, but as always, with a Mini, the beauty is always in the details. Key of which is the new tail lamps which now feature a very striking and great looking Union Jack motif. I really love it. Pure design genius.

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The One also comes with a set of black (Victory black) 16-inch wheels which I don’t really like. I’m not too fond of black wheels but given the sporty intent of the car, I’ll let it slide.

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Mini’s light-hearted design atmosphere, of course, extends to the interior cabin which retains plenty of fun and wonderfully tactile elements. I personally adore the toggle switches that line the centre console. In an era where everything’s now controlled by on-screen buttons, it’s really refreshing to have these chunky control switches to play around with.

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Same goes for the analogue dials on the gauge cluster, they might not have the amazing functionality (and fanciness) of newer all digital readouts but they really do suit the character of the Mini and look right at home.

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That’s not to say the new Mini lacks high-tech gadgetry though. taking centre stage on the dashboard is a bezel of coloured light surrounding the 6.5-inch touchscreen control display. While it might look funky and decorative (yes it does), the halo of light also has a secondary function, providing visual cues as you adjust various parameters of the climate and audio systems. Like I said, it’s all in the details. There are of course a couple of things that stick out, one of which is the new gear selector lever, it looks a little too chunky and square in a cabin full of circular motifs and another is the lack of navigation. You can’t have it all I guess.

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The Seats on the One are also not full leather but a mix of cow and fabric. This is something I don’t really mind since I’ve always preferred fabric over leather. Having fabric also allows you to have these really lovely plaid patterns! Seats are also manually adjusted but it isn’t too difficult to find the right driving position.

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Rear passenger space is adequate with decent space for two adults in the rear. Legroom might pose a slight issue for taller folk but I reckon this is a much better place to be than in the backseats of the 2-door variants.

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Three in the back might be a little difficult with the centre console extending all the way back towards the rear seats with a “cup holder” straddling in between. I think someone at Mini is being cheeky here.

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For those wondering about boot space, there’s a decent 278 litres of space available for a large piece of luggage or the week’s shopping and groceries. For the occasional Ikea furniture run, we’d recommend a Clubman instead.

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So far so good then, a rather ordinary albeit design-centric hatchback for a practical yet funky family man/woman right? Well, yes and no. It might have gained a number of practical uses with its extra doors but the way this Mini drives is far from ordinary.

Flip the starter toggle and the 1.5-litre unit rumbles to life with a muted burble. It really didn’t take very long for me to start having a stupid grin on my face. This car handles so well and so keenly! The steering is direct, sharp and gives a good amount of feedback through the rather fearsome wheel, and while those 16-inch wheels might not look like much, they do offer up a surprisingly good amount of front-end bite when carving through bends. Would i use the cliche’d go-kart handling term? Probably not. But it turns exceptionally well.

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This Mini One might not have much on paper with only 102 horses and 190Nm on tap, but it is precisely because of this power deficit that made the drive so much fun as it allows you to be extremely liberal with the throttle application.

Charge up towards corners with your foot to the floor, brake hard, brake late, and as the front end starts to complain, lift off the throttle and turn, eyeing your corner exit and planting your foot down once again as you unwind the steering wheel. Lather, rinse, repeat. This Mini One just soaks it up! And because the car isn’t pumping out a million horsepower, (and requires 10.2 seconds to hit 100km/h) you’re not always in danger of losing your license! You can’t say that about a new M5!

Some say the ride could be a little more comfortable, but I found it to have a pretty good balance and not something I’d complain about, if you wanted a soft cushy ride, go buy something else, this car is all about the drive. In fact, the little One was so much fun, I began looking forward to using it to go just about anywhere. Kopitiam down the street? Let’s take the Mini! Gotta run some errands? Mini! Don’t know where to go? Mini!

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When I returned the car back to the local Mini Habitat, I casually mentioned that this Mini One was the most fun I’ve had in a “base model” car for a long time. Unfortunately, I am going to have to take back those words because thinking back, I realised it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had in a “base model” car, period.

It might not look like much on paper, but boy does the Mini One 5-door deliver in smiles. One for all indeed.

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