Car Reviews

MINI road trip: Right royal romp in the country

Thankfully, the new MINI is nothing like the British original, other than a slight family resemblance in styling and packaging.

By Steve Bond Wheels.ca

Jun 22, 2012 5 min. read

Article was updated 11 years ago

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Looking at the MINI John Cooper Works, my brain screams ?British,? even though this vehicle is about as English as strudel and bratwurst.

It?s a flashback to my late teens when friends had original BMC Minis ? with the 10-inch wheels, sliding side windows and 850cc of anemic British horsepower.

Most of my friends and I were six-footers, but we fit in the Minis fairly comfortably and whoever called ?shotgun? (usually me) had one important duty. Frequently, the dreaded SU electric fuel pump would have a seizure and the car would sputter to a halt.

I?d hop out, suitably armed with a small plastic mallet, causing nearby motorists to roll up the windows and lock their doors in anticipation of some type of incident. I?d open the trunk and wail away at the fuel pump, as if trying to open a coconut with a hammer. Most times, the breaker points in the fuel pump would start working and we?d be mobile again.

Thankfully, the new MINI is nothing like the original, other than a slight family resemblance in styling and packaging.

Because of the MINI?s ancestry, my wife Cherie and I thought we?d seek the best fish and chips in southern Ontario. But the idea of ingesting that much grease was extremely off-putting, so we saddled up and headed for the west coast.

Ontario?s west coast, that is ? the eastern shore of Lake Huron from Grand Bend up to Kincardine.

The smallish car carries a fairly hefty price. The MINI John Cooper Works edition starts at $36,900 and various option packages brought my press unit up to a crumpet or two under 43 large. It had just about every comfort and performance option you could think of including voice recognition, heated leather seats, rain sensing wipers, nav system, larger brakes and sunroof.

The JCW also gets the hottest turbo 1.6 litre four with 208 horsepower and 192 lb.-ft. of torque. As the Brits say, ?Give it some welly? and the JCW moves. U.S. magazines have clocked the little blighter going zero to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds. That is jolly quick.

Running up and down through the gears on the precise, slickly shifting six-speed box was a joy and even in fifth and sixth, the MINI will give you a good, firm kick in the trousers. Stop on a slope and hill assist keeps the brakes on (even with the clutch depressed), until the vehicle starts to move forward. No more awkward coordination of handbrake, throttle and clutch. Brilliant.

We stopped to visit our friends Ian and Christine McQueen at Wolf BMW, their motorcycle dealership in London. On the 401, the GPS showed the MINI?s speedometer was 4 per cent fast so, with the cruise set at 104 (cough, cough), the MINI burbled along quite effortlessly, the comfortable leather seats soaking up road irregularities passed along by the stiff, sport suspension.

Trying to maintain the British theme, a promising local pub?s only English menu item was battered fish and chips. No shepherd?s pie, no piggies in a blanket, no bangers n? mash, roast beef or Yorkshire pudding. And in London, no less. Poor show, chaps.

Some interesting back roads got us to Grand Bend on the shores of Lake Huron. Because it was the start of summer vacation season, the acceleration of the MINI proved invaluable in getting by the hordes of caravans and motorhomes. We visited a friend that I?ve known since I was 22 and she was 19.

In Goderich, Ont., we succumbed and tried ?the best fish and chips on Ontario?s west coast.? The other places must be bloody horrible, because it took 45 minutes for our dinner to arrive (we both got headaches waiting) and the place was too hot. It was good that the local walleye and perch was breaded rather than battered, but it was overcooked and the coating was almost burned. For $34, we could?ve topped up on bratwurst or Canadian steaks in air-conditioned comfort.

The antidote was iced lollies on the Courthouse Square, which is actually a giant, three-lane roundabout ? Jim Kenzie take note.

Goderich is still struggling to rebuild after a tornado demolished the downtown core last August. Signs of the damage are still evident, but it?s heartening to see all the new construction. Goderich is a really nice town with some awesome beaches and we found a wonderful B&B.

The next day, we headed north to Kincardine and then east on Highway 9, where the terrain got pretty flat and uninteresting. We then toured through Walkerton, Hanover, Bradford and then home.

Overall, we really enjoyed our time with the MINI JCW. The striking metallic paint with red highlights proved popular with both blokes and birds. There was ample leg and headroom for my tall frame, even considering the sunroof. And with the seats folded down, my condo-sized hockey bag fit just fine, although the stick has to slide down by the passenger door.

The nav system was very intuitive and easy to use, the instruments were legible and the clock tower speedo that dominates the centre of the dash even started to grow on me.

Measured fuel consumption over almost 1,500 kilometres was 7.83L/100 km or 36 m.p.g. And this wasn?t any wussy eco-tanking either ? I enjoyed the MINI?s invigorating acceleration at every opportunity.

And the best part? Not once did Cherie have to get out and whack the fuel pump with a hammer. Cheers.

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