It’s not surprising to learn that in the late 1950s, Sir Alec Issigonis was inspired by the words of aviator and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “If anything at all, perfection is finally attained not where there is no longer anything to add, but when there is nothing more to attain.”
Saint-Exupéry went on to write his beloved novella “The Little Prince,” and Sir Alec went on to design the original Mini. Perfection, indeed.
Generations later, Sir Alec’s iconic design endures. It was revived in 2001 by BMW to an impatient public, which has kept snapping up the versatile and high-spirited car ever since.
I share a birthday with Sir Alec (November 18), and have always adored the MINI. So it was only a matter of time before I found myself in the irreverent gaze of a 2015 MINI Cooper S 5-door. It seemed that the minimalist runabout of the 60s had finally grown up! While there was no mistaking the puckish shape, there was something almost refined and gracious in the silhouette.
Inside, the MINI was all urbane black leather, and lots of shiny silver brightwork. Chunky toggle switches sprouted out of the dash and the roof, snapping shut with a meaty thwack. Vintage looking door handles, and the rounded contours of the centre console controls were a nod to the MINI’s legacy.
My lithe and leggy passenger enjoyed the seat extensions supporting her legs, which are made for not-so-MINI folks. In fact, the MINI was not unlike a Tardis, with so much more space inside than you’d expect.
And putting the pedal to the metal prompted a lusty response from the 4-cylinder, 189 horsepower engine. The MINI had obviously never met a corner it didn’t love, and hugged the corners around swanky neighbourhoods, down sinuous thoroughfares, and finally, onto the highway. As I swung through the gears, the MINI smoothly sprang forward, sweetly leaning left and right, like some thrilling visceral extension of my arm.
On the round centre console, an LED light blinked in different colours, as if to match my mood. With the MINI Connected app, I could enhance the infotainment system to my heart’s content – and I did. From a gay German dance station to an oldies soul station in Tokyo, and smooth jazz tunes in Finland, the possibilities were endless. I could even spell out a keyword on the control, and tried in vain to find an all-Streisand station – maybe in Pago Pago? No matter, the MINI attended to my every quixotic musical impulse.
Finally, it was time for the car show event of the season – Micro Car North, held by Ralph and Wendy Hough at their lovely home near Orillia. On their vast expanse of lawn, every year microcar enthusiasts from all over the continent gather with their tiny wheeled wonders.
When I rolled in with the MINI, for the first time, I could proudly take my place on the front lawn. While I’ve attended the show in years past, usually I skulk to the back, since I’m driving anything but a microcar. Even so, it could be argued that the MINI was well over the 850 cc displacement limit!
Right away, Peter Svilans toddled over with his tiny black chihuahua, Lucy, to check out the MINI. I’ve noticed that a disproportionate number of microcar owners seem to favour microdogs. We chatted about the changes in the new MINI, and all the different variations. Which have always been the case – in the old days, the legacy Mini was produced as the Austin 7 Countryman, the Clubman, and even the military Moke.
But it was with the deft racing touch of John Cooper, that the Mini established the performance pedigree that is inherent in every MINI today. And it was on the back country roads of Orillia, that I cut loose and gave the MINI full reign. Confident and committed, the MINI smoked up knolls and kicked down gulleys, digging into the curves with gusto.
The MINI may have grown up, but it’s still in touch with its inner brat.
Sir Alec would be proud.