The Enduring MINI

As a showpiece for British engineering, the Mini outsold its competitors based on its functionality. But the new MINIs are showing a German discipline that heightens the fun.

With the outriders wailing their annoyance at those ubiquitous motorcycles and cleaving a path through the congestion, the convoy of MINIs trickled its way through the treacle-like traffic of Denpasar.

In the methodical madness that is city driving in Indonesia, the need for patience is no longer just a virtue, it’s probably coded into the DNA of the locals, who are hence forgiving, though no less adept at finding the narrowest of passages between cars and hurtling through. Less so the interlopers who are unashamedly keen to blast their squeaky horns and raise an angry digit; a reflection of their own inability to adapt?

The MINIs make their way through this hustle and bustle, pulling away past the rows of shop houses along dusty roads and roundabouts with elaborate statuary. At this point, the MINI cabriolet drops its top, letting in some of that global warming we’ve been reading about. Stinging, blinding sunshine speckles through the low trees that line the narrow roads, creating a dizzying light-and-shade effect that can verge from hypnotic to annoying.

If you’d prefer, the sliding roof on the soft top might be a better option, limiting the penetration of the rays, and allowing the air-con a fighting chance at keeping things cool in the cabin.

But, with the right shades on, sunblock and maybe a cap, you’re on your way, the go-kart feel of the MINI and the sputtering of the Cooper S engine as it nimbly negotiates the twists and turns of the mountainous terrain delivering an assured and enjoyable performance.

It’s often the case that Bali is less about the journey than the destination. And that’s quite often the villa you’ve chosen, the beach you’re going to surf at and the choice restaurants on the island you’ve decided to pick for your holiday.

RELATED ARTICLE: A Taste For The Island

Seldom is it about the journey within the island, which is viewed as functional more than anything else.

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After years of visiting Bali, the MINI Adventure put the island in sharper perspective. It was two full days of driving to the north and west of Bali, with some side tours and sporadic patches of pretty scenery en route.

The route to Menjangan Bay and down to Seminyak via Singaraja and Ubud would take the convoy of MINIS — including the Convertible and Clubman — along winding roads, mountains and narrow stretches of road with trees growing out of them, adorned by festival decorations and rice paddies which whizzed by.

Point to note is that if it weren’t for the outriders who cleared the way, this would have been an altogether different experience and may have taken a lot longer, and taken a lot more out of everyone in the car.

The MINI parade was met with stares and cheers (and the occasional glower and jeer) as the colourful cars zipped by.

The original Mini is iconic of an era that was part of a period of change as humanity came to terms with world wars and the global economy shifted into a higher gear. It was launched in 1959, during an era of intense creativity at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. It was also a time when socio-political shifts and ideological differences were resulting in crises around the world.

When Sir Alec Issigonis built his cars, he did so for the common man. Having come through the world wars, he probably saw the potential for the Mini to spread around the British empire. From 1959 to 2000, there were some 5.4 million Minis sold, making it the best selling British car in history.

The iconic nature of the Mini and its go-kart-like handling meant it had a huge fan base that spanned a wide spectrum of society.

When BMW acquired the Rover Group in 1994, and offloaded the bulk of it six years later, it hung on to the MINI name. It’s since spun the brand into a new phase of iconic evolution. The large round dials, driveability and character help to carve out its niche.

The MINI is still reaching a broad spectrum of customers, and remains relevant by pushing its presence increasingly via social media.

Making Individual Choices
As part of the launch of the new Convertible, MINI showcased a short film, This Day Forward about a man having a “Groundhog Day” moment before coming to the conclusion that his girlfriend is about to run off with his business partner. There is enough doubt in the storyline to leave you wondering if that’s the right decision, but regardless it’s an entertaining film.

Similarly, MINI entertains, but its practicality will always be called into question. The boot is small, while the back is adequate for those with slight frames. There’s enough juice, courtesy of turbocharged engines, heaps of aids onboard to help the driver in case of an emergency. Even with the top down and the elements are intruding, you can still get decent sound from the audio gear.

It’s on the move that the MINI brings out the biggest smile. Whipping around corners and racing up mountains, the MINI speaks about freedom of expression and choice.

Sir Alec, who famously said “I make my cars with such good brakes, such good steering, that if people get into a crash it’s their own fault” will probably feel justified in creating an icon that will likely last another lifetime.