REVIEW DATE: 15 May 2009
MINI has enhanced its sales figures with the Graphite special edition models, now joined by Clubman estate versions. Steve Walker reports
Some will see choosing the specification for their MINI as all part of the fun. Others will see the options list as a confusing and potentially expensive minefield. Those who fall into the latter camp will appreciate the MINI Graphite special edition which delivers an attractively specified car at a price that's right.
Brain surgery, rocket science, nuclear physics; these are all regularly held up as examples of confusing fields. You'll need an IQ that reads like a cricket score to make much sense of any of them but compared to the process of specifying a new MINI, they're absolute child's play. Actually, that's a slight exaggeration. If you can devise a way of splitting an atom or putting a banjo-playing chimp into a low orbit around Saturn, you can probably select the options on a MINI Cooper without wrecking its resale value but that's not to say it's easy. MINI offers such a vast range of ways for customers to personalise their car that buyers lacking the patience of a stop-motion animator will be glad of models like the Graphite special edition that choose a tasteful specification for them.
The MINI sets itself up as a premium small car and to support that view, it's available with a range of gadgets that would shame a Premiership footballer's media room. Once you've taken your pick of BiXenon headlamps, CD autochangers, TV tuners, keyless ignition, voice control and satellite navigation systems, there's the little matter of how the car will look. Various roof graphics, bonnet stripes, mirror housings and wheel designs determine the look of the exterior while a range of storage options and trim finishes can be applied to the cabin. It's easy to see where some confusion might arise. This must be part of the reason why MINI has had such success with special edition models in the past. Not only do they avoid the lengthy specification process, they also save buyers money and help protect residual values. On that basis, the latest MINI Graphite model must be worthy of closer inspection.
MINI One, MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper D versions of the Graphite special edition are available, presenting customers with a choice of 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel engines. There's also now the choice of three-door hatch or Clubman estate bodystyles. Regardless of the selection customers make, they're on the receiving end of a peppy little car with sharp handling and a go-kart feel that echoes the original Mini. Obviously, today's MINI is a far larger and more urbane proposition but even the 1.6-litre engine in the MINI One can get it to 60mph in under 11 seconds. The Cooper is the quickest model on paper with a 9.1s 0-60mph sprint, but the Cooper D's superior torque makes it a more lively companion on the road, particularly in built-up areas.
"This is a quick and affordable way of acquiring a well-specified MINI."
Electromechanical power-assisted steering (EPAS) made its debut on this version of the MINI and aims to reduce parking effort (a factor which turned off a proportion of mainly female potential customers with the MK1 version) but still retain pinpoint accuracy at speed. Although keen drivers will at first lament the loss of the heftier old system, this higher-tech setup at least features a Sport setting that increases the steering's weight and gives the throttle a more aggressive map.
The second generation 'new' MINI has much the same stance as the first but features a subtle loosening of the belt. The Cooper model, for instance, is 60mm longer than its MK1 counterpart. The front grille is tidier and the indicators are now housed in the headlight pod. If you're able to put a MK2 MINI up alongside a MK1 version, you should notice that the shoulder line is higher (18mm more), giving the today's version a more hunched, powerful appearance. It's inside the MINI that more obvious improvements have been wrought in recent years. Gone are those indicators that felt like you were snapping a biro every time you used them. The centrally mounted speedometer now houses entertainment and, if specified, navigation functions. The slimmed-down centre console offers more space in the footwells while the key has been replaced by a round signal sensor that slots next to the steering wheel. A start/stop button is also fitted as standard.
The retro design of the MINI's controls mean they aren't always as easy to use as those in a more modern vehicle but retro is the whole point of this car's existence so it's hard to be too critical. The interior certainly looks good and feels special which is what the designers were aiming for. Rear seat space is more limited than in rival superminis but a couple of adults will just about fit. Getting in and out of the back seats is more problematic and requires a certain degree of flexibility. The size of the boot will also present problems to buyers who regularly go wild in the aisles at Asda but build quality is generally strong.
The Graphite special edition package includes Dark Silver metallic paint which was previously only available on the high performance Cooper S and John Cooper Works models. The colour scheme is completed by black bonnet stripes and white indicator lenses with 15" Rotator Spoke alloy wheels and 'Graphite' badges on the B-pillars as a finishing touch. On the inside, the interior gets the Piano Black trim treatment. The MINI One Graphite comes at a £730 premium over the MINI One and the Cooper and Cooper D Graphite models command a £870 premium over the standard equivalents. The two Cooper derivatives come with 16" alloy wheels and can be ordered with black or white bonnet stripes.
Fuel economy is good across the MINI range. The 'One' and 'Cooper' 1.6 petrol models achieve almost identical fuel economy, returning 52.3mpg. The Cooper D is the real champion, however, as it manages a superb 72mpg with emissions of just 104g/km.
As an investment, the MINI makes good sense. Its residual values are propped up by strong demand for second-hand cars and special edition models like the Graphite have proved particularly popular due to their high specifications. The list prices might be relatively high but buyers will get a sizable proportion of that back when the time comes.
There's no doubt that choosing from the wealth of options available on the modern MINI can be a cause of confusion on an epic scale but why waste time poring over endless options lists when the Graphite special edition does the hard work for you?
This is a quick and affordable way of acquiring a well-specified MINI and with the marque's special edition models becoming increasingly sought-after on the used market, it'll even buoy-up your residual values. The MINI remains an iconic small car and one that's quite unlike anything else on the market despite its growing band of imitators. Practicality isn't a strong point but those seeking fun and retro charm are rarely disappointed by BMW's baby.
|For MINI GRAPHITE|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|