Time really does fly when you’re having fun – and that’s certainly been the case with my MINI First, bought almost exactly four years ago. The car was unusual for being as basic as basic can be, being specified in the entry-level First form – and with a couple of important options, metallic paint and air conditioning.
It’s unusual these days to be able to buy any car above the £10,000 price point without aircon, but in the case of the First, I guess it’s MINI’s loss-leader to get people into the showroom, and then upsell into a MINI One. And indeed, when I went into Wollaston MINI to buy this one on a cold December’s evening, that’s exactly what they did to me. But I stuck to my guns, negotiated a discount, and then took a car which was already in stock and fitted with the options. Oh, and I didn’t pay extra for them.
So, all in all, an inexpensive way into MINI ownership. As well as the car, I specified the TLC package for a little extra, but which meant the car had fixed-price (free) servicing for the first three years.
Although the car was basic, and it missed many of the features standard, even in the MINI One, in no way did it feel stripped out, or cheap. And the engineering that underpins these cars remained happily in place. So, it had the same 1.6-litre Douvrin/MINI engine, built in Hams Hall, Birmingham, the same six-speed gearbox, the same safety kit and that nice planted, secure feeling on the road. Would I prefer a kitted-up Fiesta with more power? Absolutely not…
As the miles piled on, it performed faultlessly. I do have my reservations about such long service intervals in cars like this – effectively, the first inspection came at almost two years and, frankly, that’s too long. Okay, so the lubrication is up to the task, and the brakes, drivetrain and the like are rugged enough, but two years without checking the underside for any nasties is simply too long.
Basic interior without thrills is quite appealing, aside from the dinnerplate sized speedo
Nothing untowards was pulled out at the first or second service, although it needed new front pads. And for its first MoT in December 2014, it passed after the rear number plate bulb was changed. So, a painless and fault-free experience all round. Comment should also be given to Wollaston MINI, which has been exemplary along the way, with a nice showroom to spend time in and friendly staff – a couple of whom I would now call friends.
Upgrades along the way were few and far between. I upgraded the headlights to factory Xenons, and the naked exhaust tail pipe was treated to a factory finisher. The wiper arms were upgraded to 2013-spec items and, in a fit of pro-austerity, I removed the wheel-trims and fitted the natty factory hubcaps. And, er, that’s it. What it proved to me, more than ever, is the appeal of these cars, and how the more trinkets you add to them, the more plush the fittings, the less desirable they come. But I guess I’m out of step with most MINI buyers.
And, 42,000 miles later, it’s been sold on to a friend at work, who I am sure will enjoy it as much as I did. To get it ready for sale, I replaced the front two Michelin Energy tyres (which lasted extremely well, and were brilliant all-round), and the one blown front sidelight/DRL. And that’s it.
As ownership experiences, I can’t and won’t fault the MINI, and it’s proof that they are churning out solid and dependable cars in Cowley, which should make their workers proud. Well done, all.
The question remains, what am I replacing it with? Well, it’s not a MINI. And here’s why. Firstly, when the new F56 generation was launched, I assumed that, in time, the challenging styling would soften with familiarity. It has not. It still looks awkward and gawky, and although much of the detail that defined the R50 and R56 have been carried over, they’ve now been too diluted by the distended proportions.
Secondly, I bought the MINI First on price. All in, it cost £11,989, which I think was excellent value given the ownership proposition. To replace it like for like, I’d need to find £13,955 for a new MINI One in its most basic form, which is quite a price hike. Admittedly, the new car is considerably faster and more efficient, but it’s not enough to justify the additional outlay. Plus, I mean… those looks.
So, after four years, I’m MINIless, and that makes me a little sad. It did all that was expected of it, and without complaining once. I’ve enjoyed the car and, thanks to the excellent back-up and underlying quality of the product, I’d recommend one to anyone.
Adieu MINI, it’s been emotional