I mentioned at the start of my Mini Cooper S long-term review that I’ve long aspired to be Charlize Theron in The Italian Job.
I mean, I’d take Charlize Theron in any role to be honest, but her cool, calm, self-assuredness while descending train station stairs in her Mini is something that really spoke to me.
Naturally, I re-watched the movie the first night my Cooper S long-termer was in my care, and it took a fair bit of self-control not to immediately attempt a handbrake turn in the middle of my local shopping street.
I’m no stunt driver and, unfortunately, COVID-19 put a pin in my plans to attend a stunt-driver training course, but I did find the Mini was able to add a touch more pizzazz to my typically dull commutes.
One daytrip out to the Dandenongs was a particular highlight, with the hatchback handling like a dream on winding mountain roads thanks to its incredibly direct steering and seemingly never-ending pool of power.
The Mini’s firm steering wheel and speed-assisted steering were, for me, absolutely addictive. I loved the weight of the steering and the fact it feels substantial and sporty.
At lower speeds, the car's steering system is prominently assisted to allow for improved manoeuvrability, with assistance reduced at higher speeds to maximise playful responsiveness.
Even at lower speeds, however, the Mini's steering certainly feels heavier than other compact cars – something you may or may not like depending on your preferences (I personally enjoyed it).
If you flick the car into Sport mode, nosing around sharper bends is made even more fun to throw around corners, without ever sacrificing a sense of stability.
The seven-speed sports dual-clutch transmission is the perfect partner for the power of the car's four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, providing swift, effortless gear changes and behaving politely and compliantly around town.
At higher speeds, acceleration comes in quick bursts with satisfactory audio effects to match. The Mini’s exhaust note is a polite growl that becomes more resonant in Sport mode, and adds to the aural drama of overtaking or merging onto freeways.
In fact, part of the Mini's inherent joy is that it possesses an exhaust growl that belies its diminutive stature, adding a bit of street cred to its otherwise cutesy appearance.
For context, the Mini boasts 110kW of power per tonne, which means it has more zest than a similarly priced (though slightly larger) BMW 118i (75kW/tonne) or Mercedes-Benz A180 (70kW/tonne), and only slightly less than the ever-popular Volkswagen Golf GTI hot hatch, which generates 130kW of power per tonne.
If you need it, the Mini can get you from zero to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds, while the 118i does the same in 8.5 seconds, the A180 takes 8.8 seconds, the GTI does it in 6.2 seconds, and an Abarth 595 gets there in 6.9 seconds.
This all adds up to the Mini being an intimidating performance rival for most compact city cars, and even some hotter hatches.
The trade-off for this racy feel is that you get a ride that’s a little bumpy, with the cabin absorbing some shocks and bumps from the road. But I think it suits the car’s overall go-kart feel, and the Mini’s fun factor more than compensates for its rough edges.
Although it’s front-wheel drive, the Mini feels very sure-footed on the road, with an even-handed distribution of power and plenty of traction providing utmost confidence even in wet weather or slippery surfaces.
It feels firmly planted no matter how winding the route is, how wet the road is, or how quickly you might have accidentally taken that left-hand turn.
This fun feel extends to the car’s interior and infotainment, where a sustainable green fish will tell you if you’re not driving economically enough and customisable cabin lighting can create a party atmosphere.
Sports cars are fun, but it’s rare they strike the balance between power and practicality. Typically, a car that’s a hoot on 100km/h+ freeways is rarely as well behaved around town.
And that’s why I loved the Mini – sporty but practical with a ton of personality, it nails both briefs.
So, have I become Charlize Theron in The Italian Job? Far from it. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little Theron-esque in my Mini – even without the handbrake turns.