Speed is obviously not the draw here, and I still found myself really enjoying driving the MINI.
I hold mixed feelings towards the classic MINI, like this 1999 MINI Cooper Knightsbridge. Look, I get the appeal; small body, adorable looks, and it weighs next to nothing with the potential to be a whole lot of fun. It also held starring roles in several blockbuster movies and TV shows. The Italian Job and Mr. Bean in particular are the ones I like, and I respect the fact that the MINI has even managed to hold place in motorsport history with its participation in everything from road to rally to endurance racing.
On the other hand, I generally prefer something a bit bigger to stuff my slightly bulbous frame in, especially cars that trigger a bigger rise in adrenaline. This is a 1999 MINI Cooper Knightsbridge Edition, painted in gold with a soft sunroof. The styling needs no introduction, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the flaring fenders on the Knightsbridge that offer additional presence over the standard MINI Cooper. This well-preserved sample was offered to us by BMW Canada, and was produced in the final years of the classic MINI by the Rover Group, before BMW took over and introduced us to what is now known as the modern MINI Cooper (reviewed here).
This little Cooper is powered by a 1.3-liter inline-four engine that produces 63-horsepower and 70 lb-ft. of torque, with power delivered to the front-wheels using a four-speed manual transmission. Much like its leisurely appearance, the MINI is in no rush to get places no matter how hard you try. Getting off the line is fairly easy with simple clutch engagement; it slowly builds up to speed and can reach 96 km/h in 13.6 seconds and an eventual top speed of 143 km/h.
Speed is obviously not the draw here; I still found myself really enjoying driving the MINI. Entering the car was a bit of a challenge for me, and seating position took a bit of time getting used to as I found myself contorted trying to place my feet on pedals that lean too far towards the centre of the vehicle. However, it did not take long to get used to the awkward ergonomics, and I began to appreciate the unobstructed visibility. The overall driving experience is simple, and this level of simplicity is long lost in today’s automobiles. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why this little nugget is so much fun to drive as the tangibles do not stand out in any way, but you cannot help but to smile ear to ear at any speed.
The MINI Knightsbridge Editon features a more upscale interior thanks to the use of leather seating surfaces and a lacquered walnut dashboard. Being a product of the late 20th century, the MINI Knightsbridge comes with a modern steering wheel with a SRS airbag for safety mandates, and a decent stereo system that prevents the car from feeling too vintage.
Thanks to the large side windows, it feels fairly airy inside, and those longing for extra sunshine will enjoy the MINI Knightsbridge with its soft top operation over the fixed-roof models. There is also a surprising amount of cargo space, and while the rear seats can actually hold a couple of adults for short stints, they are more suitable as a luggage shelf. The ride quality is not too bad either; this is definitely a travel companion that I can see myself having a good time with, as long as I stay away from any major highways.
There you have it, the classic MINI. By the end of my time with this pea-sized urban crawler, I was easily able to see the appeal and why they have developed such a cult-like following. It’s an easy car to drive, more practical than it seems, and demands a whole lot of attention everywhere. A quick look at the used car classifieds suggests that the MINI is not incredibly hard to find at affordable prices, and mechanicals are simple enough for people who like to get their hands dirty. The 1999 MINI Cooper Knightsbridge is a great summer toy; living proof that you do not need to go fast to have fun.