Believe it or not, a lot of what we do here at CarAdvice is our darnedest to provide you, our loyal readers, with the best high-quality car advice we can. Often this means straight launch and garage reviews of the latest new cars or in-depth comparison tests between key segment rivals. Sometimes though, we just get to have some out-and-out fun. The following ‘comparison’ is most definitely the latter…
These days, various drive modes are becoming ever more common. Seen in a variety of cars, from light cars to supercars, even a car such as the 2017 Mini Cooper S, for example, offers drivers a choice of three modes: Normal, Green, and Sport.
Thing is, for Mini at least, its Sport mode isn’t just linked to a sharper throttle pedal, heavier steering, and a more aurally active engine and exhaust, it comes tied to a nod to its iconic history.
You see, engage Sport mode in a new Mini, and the car’s central display screen alerts you to the fact you are now in a position to experience ‘Maximum go-kart feel’.
Harking back to the original Mini’s unique cone-rather-than-spring suspension design, the ‘Maximum go-kart feel’ line is in reference to a long-held philosophy and sentiment towards the once-humble little Mini’s handling prowess – said to be rather like that of a go-kart.
Anyway, to find out just how much ‘Maximum go-kart feel’ the Mini’s Sport mode really does offer, James Ward and I devised a wee plan…
With our goal being to discover if the Mini’s ‘Maximum go-kart feel’ was anything more than just PR spin and marketing hype, we headed to the track. Not just any track though, a very appropriate track.
Located a mere five kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, the location for our decided shenanigans would be the Port Melbourne Karting Complex and its 966-metre track – a regular fixture of the Australian Kart Championship.
Although I was keen for an old-fashioned mano-a-mano race with James in a Mini and myself in a kart, James convinced me that given I’m around 70kg-odd and, well, he’s not, a straight-up race wouldn’t have necessarily been fair.
Instead then, he suggested I set a lap time in a Mini and then another lap time in a fully-fledged go-kart, and we’d see just how much ‘Maximum go-kart feel’ the Mini really offers.
The three-door 2017 Mini Cooper S hatch is priced from $38,700 (before on-road costs) in six-speed manual guise and $41,050 (before on-road costs) if you opt for a six-speed automatic – as we’ve done here.
Motivation comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 141kW of power at 6000rpm and 280Nm of torque at 1250rpm.
Relying solely on its front wheels to put its power to the road, the Mini Cooper S auto claims 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds (0.1s faster than its manual counterpart).
Our Cooper S sits on a 2495mm wheelbase and tips the scales at 1175kg kerb (1150kg tare).
Our selected go-kart is a CRG Gemstar 30/32mm.
Priced from $5795, the KACRG24 sits on a 1042mm wheelbase, and is suitable for TaG and Rotax classes. It features magnesium wheels, a Greyhound flat-bottom seat, and a one-piece exhaust muffler with an integrated silencer.
It weighs in at around 80kg, with its naturally-aspirated KA100 0.1-litre two-stroke air-cooled one-cylinder churning out 16kW of power at 10,250rpm and 15Nm of torque at 9750rpm.
Depending on gearing and track conditions, the spritely rear-wheel-drive claims a top speed of around 100km/h.
On the track
Wardy’s instructions are simple: set the fastest standing-start/flying-finish time I can in each vehicle, then we’ll compare the times. First up, it’s the Mini Cooper S.
Off the line with a touch of wheelspin, the Mini accelerates well out of the blocks, and has little trouble getting up to speed.
Although its compact dimensions usually make it feel small when out in the wild of suburban streets and highways, out on a tight and twisty dedicated go-kart track, the 3850mm-long and 1727mm-wide Cooper S feels relatively big and oversized.
Struggling with a tendency to understeer, and constantly caught fighting its own sheer physics, the Mini is fun but it doesn’t feel particularly agile or crisp. Direction changes take work and the brakes and tyres aren’t loving the constant abuse.
Rounding the last corner, the foot is planted before the Mini crosses the start-finish line.
Next up, it’s time to don the helmet and suit up for the go-kart.
If you’ve never ‘launched’ a go-kart from a standing start before, it’s quite the sight, but for all the wrong reasons.
While the Cooper S had to negotiate some minor wheelspin off the line, the CRG Gemstar takes off with barely enough straight-line poke to outrun someone on foot. Give the minute engine some time though, and the revs rise, and the thing really starts to get a wriggle on.
Adjust to its on/off power delivery, and it’s not long before you’re smiling ear to ear.
So pointy and so sharp, the kart immediately responds to each and every driver input. It really is quite excellent.
Feeling like a significant step up from your average hire kart, the KACRG24 is firm, fast, and super fun. And, obviously, feels far more at home on the go-kart track than the Mini did.
With no stability control, no traction control, no driving aids or assists – and without all the weight of a modern motorcar – the kart is direct and pure. The connection and engagement is second to none, and when you’re behind the wheel, you can feel that it’s just you and the kart and the tyres (which really start to grip up nicely once they get warm).
Then of course, there’s the noise.
Sure, in Sport mode, the Mini’s exhaust pops put a smile on your face, but they don’t hold a candle to the go-kart’s intoxicating high-revving scream.
And with that, the go-kart crosses the line. What a total blast.
Earlier in the day, with James manning the stopwatch, I set a time in the Mini in both Green mode and Normal mode. Interestingly enough, the same time was set in both modes – a 0:57.20.
Switching things into Sport mode, the result was a faster time of 0:56.50 – a solid 0.7s quicker.
With more precise handling, a lower centre of gravity, and ultimately higher cornering speeds though, it was the go-kart that set the day’s fastest time, stopping the clock in 0:55.00 – 1.5s faster than the Mini in Sport mode.
So, what sort of ‘car advice’ does this particular comparison provide? Well, honestly, perhaps not that much. But that said, it was fascinating to see the results and to genuinely put the Mini, and it’s ‘Maximum go-kart feel’, to the test.
In the end, while there’s no doubt that an actual go-kart definitely outshines a Mini Cooper S for maximum go-kart feel, the little Mini is still a lot of fun and, in the right environment, can still be hugely entertaining. More importantly, perhaps, it’s also the only one of these two you can legally drive on the street…