Mini 1499 GT review: a sheep in wolf’s clothing

Chris Knapman
2017 Mini 1499 GT

Cards on the table, the Mini 1499 GT is no longer available to order new. However, such was the demand for Mini UK’s press demonstrator that it has taken until now for us to get behind the wheel of one. Think of this as more of a nearly-new review, then, bearing in mind that being the second person in the logbook does at least mean you’ll be able to save up to £2,000 off the car’s original £16,990 list price.

Sold between November 2017 and February 2018, the idea of the 1499 GT was to provide a small sales boost prior to the arrival of the facelifted Mini hatchback.

It also marked the debut of BMW’s 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol engine in 101bhp tune, which has since also become standard in the Mini One, where it replaces the previous 1.2-litre three-cylinder unit. In terms of price the 1499 GT sits between a facelifted Mini One and the more expensive Cooper, but is arguably more desirable than either thanks to its unique specification.

Before we get into the what, it is worth addressing the why. Mini aficionados will already have noted the name is a reference to the 1275 GT of 1969, the number having grown to reflect the increased displacement of the engine (not to mention referencing that the modern iteration was a limited edition run for the UK only, capped at 1,499 cars).

It’s not just the name that takes inspiration from the classic 1275, but the philosophy behind the car too, that being to combine reasonable performance and go-faster styling with affordable running costs, particularly in regard to insurance and fuel economy. The result is a long way from a hot hatch – indeed, it’s not even a warm one. However, if you like the idea of – or your budget will only stretch as far as – a sheep in wolf’s clothing, the 1,499 GT could well appeal.

The 1499 GT is inspired by the classic 1275 GT of 1969, although the similarities end with the graphics

So to that specification. The engine we’ve covered, and it is matched to a six-speed manual gearbox and drives through the front wheels. Those wheels are 17 inches in diameter and finished in black rather than silver. There’s also tinted windows and clear indicator lenses, while the bumpers, side skirts and rear wing come from Mini’s John Cooper Works tuning division.

The result is that the GT certainly looks the part, whether finished in the Midnight Black of our test car with its gold graphics, or the other available colour combination of Pepper with black graphics.

The interior is upgraded in a similar fashion, borrowing John Cooper Works upgrades in the shape of sports seats, a three-spoke steering wheel, kick plates and several badges. As a result the 1499 GT really does feel like a special place to be.

Various John Cooper Works items such as the seats and steering wheel make the interior feel special

And while the basic trim makes do without a full satnav infotainment system (which all Minis now get as standard), there is a smartphone cradle to complement the radio unit, so you can run mapping through an app instead, as well as access your Spotify playlists.

That aside it’s all fairly standard modern Mini, with simple air-conditioning controls, a love-it-or-hate-it dashboard design and a driving position that drops you nice and low into the car. Visibility isn’t perfect, but nor is it disastrous, so despite this car’s bloated dimensions compared with a “real” Mini it is still very easy to drive.

From the moment you start the engine there’s no doubt you’re in a Mini. There’s a distinctive thrum from the front, and the controls have a meaty weight to them, with barely any slack. That’s particularly so as the 1499 GT rides on sports suspension with firmer dampers and stiffer springs. To call it uncomfortable would be taking things too far, but the car’s sporting intentions are certainly evident, particularly at low speeds.

Despite the racy looks, a short is all it takes to confirm that the 1499 GT is not a performance variant

It’s only when you push the accelerator all the way to the floor that you are reminded this is not a performance model, but is in fact is a 1,200kg car with only 101bhp and a similarly lean torque figure of 140lb ft. That even with six speeds this feels like a car with very long gearing is telling of its true nature, with even second gear seeming to go on for an eternity before you get close to the redline somewhere around 6,000rpm.

Thankfully the engine is sweet enough and the gearbox moves with sufficient precision to make sticking to high revs an enjoyable task, more so because you can do it without going at silly speeds.

What the GT then allows, with its pointy front end, abundance of grip and lack of body lean, is for you to carry that hard-won momentum through corners and out the other side, the car turning, sticking and communicating just like you’d expect a quick Mini to. And so while it takes some effort, this 1499 GT can indeed be as much fun to drive as its styling suggests it should be.

Despite the modest performance, the 1499 GT is fun to drive and it retains the traditional Mini attributes of quick steering, plenty of grip and a lack of body roll

Yet if you ease off and cruise along at the motorway speed limit you’ll be able to see 50mpg or more which, along with a similar insurance rating to the Mini One’s, helps to deliver on that promise of sensible running costs. Just note that if comfort is your main priority a basic One without the sports suspension or larger wheels would make more sense.

That’s kind of the point though, isn’t it? To make the 1499 GT more than just a set of stickers or a marketing gimmick, and instead give it a specification designed to appeal to those who want the looks and driving feel of a hot hatch without the associated running costs?

Yes it’s a bit slow, and even as a used purchase is far from a bargain considering its size, but for a car that is affordable to run, distinctively styled and fun to drive, this particularly Mini meets its brief rather well.

We couldn't resist including another image of this lovely flat-fronted 1275 GT from 1969

THE FACTS

Mini 1499 GT

TESTED 1,499cc three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £16,990/now

POWER/TORQUE 101bhp @ 3,900rpm/140lb ft at 1,350rpm

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 10.1 seconds

TOP SPEED 121mph

FUEL ECONOMY 57.6mpg (EU Combined). On test 48mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS 114g/km

VED £165 first year, then £140

VERDICT Not nearly as quick as it looks, but much cheaper to run than a Cooper S, the 1499 GT is an interesting Mini, assuming you are prepared to buy nearly-new and can live with the firm ride.

TELEGRAPH RATING Four out of five stars

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