SEAT Mii review
by David Finlay (22 June 2012)
A well-known and respected figure in the motor industry - his name and job title are not relevant to the story - recently gave me his view on cars which are sold by different people under different names even though they are to all intents and purposes the same thing. In his opinion, not expressed quite in the way I'm going to express it, this sort of thing may be of great interest to car geeks, like him and me, but of none whatever to real people, like you.
I think he has a point, and it would be lovely to consider the new SEAT Mii city car in isolation. But I don't think it makes sense to ignore the fact that the Mii is, bar some specification details and some styling work to make it look more SEATy, precisely the same car as the Volkswagen up! and Skoda Citigo.
And the reason it's important to say so is that the up! was recently named by an international jury as World Car of the Year 2012, fending off the latest-generation BMW 3-Series and Porsche 911. Quite a coup for VW, of course, but if the up! is that good then the practically identical Mii (and Citigo) must be assumed to be equally so. SEAT also points out that its engineers (and Skoda's) were heavily involved in the development of the car, in which case not all of their glory is merely reflected.
Enough already. The Mii - to get back to looking at it as a stand-alone model - is small, with not much room for rear passengers but considerably more luggage space than other city cars. It's well-built, though since there's not much of it a fair amount of mechanical noise comes into the cabin. And although it operates perfectly well on the open road, it's at its very best in built-up areas, a point SEAT emphasised at the UK media launch by sending journalists on a route through central Oxford that was so convoluted and so bedevilled by roadworks that it took half an hour to cover six miles.
Being a country boy, I was never going to enjoy that, but the exercise did show that if you're going to be held up in traffic it might as well be in a SEAT Mii. It's a very easy car to drive, thanks to its light but not flimsy major controls, and the fact that the Ecomotive model I was driving had a start/stop system which worked every single time the car came to rest was a big help.
All Miis have a three-cylinder one-litre petrol engine which comes in 59bhp and 74bhp forms (or 60PS and 75PS if you prefer it in metric). For me, the former is the one to go for. You might have to accelerate flat-out when you're joining a motorway, but in its home environment there's nothing the Mii does that an extra 15bhp would make it do any better.
In fact, only the two most expensive of the six cars in the range (the £10,390 SE with automated manual transmission and the £9980 Sport) have the 74bhp engine, and I wouldn't count either of them as a favourite. Number one, as far as I'm concerned, is the £9180 Ecomotive, whose Energy Recovery system and the start/stop I mentioned earlier makes it unique among Miis in having a CO2 rating of less than 100g/km.
That means no Vehicle Excise Duty, no London congestion charge and a 10% rather than 12% BIK rating for business users. And the more likely you are to drive in urban areas, the more chance the start/stop has of lowering your fuel bills.
I'm also very fond of the entry-level S. By early 21st-century standard it's almost unbelievably basic, with no dials other than the speedometer, wind-up windows and door mirrors that have to be adjusted by hand. (Yes, that means you have to lean across the car to adjust the one on the left if there's no passenger to help you. I did that. It was the first time in years.)
You may be horrified this. Well, fair enough, but I like basic cars, and if I were really going to have a Mii for city use only it would probably be this one, not least because at £7845 it's the cheapest of the bunch - cheaper, in fact, than any up!, though it's undercut by one of the Citigos.
Even so, I'd probably go for the optional air-conditioning, which adds £500 to the price and officially turns the S into a different model called S A/C. The S can also be made far more impressive for the £275 it costs to specify what's known as the SEAT Portable System (actually produced by Navigon), which provides satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a microSD card slot and lots of extra car data, including dials such as a revcounter and temperature gauge which are not fitted to the S.
The satnav aspect of the Navigon unit has been roundly criticised by several journalists, including myself, on other occasions. It would therefore be only fair to point out that I tried it on the Mii launch and found no problems with it. Maybe it feels happier in and around Oxford than elsewhere.