MINI rebirth : MINI Cooper S [review]

Car Specifications
Engine: 
1598cc, 16-valves, supercharged
Cylinder Layout: 
In-line 4
Top Speed: 
218km/h
Transmission: 
6-Speed Manual
0-100km/h: 
7.4 seconds
Power: 
163bhp at 6000rpm
Torque: 
210Nm at 4000rpm

Many of us will remember the little Austin Mini with its history dating back to 1959 and like the VW Beetle became one of the icons of the 20th century. The cute petite car was unique in that it crossed both the gender gap and all income levels. Not only did it win the Rallye of Monte Carlo in its debut appearance, it found its way into homes of stars and royalty, even gracing the garage of Princess Anne.

Today’s MINI is not just different by the way it is spelt out with caps but it is no longer British. BMW is its owner and had acquired it when they took over the entire Rover-Land Rover range. While BMW has sold off Land Rover and Rover, they kept the MINI project because it is the one they spent the most time and money on. Besides the MINI fits neatly into their plans of having a range of smaller BMWs.

Back in 1954, the Cooper S was the pinnacle of the Mini’s development and likewise, BMW thought it reasonable to introduce their version of the Cooper S to bolster the MINI range. The new MINI has only enjoyed a resurgence in Europe and UK until now where it will be brought to the Far East. However , if you expected a diminutive MINI think again, along with its pricing, the MINI has moved up to the next class. It is still a compact design and space is at a premium.

So far, the models are the MINI One, The MINI Cooper and now the Cooper S. The difficulty marketing the MINI is that it is a single-model marque. BMW may own it but the line has no other models, not unlike what Porsche was at one time. To make the marque more interesting the engineers have put all their engineering know-how into the Cooper S.

To start with the MINI’s chassis is an excellent one, extremely sturdy and it has the wheels at each corner, literally and figuratively. The suspension is said to be from the “Works” Cooper but it seems far better than the overly stiff works suspension. One of the constraints came from the lack of any extra cargo area.

The MINI Cooper cannot carry any spare tyres so a run-flat system had to be in place. Run-flat systems have no spares and really depend on these special tyres to keep running for 80 km without air. The tyres are typically very stiff, so stiff that they can actually support the weight of the vehicle without inflation. This leads to another problem because these tyres do not feel like they are flat even if punctured.

Unknowingly, the driver might merrily proceed at high speeds for a distance that would eventually destroy the tyre and lead to a nasty accident so it was imperative that the driver be informed of the puncture.

Happily in this era of technology, the solution has been found and it electronically detects the flat indirectly by comparing the minute changes in the rotation of the punctured tyre against the good ones. The good thing is, the chassis engineers have developed a remarkable package albeit with the stiff run-flat tyres.

Thanks to the extremely sturdy body of the MINI, the ride although firm does not feel harsh and the car remains uncommonly composed even when the roads are bad. With the involvement of the tyre manufacturers in the development of the Cooper S, the engineers have managed the impossible, decent comfort and great handling.

The Cooper S is a great handling car with sharp responses. It seems to have sacrificed hardly anything at all to achieve this. Sure the ride is on the firm side but never uncomfortable and the cabin save for the odd dashboard buzz is solid and composed without the crashing so evident in lesser cars.

Then there is the surprisingly neutral handling characteristic that very few cars possess. It has very high grip levels and the Cooper S tackles corners at amazing speeds without too much drama. The DSC electronics help of course keeping the car stable but it is set to intervene only at a very high level so much so that actually turning it off is not necessary because it hardly interferes with the pleasure of driving.

With a modest four-cylinder engine that only displaces 1.6L, performance can only be adequate but with the Cooper S, the engineers have boosted its performance by adding a supercharger. It now boasts of 163 bhp against the 115 bhp for the normal MINI Cooper. This raises its performance to levels of a 2.2L engine to satisfy the sport enthusiast though is some way off the blistering pace of the BMW M3.

However the comparison with the M3 does not end here because despite the diminutive size and performance, the Cooper S has the genetic character that imbues the M3. By no stretch of the imagination can it match the outright go of the M3 but its 0-100 km/h time of 7.4 seconds is nothing to be embarrassed about. Coupled to an excellent 6-speed manual gearbox, the Cooper S is truly an excellent tool in which to tackle the UK B-roads.

Fans of the automatic transmission will be saddened by the fact that the Cooper S is only going to be available in manual form but for the rest of us there is much to rejoice. The Cooper S brings back to motoring, a quality that has been fast becoming the sole domain of the supercar league. Albeit the MINI is not a particularly inexpensive car to own but the Cooper S will no doubt bring a broad smile to all its drivers.

FAST FACTS : MINI COOPER S
BODY: Two-Door Hatchback, Steel Monocoque construction
ENGINE: 1598cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valves, Supercharged
Max Power: 163 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Max Torque: 210 Nm @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Six-Speed manual
STEERING: Assisted Rack and Pinion system
BRAKES: All Discs
SUSPENSION: MacPherson strut system
ACCELERATION: 0-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds
TOP SPEED: 218 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 8.4L/100 km in mixed driving mode

Summary
BMW has been vindicated for keeping the MINI brand and its attention to quality and a unique driving experience has cumulated in the Cooper S. It is a wonderful start for this brand and though it is hard to survive as a one model brand, it would do well to copy Porsche to develop many variants and perhaps a second line. A keen driver's car indeed.
Photos: 
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