The original Mini is a true British icon. Like the VW Beetle, it brought motoring to the masses. Simple, tiny yet deceptively spacious, fun to drive, and ridiculously affordable was the recipe. I could write all day about the achievements (and pitfalls…) of the old Mini, but that would be rather missing the point…
If you want a car along the lines of the classic Mini, then buy a Ford Ka… honestly, as a modern interpretation of the theme the Ka is a close as it gets. But if you are looking for a well built, fun and funky fashion trinket, the new ‘king-size’ Mini could well be your bag…
The new car has carried on the cult following of the old one, with 6 month waiting lists at one point. Whether you like the retro-modern style or think of it as a poor pastiche to the original (to be honest I was in the latter camp), it still is unmistakably a Mini, with the wheel at each corner stance and cheeky detailing scattered everywhere.
The Cooper-S adds a dose of menace to the cutesy standard car, with a subtly sporting body kit, a choice of arch-filling alloys, big bonnet scoop, and twin exhausts. The dainty simplicity and function-over-form feel of the original is certainly a thing of days gone by!
It is of course, a much bigger car, though still not as long as say a Ford Fiesta. The car is quite wide, which results in plenty of shoulder room front and rear. The back seats are a little cramped (although this has been improved with recent revisions) and as for the boot, well, you would struggle to keep a cat in their let alone swing it.
To specify a Cooper-S properly you need to spend around £19000, with the ‘Chilli’ pack at £2020 being essential. This includes Air-Conditioning, front fogs, trip computer, leather steering wheel, mats, and bi-xenon headlamps amongst other features. The Mini certainly isn’t cheap anymore. However, residual values are higher than anything else in its class, which makes the Mini a much more chirpy proposition (as long as you don’t go silly with the spec) and excellent value to Contract Hire.
So it’s no longer simple, it’s deceptively cramped, and expensive to buy. If this car isn’t about affordability or practicality, what is it about?!
Well, two things I think- the aforementioned fashion, and secondly, fun. I realised the new Mini’s sense of spirit when I first drove a basic, no frills, wheel-trimmed, Mini One a couple of years ago, and driving this new, turbocharged, fun-filled Cooper-S reinforced that.
Whether you go for the basic 95 pint-size pony 1.4 Mini One, or the 175 force-fed crazy horse Cooper-S (or, for that matter the Cooper-S ‘Works’ with an extra 13 gees-gees) you get the engineering expertise of none other than BMW. The Munich legends certainly know a thing or two about making ‘the ultimate driving machine’, something that is noticeable very quickly when driving the Mini.
Sit in the seat. Everything feels right. All controls instantly at hand, nice chunky steering wheel, good seating position, and a good view out of the near- vertical screen. There certainly is so much more chic to the interior, especially compared to the bargain-basement feel of one of the Mini’s rivals, the Clio Renaultsport 197. Retro details abound, gorgeous chrome toggle switches, aluminium or piano black finishes (an extra £40 but well worth it) and a huge central speedo the size of a dinner plate (a bit naff!). The plastics are good, and the fit and finish seem generally up to scratch, although the 7000 (probably hard-driven) mile car I tested had a very annoying creak somewhere in the rear. The big, heavy doors shut with a solid thud.
The old Cooper-S had a supercharged engine. The new 1.6 is turbocharged. Without getting over-technical and boring you, where the old engine needed to be worked hard to extract the performance, the new one provides bundles of torque at all revs (torque being the kind of acceleration that pushes you back in those figure hugging sports seats).
This makes it flexible when driving around town (something missing from the aforementioned rev-happy Clio), but willing when out on the twisty country roads driving in the fashion of the legendary Paddy Hopkirk (Google him).
This should be really called ‘the ultimate flying machine’, because that is exactly what it is. The engine reminds me of a Trebor extra strong mint… very small but blimey it can blow your socks off! It has so much acceleration, in any gear, at any revs, you soon click through the six gears… BMW say that 60 should appear on the dinner-plate in just 7.1 seconds, and it feels every bit as quick as quick as this claim.
The engine sounds a little muted from inside, although wind down the window (electrically of course – leave keep-fit windows to the old Mini!) and you are treated to a bassy bellow on hard acceleration and pops and crackles from the twin centre-exit exhaust on the over-run. Apparently there is a louder, freer flowing ‘Works’ exhaust system available for all you boy and girl racers…
Driven in a more sedate manner, the car is pretty quiet and refined, with the exception of quite a bit of tyre noise, particularly for the rear passengers.
So it goes well and sounds nice, but what about when you get to a corner? The view through that letter-box windscreen allows you to point the stubby little nose exactly where you want it, the steering responds positively and once pinned to your chosen line generally feels steadfast. There is little body roll, although even on the 17 inch wheels the ride is on the bearable side of firm.
One complaint I had however, was torque-steer. Particularly on changing cambers and over bumps under power, the steering pulls and tugs like an angry Jack Russell. For £115 you can specify a ‘Limited Slip Differential’ which in my opinion should be standard, and is an essential if you are buying a Cooper-S. This shouldn’t be a problem on the other models.
All Cooper-S’s come with a ‘Sport button’ as standard, which gives the throttle and steering a little more response, my advice would be to keep this on all the time. It doesn’t compromise smooth driving at all, whereas some of the systems I have used in other cars make the throttle so sensitive that it makes every attempt at a subtle get away look and feel like you are doing a grand-prix start.
For a hardcore hatch the Cooper-S should still be reasonably easy going on your wallet. BMW are putting a huge amount of effort into ‘Efficient dynamics’ (Munich speak for saving the planet). The target for this is improved CO2 emissions, increased mpg and reduced weight. To you and I, the buying public, this basically means cheaper road tax and smaller fuel bills. The Cooper-S gently puffs out 149g/km of CO2 (compared to the 190g/km of the similarly engined Vauxhall Corsa VXR) and sips from the fuel tank at a rate of 45.6mpg on mixed driving (Corsa: 35.8). So this little rocket will certainly look after your pocket.
I was sceptical before I drove the Mini, I thought it was completely form over function. But driving it revealed a depth of talent that runs so much deeper than mere style. It can truly mix it with the best hot hatches, and the Mini name and image will always have people more impressed when they ask you what you drive. ‘I drive a Vauxhall Corsa’ somehow doesn’t quite have the same appeal…!
The best word to describe the Cooper? ……………….Super!