It was made at a time when a major petrol crisis spelled doom for all the big petrol cars and the market for German Bubble cars boomed. One man who absolutely abhorred the idea of these Bubble wheels decided to do something about it. And so was born the Mini, a groundbreaking new subcompact coupe using a transverse-mounted engine and an efficient, boxy front-wheel-drive layout. It achieved truly mini-compact exterior dimensions along with a surprising amount of usable space inside. Because it was affordable, stylish, fun to drive and easy to park anywhere, the British Mini and Mini Cooper quickly achieved icon status around the world and was also sold as a brief counter-culture favorite in the U.S.
After a lengthy break, the Mini Cooper returned to the markets in 2002 under BMW's direction to resurrect the legend. As before, the current Mini Cooper hatchback coupe and convertible appeal to a diverse audience. It's a uniquely sporting blend of classic British mini-car heritage and charm combined with precise German engineering and construction underneath. India for now gets the standard Mini Cooper, Cooper S, the Convertible and the Countryman.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
One look at both the Mini’s is enough to tell you that these little beauties are brimming with personality and a timeless flair. The entire new Mini range has been fully and consistently modernized all round, but nevertheless remains true and faithful to itself. The body designers have re-interpreted the traditional design and unmistakable shape of the car, in the process creating a truly authentic design reflecting both the character of the classic Mini and the up-to-date appeal of its predecessor.
Coming to he Convertible, drop tops aren’t really a favored choice of transport here in India thanks to the amount of pollution, climate and then some. However the Mini convertible is the kind that will put a roof of your head at the touch of a button so u can drive it like a normal hard top at all times and drop the roof when you are in a nice scenic place where there is more O2 rather than CO2. The Convertible looks a little awkward with its roof up however, once it’s down (takes only 15 seconds to get it down) everything looks nice and settled. It’s a car that evokes a smile from almost everyone who looks at it.
The Cooper S though makes no inhibitions about its character. It looks mean and looks like its going fast even when standing. The changes are immediately evident right from the black alloys, the discreet S badging on the side, a more muscular bumper with big air intakes and most of all those twin pipes at the centre. It’s interesting how a few changes can transform a smiling Mini to one angry machine on wheels.
In both the cars, the unmistakable design is ensured by three elements: the large front lights, the positioning lights accommodated in the front air dam, and the hexagonal radiator grille. The round clear glass headlights have been turned slightly to the outside in order to fully maintain the well-known and perfectly balanced proportions of the front end. From the side the front end of the car flows smoothly and harmoniously into the flanks of the new Mini, creating a particularly firm and taut look also from the side. Large wheels and minimum body overhangs both front and rear give the new Mini that typical stance on the wheels character now famous for several decades, as if the car were literally resting on its wheels.
Customization is the name of the game
All Coopers comes well equipped, but the options list is chalk full of countless luxury and customization features. The cabin is endearing to look at, but it can be a head scratcher to use. The plate-sized center-mounted speedometer honors the Mini’s past, but from a functional standpoint it’s a bit silly. Meanwhile, the climate controls are awkward to use and the stereo controls aren’t much better. The phrase form over function is quite apt when describing the Mini Cooper’s interior. Quality however is top notch and everything feels brilliant to touch. To change the ambience you also have mood lighting that can be changed in areas such as the elliptical door rings. There is also a more stylish version of BMW’s iDrive system which is controlled by a little joystick which may seem fiddly at first, but one gets used to it with time.
But as far as space was concerned the Mini is packaged quite nicely. In fact four of us easily managed to climb in and have a pleasant drive with the biggest and widest (that would be me and PD) sitting comfortably at the back. While the Cooper S can feel a little claustrophobic at the back, the Convertible especially with its top down is absolute bliss.
Sedate motoring or Turbocharged ecstasy
The moment you get into the convertible, it really gets your mood going. Turn on the music, just shift the stick into ‘D’ and you’re ready to roll. Chilling under the hood is a 1.6 litre 4-cylinder engine which pushes out a healthy 122 PS @ 6000 rpm and a maximum twist of 160 Nm at 4250 rpm which is transferred to the front wheels via a 6-speed auto box. The engine feels nice and refined as you putter around in traffic, but shift into Steptronic and floor that pedal, the soothing note starts turning raspy. The revs start rising but not as rapidly as one would want or expect. The fly in the ointment here is the gearbox. The torque converter is pretty lazy and shifts are pretty slow. Shifting gears in the Steptronic mode does improve things but only just. We couldn’t get our Drift box to record the Convertibles performance times thanks to a faulty cigarette lighter but the company claims a 0-100 km/h time of 11.1 seconds and a top speed of 191 km/h.
If its performance you are looking at, the Cooper S is your thing. While the engine remains the same, the S gets a twin scroll turbocharger that’s hots up things. Force induction gets the numbers way higher with the S producing a whopping 184 PS @ 5500 rpm and a maximum torque of 240 Nm between 1600-5000 rpm. The same 6-speed autobox is retained but the S gets steering mounted gearshift paddles to play with as well. Performance as expected is on a different level altogether. Flooring the smiley pedal induces a healthy dose of torque-steer as the traction control struggles to keep the front wheels in check. The Cooper S completed the 100 km/h sprint in 8.9 seconds flat and keeping the throttle buried saw the speedo hovering at 208 km/h with the Mini still having some reserves left. Drivability was a lot better compared to the convertible too thanks to the extra horses kicking in earlier in the rev zone. The kickdown from 40 – 120 km/h took just 10.2 seconds. The Supercharger simply works wonders in the Cooper S.
Retardation is just as impressive. Coupled with ABS and Brake assist, the Cooper S came to a halt from 100 km/h in just 2.96 seconds covering all of 40.4 metres to come to rest. Extremely stable with zilch drama, the Mini’s braking is as composed as it can be.
Go-Karts for Adults
Even the original Mini was an absolute delight when it came to driving dynamics and it even proved itself in the many rally wins that it notched up. The new Mini is that and more. The combination of a single joint spring strut at the front and a multiple control arm at the rear coupled with wide track and a low centre of gravity results in some very interesting dynamic abilities.
Going hard through the corners, the Convertible felt extremely stable. Agility was pretty much what you expect from a sportscar with a very responsive and direct steering feel. The Cooper S felt even crispier and is an absolute stand out whether on a serpentine road or just darting through the city. The down side is a rather firm ride, especially with larger wheels fitted. And when the bad sections of the road arrive, the S feels like a fish out of water with every thud filtering in the cabin and upsetting the car as well. While the Cooper S makes no bones about its sportscar character, it’s the Convertible which is more balanced of the two. The damping is much better and the Convertible takes potholes much much better than the hardcore S.
Performance meets Efficiency
Amazing fuel efficiency was the original Mini’s reason of being and the new car does not disappoint either. The Convertible batted out 7.6 kmpl in town with the aircon on at all times while the figure rose to a very respectable 13.4 kmpl on the highways. The 6-speed autobox makes all the difference.
The S on the other hand gave out 8.4 kmpl in the cut and thrust of traffic and a slightly lesser 12.6 kmpl on the highways. The extra grunt in the S makes sure you don’t use the throttle too much in town and as a result ekes out better efficiency than the Convertible. However since the S makes all that power at a 1000 revs lower than the Convertible, on the highway it is a wee bit thirstier than the drop top courtesy the slightly busier engine.
For the Enthusiast only!
While a key factor in the original cars success was its price, the new car is anywhere but a value for money buy. At Rs. 28.6 lakh for the Cooper S and Rs. 30.7 lakh for the Convertible both ex-showroom Delhi, the Mini’s come across as fashion statements only for the enthusiast or the well heeled. But if you’re in the market for a retro modern, the Mini offers the most variant options compared to its counterparts like the VW Beetle and the Fiat 500. It’s practical too with both the Convertible and the Cooper S swallowing four adults with a little bit of discomfort.
If ‘Fun’ is a major criteria in your idea of motoring, then these Mini’s simply have no competition. Fun under the sun or some serious performance, both these cars are an absolute laugh each and every time you get behind the wheel.
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