2018 Mini Cooper S first drive review
The original Mini made its appearance in 1959 and soon became an icon known for its innovative transverse engine and front-wheel drive layout, super space management, amazing agility and outstanding driving dynamics. The performance versions introduced subsequently, the Mini Cooper and Cooper S, were successful in motorsport, winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967. In fact till date, the original Mini is raced in many countries, including Sri Lanka.
The last Mini was produced in October 2000, but this was not to be the end of this fantastic car. Just around the time the original Mini was going out of production, in a strange coincidence materialized the 'retro-movement' leading to the introduction of nostalgia inspired vehicles. While the auto industry was making more modern and advanced cars, there was also a bunch of customers who were wistful about the great cars of the 60's and 70's and they did not want them to fade away into oblivion. Thus started the era of retro-cars or modern machines, with styling and performance elements which paid homage to the old legends. Enthusiasts could now have a 'classic car that was also contemporary'. It was almost akin to a car from the 60's driving into a time machine and metamorphosing into a 21st century vehicle.
Interestingly, before the production of the original Mini was discontinued, this British car brand had been purchased by the BMW Group who re-launched it when they showed the all-new Mini in November 2000. It was a modern-day avatar of the original Mini, flaunting the retro-styling along with all its latest technology. BMW were not the only ones to make a retro-car, many others jumped onto the nostalgic car bandwagon, especially American car makers like Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, Ford, etc.
Volkswagen also successfully revived the Beetle with its retro version and Fiat came out with its tribute to the classic 500 'Cinquecento'. Both of these have also been imported and sold in India but in small numbers. A lot of people may not know, but even in India, our very own Maruti introduced a retro version of its extremely popular Zen hatchback, called the Zen Classic. But in a country like ours which back then was still making outdated cars, there were few takers for a new car with old style looks.
While retro-cars continue to be made the most successful one has to be the Mini. The first generation one was launched in end 2000, second in 2006, third in 2014 and now the Mini has undergone a slight facelift and has some upgrades for 2018. Of course with the passage of time and requirements of safety, performance, advanced features, etc, its grown in size and its dimensions and mechanicals are nowhere near that of the original. But to the credit of BMW, they have done well in keeping the original chromosomes intact and recreating the 'Mini Magic'.
It is this same magic we experienced recently in Mallorca, Spain, while driving the 3-door hatch and convertible Mini. Right from the time the first retro-Mini was introduced, a highlight has been the well-replicated styling language of the past. While the basic lines and shape have remained true to the original, Mini designers have managed to evolve the looks and make them trendy by using some striking design elements like the large circular headlamps, the dining plate sized round speedometer, etc.
The new update includes fresh design accentuations with three body types (3-door, 5-door, and 2-door convertible). These have newly designed headlights and rear lights, alloy wheels, a multifunction steering wheel, standard USB and Bluetooth connections, wireless phone charging, additional body finishes and advanced connectivity technology with upgraded touch screen for convenience and infotainment. The adaptive optional LED headlights automatically adjust their brightness to the situation on the road. The LED daytime driving light and the turn indicator light are generated by a ring which surrounds the entire contour. In the standard halogen headlights, a striking accentuation is added by means of a black panel.
One thing I find bizarre is how actively BMW (a German carmaker) has started promoting the Mini's British origins and the passionate manner in which it has started to fly or showcase the UK's Union Jack flag on the new updated Mini's. In fact, the newly designed upright taillights feature a Union Jack design and are a clear reference to the brand's British origins. This 'flag flying' is carried into the passenger compartment too, with a rear-lit decorative panel on the passenger side that has a Union Jack motif.
For a country like ours, that was once a colony of the British Empire, the display of the Union Jack flag is excessive and not particularly pleasant
The Minis come with new interior materials and surfaces with lots of options of piano black finish. It's now also big on customization and customers can design and order through a specially created online shop things like side scuttles, decorative strips for the dash, LED door sill finishers and projectors, etc.
Customers can also specify their own texts to add a bit of their own identity into the design. In fact, they can put their names or short message even in the Mini logo projection feature. This uses a light source in the exterior mirror to project the Mini logo on the ground whenever the driver's door is opened. And the customer has the choice to specify what is projected. In the cars I drove, it was Mallorca, the name of the island we were on that was projected. Must say, that was really cool.
The Mini is offered with the option of three petrol and three diesel engines and these have been revised for better fuel consumption and reduced emissions. Some fine tuning has been done on the turbo's, engine electronics, oil supply, intake air ducting, the cooling system and the exhaust system. The engine covers are made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) to reduce weight too. The cubic capacity of some engines has been increased which results in additional torque and the petrol engines feature direct injection with increased pressure and have turbocharger blades made of highly heat-resilient material. The injection pressure in the diesel engines with common rail direct injection is also higher and fuel is fed to the combustion chambers with even greater precision.
Also new is the optional 7-speed steptronic transmission. It is smooth and fast shifting, adding to the sporty driving characteristics of the Mini. An 8-speed auto is available on some variants too. Interestingly, all these steptronic transmissions come with the latest generation auto start/stop function. This uses the navigation and front camera data to identify situations in which it is better not to switch off the engine, like when stopping briefly to look before making a turn or entering a lane or if the traffic ahead has started to move, etc. This is one feature I can't wait to try out in our chaotic and disorganized driving conditions.
While the Mini has several useful and innovative features, the one that fascinates me is the 'Mini Find Mate'. You can actually put tags with a wireless tracking function on your valuables such as bags, key rings, etc, and have their location displayed not only on the on-board computer but also in a Mini connected App on a smartphone!
On driving the Mini Cooper S, I was immediately struck by its agility and razor-sharp steering. It's really one of the most responsive steerings in the business, so quick in fact that very often you get the feeling that the front wheels have turned well before the rear ones have followed in their path. The engines are peppy and responsive and dish out fun in large measures. Actually though this car is not blisteringly powerful or super fast, its fun quotient is really very high. The Mini never fails to put a smile on your face, and it can also be used as your daily runabout car. At around 35 lakhs, it's not really expensive and provides lots of pleasure for its price. A welcome addition for Indian enthusiast for sure.
A new Mini logo
Mini now has a reworked logo that is said to reflect the new brand identity with its focus on values such as driving fun, distinctive design, premium quality and emotional appeal. As per BMW, the new logo has an awareness of traditional values combined with the spirit of future-oriented development. This logo has been incorporated in all Mini models from this March onwards and is said to display a clear commitment to the tradition of the British brand, which now stretches back almost 60 years.
+ Heritage and iconic styling, sharp handling and fun, and appeal
- Hard ride, heavy dose of the British Empire's Union Jack
Engine type: 1,998cc four-cylinder Petrol
Max power: 192PS @ 5000 to 6000 rpm
Max torque: 280Nm
LWH (mm): 3858/1727/1414
Kerb weight: 1,263kg
0-100 kmph: 6.8s
Top speed: 235kmph
Price: Rs 35 lakh (approx)
OD star rating: 4.5
Starts Rs 38 Lakhs
Starts Rs 44 Lakhs