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The Mini Cooper S: bigger and just as good

Ever since the new Mini Cooper diesel was launched last year, many loyalists and enthusiasts have been impatiently waiting for the iconic car manufacturer to launch its most powerful hatch, the Cooper S. The wait was finally over when the car made its India debut last week. Its price tag did not surprise anyone — in any case, for potential owners it was not even important. The Cooper S is bought for two reasons: the prestige it endows on the owner and its performance. If you require anything else from your car, you will have to depend on your other cars for these.

There was some speculation about whether the new UKL platform — also used in the 1-Series hatch from BMW, the Mini’s parent company — would be able to replicate the Cooper’s legendary go-kart handling capabilities. Clearly, skeptics hadn’t driven the front-wheel-drive 1-Series. If they had, they would have known the Cooper S would not suffer on this account.

On the winding road to Aamby Valley, I couldn’t resist putting pedal to metal. The 187 bhp power kicks in from the word go. The Cooper S is reputed to go from 0 to 100 km in 6.7 seconds, but till you don’t step on the gas and feel the power, this statistic is academic. If you choose the optional sport gearbox that comes with the Sport mode, there is absolutely no lag. It is a meeting of minds between the 6-speed gearbox and the 1,998 cc engine. We won’t get into the two other two driving modes — Green and Mid — because the main reason for their existence seems to be to put a child lock on the 2-litre engine. And that is not what I would drive a Mini for.

BMW has reworked the Cooper’s suspension. While it now provides a stiff ride when it encounters ditches and bumps, the car has not lost an ounce of its charismatic handling capability. I find that there is no turn, or even the slalom track, in Aamby Valley that tests the Cooper’s nerves. The tyres provide unbelievable grip and the car keeps encouraging me to push my driving skills rather than its limits. The steering wheel is so precise and the feedback so impressive that you feel you and the car share a metaphysical connection that lets both you and the car instinctively know what you desire to do.

The new Cooper S has grown bigger in all dimensions, but to call it more mature would be to take the sheen off the car. It looks furiously aggressive with a honeycomb grid with huge air intake vents on the lower lip replacing the cute three-silver-blade-grille. The front nose actually looks like it has been designed by John Cooper Works, the performance division of Mini, like AMG is for Mercedes-Benz. The baby-eye headlamps are now fitted with LED lights; this was much needed as it was sacrilege for a car of such status to not have this basic feature.

Though the side profile remains virtually the same as the earlier one — BMW didn’t want to tamper too much with the classic design — the Cooper S has been given chrome-finish side vents. The wheel arches look a lot more muscular and in full consonance with the 16-inch alloy wheels that are available in silver or black. In my opinion, it is the black that makes the 10 spokes of the wheel stand out to give the car a forceful, if enigmatic, image. The rear continues to show off the sporty twin exhaust positioned in the centre, while look of the tail lamps have been revised.

Mini Cooper S interiors. Photo credit: Pawan Dagia The new Cooper S comes with a lot of goodies that impart a premium flavour to it. The unique 6.5-inch infotainment system hogs all the attention in the cabin and it has a touch controller neatly tucked in between the seats. The instrument cluster has now been pushed back to the traditional position behind the steering wheel. The Harman Kardon music system provides excellent surround system, but on the hilly roads of Aamby Valley, I prefer to switch it off in order to hear a truer music: the exhaust note of the Cooper S. Of course, because the cabin drowns out any outside noise, I have to roll down the window. Ah, the pleasure of a listening to an automotive version of “Jailhouse Rock”.  

As the Cooper S has become a bigger hatch than its Mini branding suggests, there is a lot more space in the rear. I had a television cameraman sitting in the rear with a tripod, so you can imagine the acreage there. All the seats, front and rear, are very comfortable and they let you relax even when you are tackling sneaky turns and treacherous tarmac.

The new Mini Cooper S. Photo credit: Pawan Dagia The Mini Cooper S is a charming and spunky handler. The 2-litre petrol heart never ceases to amaze, loving as it does an enthusiastic rev-up and a quick dash. The car will fill your heart with a whole lot of pride and as for the performance, you can rest assured in its comfortable seats that you will never have cause for complaint on this issue. Yes, it is expensive, but then it is a Mini and nothing less.

MINI COOPER S
Specifications Engine: 1,998 cc petrol Power: 187 bhp @ 6,000 rpm Torque: 280 Nm @ 1,250rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Price: Rs 34.65 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
Arup Das is features editor at AutoX