It may not be a family car but the Mini Cooper S is an indulgence you will not regret
The Mini for a start is an unbelievable eyeball magnet. The go-faster stripes, pugnacious stance and breathtaking quality levels instantly tell you this is something special. And you just can't get away from the fact that there's plenty of retro rally car appeal to this Cooper S. Then there's the way the car drives — like a go-kart with a fizzing rocket motor strapped on.
Launched in India as completely-built-up (CBU), the Mini range starts at Rs. 25.8 lakh for the Cooper hatchback and Rs. 28.6 lakh for the souped-up Cooper S featured here. In a market where size and prestige are directly proportional, that should be a big problem for Mini. Things, however, are changing. The Indian car buyer is maturing, there's a growing appreciation and understanding of luxury products, and with BMW (Mini's owner) well-established in India, Mini isn't starting its Indian innings from scratch.
So what makes the Cooper S special? Don't judge this car by its name, because the latest Mini is actually not all that ‘mini' at all. And while the new Mini may be separated from the original car by nearly five decades, it can't be mistaken for anything else. The DNA is clearly present in the frowning grille, bug-eyed headlights and simple tail. Even the way the wheels are pushed to the car's extremities, leaving minimal overhangs, harks back to the first Mini. The squat stance and low roof really make the Cooper S look a world away from the ‘tall-boy' hatchbacks of today.
Of course, the big question is if this car is large enough to be comfortable. The Mini's has a low roof, but once past the wide-opening pillarless doors, you get a cozy cabin. Sure, you sit quite close to your co-driver, but there is decent space for front occupants, and the upright A-pillars mean the view out in the front is fantastic. The nicely crafted seats are snug and well bolstered, but sadly do without electric adjustment, which is a shame in a car that costs so much. While the Cooper S can seat four, it is best to think of it as a 2+2. Accessing the back seat is not the most elegant of procedures, and once you get in, the seat can feel cramped over long distances and the knees-up seating position is not very comfy.
The Cooper S cabin uses circular cues to echo the exterior's retro theme, and to good effect. The Mini's signature oversized analogue speedometer, however we found ourselves relying more on the small digital speedo readout on the steering-column-mounted tachometer. It also neatly houses a display for the very modern (but optional) BMW iDrive-based infotainment system. The big dial with a tiny needle is pretty hard to read anyway. Adding personality to the cabin are the retro toggles switches on the centre console and roof. The Cooper S is a genuine hot hatch. It makes a solid 181bhp, delivered at 5500rpm, and 24.5kgm of torque between a very accessible 1600 and 5000rpm. The power-to-weight ratio is also a very 146bhp per tonne, and this allows the S to charge to 100kph from a standstill in a very rapid 7.32 seconds.
There is a little turbo lag to speak of on the rev needle's journey to the 6500rpm limiter. That said the engine does feel best between 2500 and 5000rpm. Gearshifts on the six-speed gearbox are nice, downshifts are quick enough, especially in Sport mode, and you have the option to use the BMW-like pull-push steering paddles (which takes some getting used to), or the gear lever in tiptronic mode for better control.
It took all but a few metres of driving on Mumbai's pathetic roads to reveal the Mini's biggest weakness, which is its hard ride. The sport-oriented Cooper S comes with a really stiff suspension so you can literally feel (and hear) each pebble on the road.
Its small dimensions and tight turning circle are further aided by a steering that is light enough at parking speeds. The Mini's short wheelbase and 130mm ground clearance also make light work of the largest of speedbreakers. Out cruising, however, the Mini does get slightly ruffled by strong crosswinds, and tyre noise over concrete surfaces does get intrusive at speeds above 100kph.
Thanks to its light kerb weight and not-so-large turbocharged engine, the Mini was able to return 9.5kpl in typical city driving and 13.5kpl cruising on the highway. But driving the Mini with a heavy throttle foot, we witnessed the fuel economy nosedive to close to 5kpl.
With two doors and limited space for the rear occupants, the Mini Cooper S was never going to be a car you'd buy to transport your family in. But this is one indulgence you won't regret.