It may be small and diminutive in comparison to other luxury cars, but where the Mini Cooper scores is in the huge dose of chic and massive driver appeal it delivers. And this stems broadly from the innate agility possessed by the earliest Minis.
I’m quickly reminded of this as we come upon an empty stretch of mountain road, somewhere in the north of the island of Mallorca. The road twists and turns like an undercooked strip of spaghetti; and the further up this road we go, the more challenging it gets. Corners tighten on themselves, sometimes twice, the road narrows in sections, and then, suddenly, when you least expect it, you come upon some really quick bits where you can make good use of the 190-odd horses.
As earlier, Mini’s new Cooper S feels so at home attacking corners and firing itself out on to the straights, I find it relatively easy to keep increasing the pace. This car just loves tearing around like a terrier.
As I drive harder I discover some differences between this facelifted car and the regular one. Yes, it feels just as eager to turn in, and the car rotates nicely around its centre, but it doesn’t quite have the same innate sense of balance. The controls aren’t as hard-edged or as quick, and the rear end isn’t as playful. What’s nice, however, is that it takes bumps better.
As the day progresses, I find that this new version is also a bit more comfortable being driven at speed. And because the tail doesn’t step out quite so easily or quite so much, you can stay on the gas for longer on the way out of corners. The steering, however, does feel too quick and a touch over-reactive – probably in an effort to give it a sense of extra agility. This new car also seems to pitch and bob a bit more than the earlier one. Still, what makes the Mini special is the driving experience; and that’s still there in spades.
The standard transmission on this Cooper S in other markets is a six-speed manual, and this is the car we have been given to drive here. It takes some time getting acclimatised – using my right hand to shift gears, and steering for longer periods with my left hand (when my right hand is engaged swapping cogs) – but as soon as I get more comfortable, I immediately realise what we are missing when we use the automatic gearbox. The Mini with the manual gearbox is just so much more inclusive; you’re much more immersed in the driving experience. And what makes it even more fun is that the engine has been reconfigured. It now has new, high-pressure injectors, a new exhaust system and a new turbocharger, too. Max power and torque figures remain the same at 192hp and 280Nm, but there’s more power and grunt at lower revs. As a result, you really enjoy the sharp ramp up in the power you get in the mid-range. What’s also worth looking forward to is the fact that the car launched in India has a new twin-clutch gearbox that’s a whole lot quicker (and for the most part smoother) than the ancient six-shooter.
This car also gets a bit of a facelift. The all-LED headlight is new, there’s a new tail-light with a Union Jack motif and then, uniquely, there are also bits you can customise. On order are a bunch of 3D-printed parts that you can stick on the dash, on the fenders, or on the running board, etched with your name or anything else you want. Even the puddle lights can be customised to spell your name, and Mini officials say most of these customisations can be ordered online: neat. The quality of the cabin has also improved, and you now get a touchscreen, as well, with wireless phone-charging.
Launched at Rs 33.20 lakh (ex-showroom, India), the Mini Cooper S facelift doesn’t represent a major shift, but the new features and the all-round more holistic driving experience make it quite appealing.