Mini Cooper S review, test drive
8th Nov 2012 12:56 pm
The latest Mini stays true to traditional design, but under the skin, it’s much more than a standard hatch. Read our comprehensive review.
Although originally manufactured as a small car to be used by the masses for basic economical transportation, the Mini Cooper has, over time, evolved into an icon of high automobile fashion.
Launched in India in completely-built-up (CBU) form and hence subject to full import duty, 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. Although the Indian buyer traditionally associates steeper prices with size, things are slowly changing. With growing appreciation and understanding of luxury products and BMW (Mini’s owner) well-established in India, Mini isn’t starting its Indian innings from scratch.
So what makes the Cooper S special? Does it have the go to match the show? Does it have a practical side? We had to drive it on our favourite, and not-so-favourite, roads to find out.
The Mini’s biggest weakness is undoubtedly its hard ride. The sport-oriented Cooper S comes with a really stiff suspension so you can literally feel (and hear) each and every pimple and pebble on the road. Our test car’s optional 205/45 R17 tyres didn’t help matters here, and we think the standard car’s 195/55 16-inchers should be more absorbent. Also, the combination of the hard-sidewall run-flat tyres and stiff suspension has the car following road imperfections.
Not only does the Mini tramline quite a bit, but you’ll also find the steering wheel kicking back over uneven surfaces under hard acceleration.
You’ll forgive all these downsides the instant you see a winding road, because that’s where the Cooper S really comes alive. With the wheels at the extremities, a stiff suspension and low centre of gravity, the Mini moves about like a little ball of energy. Directional changes are go-kart quick, and the fabulously direct steering allows you to precisely point and shoot the Mini just as you’d like. The steering may not be completely consistent in the way it weighs up, and sure the car understeers at the limit thanks to so much power being channeled through the front wheels, but you can work around this by trail-braking into a corner and powering out as you apex it. The grip is phenomenal, there’s very little body roll and the brakes do a great job of shedding speed.
The thing is, you really don’t need to achieve ludicrous speeds to have fun in this car. Unlike big German cars that mask big speeds extremely well, the Mini excels at magnifying them. So, even at moderate speeds, it’s a fizzing, bubbling bundle of fun. The steering is constantly shimmying in your palms, the engine is always snapping to small throttle inputs and you know every move the car makes through the seat of your pants. It’s a really connected driving experience, and this is – and has always been – a Mini hallmark.
You’ll also like the Cooper S for its easy manoeuvrability in town. 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.