We've already driven the new Mini twice this year, once in sunny Puerto Rico, and then again in the UK earlier last month. Nothing however beats driving the India specification car on Indian roads.
What is it?
The car we have is a canary yellow Cooper. And it’s got a diesel engine under the hood. Mini wants to cash in on the craze for diesels among luxury hatchback buyers and that’s whom this one’s aimed at. This one’s 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine makes 114bhp. While Mini will launch both the three and five door versions here, this three door is easily the more attractive of the two. What makes it so 'right', of course, is the combination of the fantastic neo retro design and the chunky cube like appeal of the car.
The upright cabin and squat stance give it the sort of presence not possessed by any other small car, and the typical Mini details add a lot to the look of the car too. All the traditional design elements are present: the hexagonal grille, round headlights, clamshell bonnet, upright windscreen, floating roof and the continuous band of chrome at the base of the cabin. On the new car, the surfacing is now tauter, and there's also a new sense of precision to the lines. The easiest way to identify the new Mini, however, is to look for the semi circular LEDs that run around the headlights. The new Mini sits on a new high-strength steel platform, called UKL, and it gets a wider track, and a new MacPherson strut type suspension at the front. Also revised is the rear multi-link rear suspension, that helps give it greater agility.
On the inside, the new Mini retains the same retro styling theme as before, but it has been improved. The fit and finish seem better and material quality is improved too. The big centre dial, however, doesn't house the speedo with its 'floating' needle anymore. This is a bit of a shame, as that added a lot of character. It was a bit impractical to look at, but what the hell! Unfortunately, the large high-res 8.8-inch central screen is not part of standard kit. In fact, very little is. You’ll have to pay through your nose for everything from the iDrive style infotainment system and sunroof to even basics as audio buttons on the steering wheel and leather upholstery on the seats. Speaking of which, the seats are sporty and well bolstered, if perhaps a bit excessively so for ‘healthier’ occupants. But there’ s more space in the cabin than before, most noticeable in the back. Getting into the back seat isn't easy but even medium sized passengers will be reasonably comfortable once in, but only for short drives.
What is it like to drive?
The new three cylinder diesel in the Cooper is a bit vocal at start-up, with a thrum emanating from the engine as you fire it. However, these qualities are quickly replaced by a more satisfying engine note as the revs rise. Go further up the power-band, and the engine smoothens up beautifully and pulls all the way to the redline in a single sweep. Despite having only 114bhp, it pulls well too. There's adequate power and torque, and performance is decent. 0-100 comes up in 9.90 seconds, and there's enough grunt for the car to accelerate past 180kph quite easily. Even the six-speed automatic gearbox feels good, though it doesn’t quite operate with the seamlessness of a dual clutch system.
Tick the option for ‘Driving Mode’ at the time of speccing your Mini, and you’ll get further control over engine and gearbox responses, and weight to the steering. From Green to Mid to Sport mode, the Mini will change character and go from being a relaxed hatchback to something a whole lot sharper. There's also a ‘driving excitement’ analyser that tells you just how well you are using the steering, brakes and accelerator.
The best bit about the new Mini, however, is that it retains the engaging nimbleness and liveliness of its predecessor, and now feels even more plated and poised in corners. There's less 'push' or load on the front wheels compared to the earlier car, and this gives the driver more confidence to toss it from corner to corner. In fact, traction is much better than in the older Minis, and overall balance has improved so much that there’s never any shortage of fun from behind the wheel. And, thankfully, the steering delivers every bit of that go-kart-like experience Minis are so famous for. It may be slightly down on feel to the older version, but the rest of the car is so improved, you won’t really complain. So much so that you’d wish the diesel engine made more power.
Also better is the ride quality. The suspension is more absorbent and there’s a newfound maturity to the way it tackles bumps. But there's no denying that a layer of stiffness is still there. On poorer patches of road, the body tends to feel fidgety, and you still get the odd crash of the suspension, especially over larger craters.
Should I buy one?
The new Mini has been launched in India, both in the three-door and five-door form but only in diesel guise. With prices of this luxury sport hatch starting at Rs 31.85 lakh (ex-showroom, India) for the three-door and Rs 35.20 lakh for the five-door, this car, clearly, is not for everybody. It has a terrible price to size ratio, it is 'just' a hatchback and that's just the start of it.
If, however, you are interested more in quality rather than just quantity and size, this is a car you need to take a long hard look at. An absolute riot to drive, beautifully built and equipped and more attractive to look at than many bonafide sports cars - the Mini is stylish, cheeky and loads of fun, all rolled into one. Yes, even in diesel form.