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Blue Eyed Boy?
At present, I would hate to be Nico Rosberg! Yes, he may be leading the Drivers’ Championship, but I wonder how many people actually want him to win this years’ title – besides himself of course, his family and friends, ‘his’ team in Mercedes, and (possibly) me.
Off late, we’ve seen Mini hatches, coupes, convertibles, roadsters, crossovers, even a crossover-coupe! But now we’ve finally got something a little sensible – a Mini 5-door version. So, how much sense does it really make?
If you were to ask someone to describe the ‘Mini’ driving experience, it’s safe to assume that the phrase ‘go-kart feel’ would feature quite prominently in the conversation. In fact, it’s something that the engineers themselves acknowledge and strive to retain.
The phrase has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that we even raced a Cooper S against a Rotax racing kart a couple of years ago. But there’s an important thing to remember here. You see, a go-kart is meant to be driven around a small, tight, and typically smooth racing circuit – not on the open road. As such, it has no suspension whatsoever to contend with potholes and/or speed bumps. The Mini, on the other hand, has to be entertaining to drive first and foremost – that’s become its reason for being, its USP – but it also has to be usable and practical enough to handle the commute and the trip down to the shops.
The current crop of Mini’s available in our market are phenomenal drivers’ cars, but they do require your full attention when behind the wheel. You’re forced to scan the road constantly to ensure that you avoid scarred patches of tarmac because the Cooper S, especially, follows every crevice in the road as though it’s been instructed to follow the path of least resistance at all times, and even the Countryman violently crashes through bumps that a Hyundai, for instance, wouldn’t even register. The new Mini Cooper, then, could be just what the Doctor ordered. And the Mini 5-door could be just the car to sell the idea to your wife. “Honey, it’s got four doors and a reasonable sized boot – it’s perfect for the family!”
Ishan drove the all-new Mini – the third generation since BMW resurrected the brand in 2000 – in sunny Puerto Rico earlier this year, and he came away very impressed. The last gen Cooper S was one of his favourite cars – and while he did actually miss a bit of the frenzy from the drivers’ seat, on the whole he felt that they’ve managed to strike a fine balance between staying true to the brand and building a car that’s a little bit more usable in the real world. Well, the new Mini hasn’t hit our shores just yet – and it appears that it could be doing so along with its slightly larger, and more practical, five-door sibling.
The new Cooper (in three and five-door body styles) is not just an important car for Mini, but also for the entire BMW Group. It’s the first car built on BMW’s brand new Ukl1 platform, which is slated to form the basis for cars such as the Active Tourer (the first front-wheel drive BMW, which was launched in Europe in the middle of this year), the next generation 1 Series, and even the next X1 – to name just a few.
The new Mini also comes with a full range of brand new three and four cylinder TwinPower turbo petrol and diesel engines. Our test car was the Cooper SD, and, at least for the moment, the diesel powered SD is slated to replace the petrol-powered S when the new car – both the 3 and 5-door – is launched in our market before the end of the year.
The Cooper SD comes with a turbocharged 2.0 litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, with the latest generation common-rail direct injection that can operate at 2,000 bar. Of course, it also features ‘Valvetronic’ – BMW’s fully variable valve control system. What impressed me most about the engine was the fact that the variable vane TwinPower turbo took just a sniff of throttle pedal movement to be jolted from its slumber in any gear, at any rpm. It helps this four-pot oil burner produce 170 horsepower, which is sufficient to propel this now rather reasonable-sized Mini to 100km/h in just 7.3 seconds. The important thing, though, is that this Mini retains that all-important sense of feeling fast even when you’re traveling at legal speeds – which is actually quite a novel quality in any modern car! What helps this Mini feel as spritely as it does is actually the 360Nm of torque that’s generated from just 1,500rpm – which makes the engine feel extremely responsive and tractable. The six-speed ZF gearbox is impeccable as well, but what heightens this driving experience is the interface between the driver and the machine. What I’m referring to, of course, is the cabin of the Mini – which retains all the novelty of the last generation, but with even higher levels of quality and fit-and-finish.
The Mini gets BMW’s latest generation of iDrive, with the touchpad controller. It also get’s a large screen where, in the past, you would have found that massive signature speedometer. It gets a chunky three-spoke steering wheel, and proper shift-paddles – not flimsy buttons or switches that you have to hunt for. The instrumentation and driving position are impeccable. They’ve truly nailed it with this cockpit! It’s got the perfect combination of character and novelty – with its toggle switches and psychedelic mood lighting that’s always changing hue – and practicality, in terms of space and comfort. The 5-door Cooper SD is just over 4 metres in length. The wheelbase has been expanded by 72mm over the three-door, and boot space has been increased by 67 litres to a total of 278. And so, you truly can fit a couple of extra people and their luggage in this Mini. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the rear seat is cavernous, but it’s not exactly stifling either. Where this car truly scores on the practicality charts, though, is in its efficiency figures. Considering the fact that we weren’t exactly sparing the throttle pedal – at times even breaching the 200km/h mark (strictly for purposes of journalistic integrity of course), at which speed it was perfectly composed by the way – it still returned an efficiency figure in the range of 16km/l.
Of course, there’s the odd fly in the ointment as well. While the ride quality is now actually quite liveable – especially with the adjustable dampers – the road noise is still enough to give you an instant migraine. And while the turbo diesel is a fantastic engine, in terms of both power and efficiency, the exhaust note is missing that characterful crackle and pop of the petrol Cooper S. On the inside, the fuel gauge looks like it belongs to an Atari console from the 80’s. And then there are the slightly odd proportions of the 5-door. Mini head of design, Anders Warming, says this is one of the most challenging designs that they’ve ever worked on. I have to say, though, once you get a little used to the slightly stretched rear door, and the considerable overall length, you have to admit they’ve done a pretty good job on the whole. From most angles, in fact, they’ve managed to evolve the design very well indeed and evoke the spirit of the original quite successfully – but there’s simply no getting around the fact that the three-door is clearly the more elegant solution.
That being said, I would buy the Mini 5-door Cooper SD in a heartbeat. After all, it has just enough practicality to make it usable, but still has all the character and novelty of the original to make it funky and playful at the same time. But, most of all, it still gives you that rush every time you get into the drivers’ seat. It still makes you feel about ten years old – and that’s the magic of Mini, isn’t it?