Trop­i­cal fever

Wheels’ De­jan Jo­vanovic finds that a Vol­canic Or­ange all-new Mini Cooper S is hot stuff on a Caribbean is­land

Friday - - Motoring -

The new Mini is big­ger be­cause people want big­ger Mi­nis. Yes, there are fo­cus groups, and plenty of par­tic­i­pants shout, “I want a smaller Mini!” But the very next ques­tion from the man­u­fac­turer is, “OK, would you pay for it?”

Hushed mur­murs. The an­swer is al­ways “No”.

If Mini was to build a mini Mini – for ex­am­ple, the 2011 Rock­et­man Geneva show star, a full foot shorter than the hatch­back – the car would re­quire an en­tirely new struc­ture, about as much in­vest­ment as the rest of the range com­bined, and yet in Europe it would have to come in at well un­der €18,000 (around Dh90,000). A cheap Mini sim­ply doesn’t fit in with the com­pany’s over­priced im­age.

In­stead of all that malarkey you get a big­ger new Mini, al­beit one that’s still the small­est car in class. “What class is that ex­actly?” I quizzed the brand’s var­i­ous global bosses at the launch in Puerto Rico. “Well, ac­tu­ally here at Mini we don’t re­ally feel we have any ri­vals.” So there you have it: the all-new Mini Cooper is the small­est car in a class of one.

Of course you could ar­gue, quite ef­fec­tively, that there are plenty of ri­vals out there, es­pe­cially over­seas, such as the Citroën DS3, stuff from Abarth, Re­nault­sport’s Clio and more, but since they’re all sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than the Cooper, the guys sort of have a point.

This time though, I can’t re­ally moan. It’s just a bet­ter big­ger small car than any­thing else avail­able. And the drive in Puerto Rico suits it im­mensely; I can’t tell whether the colourful is­land gels around our Vol­canic Or­ange Cooper S, or whether the car is just one of the lo­cals.

Over here Fiat 500s seem to dom­i­nate. The US is Mini’s big­gest mar­ket but no­body told that to the ‘51st’ state. In Europe cus­tomers tra­di­tion­ally favour the man­ual to the tune of 60:40, but else­where the split re­verses in favour of the au­to­matic. We’re in an au­to­matic for the first two-hour haul. Dis­tances around here aren’t that great – the en­tire is­land is roughly a 150km by 50km rec­tan­gle – but the time it takes to tra­verse them is. Buses and pick-up trucks labour through the jun­gles, and chick­ens don’t care why they cross the road. Stray dogs chase the car and some­times wins.

So the new Mini is big­ger, but the most im­por­tant thing is it still feels small. Sure enough you’re us­ing your own lit­tle lane in the road (and they’re all lit­tle in Puerto Rico) and yet you dis­cover there’s so much of it left unutilised, and that’s how the Mini can be fun at per­fectly semi-le­gal speeds – the driv­ing line is what you make it. That cor­ner might be a long text­book left, but hang on; a chicken just got sick in a chi­cane. Puerto Rico

The Cooper S is like a suit that throws on a fe­dora and pur­ple socks at night

in a Cooper S is fun… In that sense, not much has changed.

Yet of course it has, be­cause this car is all new. It’s longer, wider and taller with a larger track both front and rear. As soon as you ap­proach it you can tell. The en­gines are new, as well as the com­pletely re­designed sus­pen­sion and for the first time in a Mini, Dy­namic Damper Con­trol.

The in­te­rior, how­ever, grabs you first. It’s vastly im­proved, with bet­ter fit and ma­te­ri­als and nicely padded dash tops, and even the clumsy, cheap old tog­gle switches are now more taut and feel like ac­tual steel tog­gles.

Thank­fully the speedo has moved to its right­ful po­si­tion and the round cen­tral dis­play is now re­served for in­fo­tain­ment (in­clud­ing Mini’s awe­some Con­nected in-car en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem with satel­lite ra­dio – it works in our re­gion).

One of the main pri­or­i­ties in de­vel­op­ment was to lower weight, and it’s quite com­mend­able that this no­tice­ably larger car weighs ei­ther less or the same as be­fore, depend­ing on equip­ment.

That in­creased track should equal great dy­nam­ics, and the en­gi­neers gath­ered in Puerto Rico kept re­mind­ing us to try the new Mini Driv­ing Modes via a ro­tary switch be­hind the gear lever.

Slot it into Sport and the en­tire round dial on the dash lights up red, vari­ably dark­en­ing in re­la­tion to the mood of your right foot. On the move im­me­di­ately, the most ap­par­ent im­prove­ment comes from the stiffer body struc­ture and longer wheel­base – it just does not ride like a scrawny lit­tle car.

Over rough sur­faces both the Cooper and Cooper S feel, hon­estly, like a BMW1 Se­ries or even an older 3 Se­ries, just per­fectly solid and weighted on the road and in­sus­cep­ti­ble to tram­lin­ing or fol­low­ing sur­face im­per­fec­tions like small cars seem to do. Some of them get com­pletely lost down heav­ily cam­bered roads or dis­ap­pear in pot­holes – the Mini mus­cu­larly bul­lies through; must be those Dy­namic Dampers.

One thing that doesn’t feel small, and isn’t, in the Cooper S is the en­gine. The Cooper S doesn’t have a small en­gine. In fact it has a mas­sive one – 2.0 litres (pre­vi­ously it was 1.6) in a Mini even sounds wrong. Now it’s way more flex­i­ble, quicker but smoother, and as such it has lost that ner­vous, edgy fer­vour that made the old car a bit of a Jack Rus­sell. It’s still a Jack Rus­sell, mind you, it’s just no longer a puppy…

A 2.0-litre is a big en­gine. You can get a Jag XJ with a 2.0-litre. I think you can get a 7 Se­ries with a 2.0-litre. This one in the Cooper S is tur­bocharged to make a care­free 192bhp, which is 11 more than be­fore.

It’s got di­rect in­jec­tion and the lot, and it’ll get it to 100kph in less than seven sec­onds. But hon­estly, it was a bit lost on me, es­pe­cially paired with an au­to­matic that makes this Cooper S a bit more “all growed up” than a Mini has any right to be.

I asked the Mini guys about the new rearengined, rear-drive Re­nault Twingo (that’s what this seg­ment needs, some­thing truly fresh) and they were qui­etly im­pressed. But for Mini to come in with a sig­nif­i­cantly smaller car and com­pete with the Twingo, for ex­am­ple, at around €18,000 is crazy. The hottest hy­po­thet­i­cal Twingo RS will likely re­tail in Europe for €16,000. There sim­ply is no such thing as im­age-con­scious pre­mi­um­ness (yeah, I hate that word too) pack­aged small. Just ask the Cygnet.

And that gets me on to the truly mini Mini in the new Mini range. And it comes with a psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tor… A three-cylin­der en­gine is small. The Cooper gets that one, and it’s a 1.5-litre turbo do­ing 136bhp and it’s only one sec­ond slower to 100kph from rest than the Cooper S. That’s noth­ing. It’s a small en­gine in a small car. That’s how it’s sup­posed to be.

Alec Is­sigo­nis didn’t set out to cre­ate an icon. He wanted an af­ford­able, prac­ti­cal, very clever lit­tle car, and it looked the way it did be­cause that’s how it ended up. And its con­cept, the idea of a bril­liant lit­tle never-be­fore car, is what made it an icon.

BMW’s Mini is very con­cerned with im­age, very fret­ful about how ev­ery­thing must look ‘Mini’. There is no such thing. It must sim­ply look like a great con­cept, it must look clever, and cul­tural sym­bol­ism will fol­low in due time.

The orig­i­nal Mini was hon­est, and that’s what we all loved. The new three-cylin­der Cooper is hon­est too. And it has such great steer­ing.

The Cooper S is like a suit that throws on a fe­dora and pur­ple socks at night. To­mor­row morn­ing, though, he’s still a suit, in a board­room full of other grey suits and a pie chart on Pow­erpoint.

The three-cylin­der Mini, on the other hand, fer­ries its owner to a co-op bak­ery spe­cial­is­ing in gluten-free cup­cakes. They’ve got a com­mu­nity wall with ad­verts for sec­ond-hand bi­cy­cles and har­mon­ica play­ers look­ing for band mates.

A Cooper S just runs that chicken over. A Cooper stops and chats, maybe plays a lit­tle tag with the dog.

The car’s in­te­rior is vastly im­proved, es­pe­cially the sig­na­ture Mini tog­gle switches and the de­tails

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.