Re­cre­at­ing the clas­sic Malaysian road trip in a Mini Coun­try­man Cooper S.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents - TEXT LOW KA WEI

Re-cre­at­ing the clas­sic Malaysian road trip in a Mini Coun­try­man Cooper S.

Back in the day, hol­i­days meant pil­ing into the back of the fam­ily car with the sib­lings and put­ter­ing across the bor­der to ex­otic lo­ca­tions like De­saru or Cameron High­lands.

The North- South Ex­press­way was a mere glint in the eye; get­ting any­where was a slog on Malaysia’s trunk roads, which were crum­bling, one-lane-in-each-di­rec­tion af­fairs.

You had to watch out for three things: land­slides, mo­tor­cy­cles with no head­lights and dare­devil lorry driv­ers, who would pass each other at a speed dif­fer­en­tial of 1km per year, head-on col­li­sions be damned. But we, the kids, would be obliv­i­ous to all this, plugged into our Walk­man through a shared set of ear­phones. Fun times.

With multi-lane high­ways now criss-cross­ing our north­ern neigh­bour, such jour­neys are no longer as colour­ful to­day. So when the PR of­fi­cer at Mini rang me up and asked if I would like to take a press car with a cus­tomer con­voy up to Kuan­tan, tak­ing the old road cut­ting di­ag­o­nally across to the east coast, in­stead of the longer but faster high­way via the cap­i­tal, how could I say no?

And that was how I found my­self in a brand new Mini Coun­try­man on a trip down nos­tal­gia lane. Granted, this is not the clas­sic Fiat 131 from those days, but it is retro-styled, down to the over­sized cir­cu­lar di­als and old­fash­ioned flip switches in the cabin, so it is close enough. Drum brakes, 64hp en­gines and cli­mate con­trol by way of win­dow crank, I do not think I would miss.

Truth be told, with all sorts of au­ton­o­mous-driv­ing gad­getry these days like adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane as­sist, most cars could prac­ti­cally drive them­selves to Kuala Lumpur while you nap. But this is not that kind of car, and this is not that kind of road.

No, the 150km, dual-laned B-road of Fed­eral Route 12 that winds from Sega­mat, Jo­hor to our des­ti­na­tion in Gam­bang, near Kuan­tan, in Pa­hang, de­mands your full knuckle-whiten­ing at­ten­tion, with its steep ter­rain, tight cor­ners and rusty ve­hi­cles that al­ready ought to be scrapped when Sin­ga­pore was still part of the Fed­er­a­tion. Each begs to be over­taken.

The Cooper S model re­ceives the fa­mil­iar tur­bocharged four-cylin­der mo­tor that needs to be worked hard to eke out its 192hp and 280Nm. Max­i­mum torque ar­rives only at 4,600rpm. It is an ad­di­tional 400rpm later be­fore the last horse bolts from the sta­ble.

You have to rev the nuts off of this en­gine, but the re­wards are worth it. There is some­thing so sat­is­fy­ing from lis­ten­ing to the en­gine howl all the way to the red line, and then the “prrrrrapt” sound the ex­haust kicks out as the gears shift, re­leas­ing the built-up boost from the tur­bocharger. It eggs you on to do it over and over again: five hours of sheer bliss, flip­ping the pad­dle shifts, floor­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor and leav­ing oth­ers in your dust.

While the gen­eral big­ness of this cross­over – in par­tic­u­lar, its higher ride height – would sug­gest less- than-in­spir­ing han­dling, it had few prob­lems keep­ing up with the more go-kart-like hatches in the con­voy over twisty tar­mac.

Hav­ing said that, while the Coun­try­man is no slouch, the Mini 3-Door is def­i­nitely more fo­cused as a lean, mean driv­ing ma­chine. What you do gain, though, is lots of in­te­rior room, es­pe­cially in the rear, but all oc­cu­pants en­joy so much head­room, they could wear top hats and still not brush against the roof lin­ing. The trunk also swal­lowed up bags for my co-driver and said PR lady, plus car­tons of snacks and drinks.

It is the per­fect kind of car for fam­ily road trips, with the kids glued to their iPads while you, the driver, make progress past end­less palm plan­ta­tions, rus­tic kam­pungs and the oc­ca­sional small town. Some things do not change, do they? Mini Habi­tat, 27 Leng Kee Road. www.

TIME TO RE­FUEL Our des­ti­na­tion is the five-star Man­gala Re­sort & Spa, carved out of a for­mer quarry.

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