There are two things you learn after driving a Mini Cooper S. First - the world looks different from inside a Mini. You feel like you're sitting so close to the ground that you're practically in a go kart. Your field of view is unmatched. You can see the extremities of your car very clearly. And that little badge on the wheel makes you want to drive through buildings and rob banks. Second - the world looks at you different when you're driving a Mini. Everybody who sees the car instantly has a smile on their face. Others can't take their eyes off it. So much that a Verna, whose driver was too busy staring at us, drove into the back of a cab he was following and a biker nearly ended up under a bus because he couldn't stop staring at the Cooper S.
Let me explain why all this attention was being showered on the little car. First off, the Mini we were testing was a bright red one with two black stripes on the hood, a black roof and shiny, piano black, 17-inch wheels. If this wasn't enough to grab attention the S badge on the sides, the Cooper S badge on the rear hatch and the sweet exhaust note from the twin pipes surely did the trick.
Visually, the Cooper and Cooper S are not very different. Firstly there is the big air scoop on the bonnet, the two air intakes on either side of the air-dam and the hexagon radiator grille (Cooper has chrome slats). Then there is the S badge near the indicator lights on the side. Finally there is the Cooper S badge and the centrally mounted dual exhausts at the back. Internationally, Mini offers over ten million possible combinations of optional extras to customize your car. In India though there is a limited list on offer. But that is not to say that the list is small by any means. The Mini Cooper S gets a choice of 14 exterior colours, four kinds of bonnet stripes, two kinds of alloy wheels and six kinds of leather interiors to name a few. Our test car had the dual sunroof, the Harman/Kardon entertainment system, the carbon black leather interiors, the 17-inch alloys and keyless entry.
The Cooper S uses the same 1.6-litre, four cylinder, petrol engine that the Cooper uses. The difference? A turbocharger has been plonked under the hood to kick power up from 122PS to 184PS and torque from 160Nm to 240Nm (delivered from 1500rpm all the way up to 5000rpm). This, in addition to the sensitive throttle makes the car very eager to shoot forward at the slightest twitch of your right foot. The gearbox however, is a bit of a downer. The six speed automatic tranny is a bit sluggish in fully automatic mode with the shifts taking too long. But put it into Sport mode, use that paddle shifter to drop a gear and the car literally picks itself up and flies to 100kmph in 7.61 seconds. It is violent enough to have you banging the back of your head against the head restraint at every gearshift all the way to 213kmph. All this without breaking a sweat. But if you're in the mood to relax and give the turbo a break, the car will happily trundle along at 150kmph with the engine purring away at 3000rpm. Drive like a sane person and the car will return 8.25kmpl in the city and 13.56kmpl on the highway. That means an average economy of 9.58kmpl.
Mini says the Cooper handles like a go-kart. The car is well known for holding its line like it's on rails. Once you do point it in the direction you want, it goes exactly where you want it to. The 205 section, 17-inch Continental rubber only adds to this. The slightly stiffer suspension on the Cooper S means it does all this even better than the Cooper. A lot of the credit for the way the Cooper S handles has to be given to the traction control. The car has so much torque coming to the front wheels that the moment you turn traction control off, the car torque steers you all over the place. The traction control is what keeps amateurs like me alive.
One issue we noticed is that there is a lot of tyre noise, especially at highway speeds. But who cares about tyre noise when you're having so much fun. And since you're having so much fun, you shouldn't mind the stiff ride too right? But when you can feel every little crack in the road on your spine, you tend to reconsider. The Cooper S' ride is extremely stiff. You have to slow down for every imperfection on the road. Our test car, which has been on the road for barely a month and seen just a few thousand kilometers was already rattling a bit. But for the way it behaves on a good stretch of road, I wouldn't mind all the little imperfections.
The Cooper S costs Rs 28.60 lakh (ex-Mumbai). But this is the minimum cost. The Harman/Kardon entertainment system will cost Rs 92,000. The dual sunroof Rs 1.22 lakh. The bonnet stripes Rs 14,000. The 17-inch wheels Rs 71,000. Keyless entry Rs 64,000. So yes, this is a very expensive small car that most Indians won't even consider as a viable hatchback. It is impractical, in your face and does not seat more than two large grown ups. Why do I still want it? For the same reason people want an Aventador, a GT3 RS or an SLS AMG. Because it is awesome!