Sir Alec Issigonis set new standards in automotive design and engineering to produce a masterpiece fifty years ago in reply to the European fuel crisis of the late 50s. He could not have dreamed of the impact his little car would have on the world of culture, people and of course automobiles. We are referring to the Mini, a car for everyone, from a celebrity to an everyday person. It was widely accepted as the most important car of the 20th century. The car went on to become an icon and lasted four decades virtually in original form. It shone in motorsport too, claiming three victories in the legendary Monte Carlo Rally.
But that's the past; the turn of the century saw the arrival of the all-new Mini manufactured by its new owner, BMW. It turned out to be just as much fun to drive and sold a million units in a record six years just like its predecessor. The new Mini is in its second generation now and after a really long wait, the car is finally here in India. I was lucky to sample this pint sized legend in Oxford - the birthplace of Mini.
Look at the Mini and the first thing you notice is its size, it isn't exactly mini but similar in size to a larger hatchback such as the Swift. The design though has evolved from the original Mini and has a very simplistic approach. From the front, the big round headlamps merging with the bonnet give the car a retro feel while the use of chrome surrounds around the headlamp add to the elegance. The front grille design is nostalgic and is one of many elements in the car that reminds us of the original Mini. The side profile is neat and simple, the pillars and the side windows merge well to look like one single unit while the pronounced fenders give the car a sporty appearance. The 'bulldog' stance is retained from the classic Mini while the car sits rather low.
The front and rear wheels are placed at far ends resulting in a slightly long wheelbase but with extremely short overhangs. From the rear too, the classic Mini gene is prevalent and it reflects in the silhouette of the car. The tail lamps too have chrome surrounds while the bumper is sporty. In the Cooper S, the bumper neatly incorporates centre mounted twin-exhausts. The Mini can also be customised, so you can have a checkered flag, sporty stripes and even a union jack on the mirror caps or on the roof.
Step inside and the retro feel continues, the dashboard looks old-school but is actually very modern. The interior follows a circular theme. The air con vents, the large centre mounted speedometer, the steering mounted odometer and the door handles are all circular and redolent of the classic Mini. The leather wrapped steering wheel is great to grip and features stereo and handsfree controls in the Cooper S. The speedometer is large enough to even accommodate optional entertainment and navigation functions, the system being a re-skinned version of BMW's iDrive system.
For drivers who wish to customise the interior, the existing black interior can be combined with optional hues for the upholstery or even the interior surface giving the car a unique look. Quality of materials is excellent while the fit and finish is of levels never seen before in a hatchback. In terms of room, front passenger space is more than adequate but at the rear it is quite a squeeze for an adult and boot space is surprisingly poor.
I drove both the Cooper and Cooper S models, each powered by a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine and a turbocharged version respectively. The engine in the Cooper produces a maximum power of 122PS at 6000rpm and a maximum torque of 160Nm at 4250rpm. The addition of a turbocharger in the Cooper S boosts the power up to 184PS at 5500rpm and the torque to a healthy 240Nm available between 1600-5000rpm. The cars I drove were equipped with a six-speed manual transmission; however in India one can only opt for a six-speed automatic transmission.
The car features a MacPherson strut suspension up front and an independent suspension at the rear. I first drove the Cooper and chose to go out into the countryside, the engine was quick to reach triple digit speeds while the manual gearbox was slick and precise while shifting gears. The company claimed figure to 100kmph is a quick 10.4 seconds. The top speed is a claimed 197kmph. What impressed me more than the engine was the car's dynamics. The wide track and low height along with a superb chassis means tackling corners is fun and the car stays planted like it's on rails. The narrow and twisty roads in the countryside were disposed off with ease. The steering is perfectly weighed making the car feel more like a hardcore BMW. The driving experience was quite unlike any other hatchback I've driven and this is thanks to BMW's engineering.
After an entertaining drive I then jumped into the more driver focused Cooper S. The Cooper itself is an enthusiast's car and the S variant takes the car to an entirely different level. The difference other than the turbocharged engine is the addition of a sports button located in the car's centre console. The sports mode changes the engine map to a quicker revving one. The car also gets paddle shifters. Inside the Cooper S one gets sport seats (that are lighter and offer more support especially while cornering hard) and racing pedals. So how is it to drive? Start the car and the exhaust note is much deeper and spine tingle inducing. The sound of the intake when revved and the turbo blowoff whoosh makes you feel like you're seated in a tuner car.
Dump the clutch and the car takes off with controllable torque steer. Power delivery is linear with hardly any turbo lag. This helps it get to 100kmph in just 7.2 seconds making it even quicker than the BMW 320d. The company claims a top speed of 223kmph, which is quite mad for a car this size. Though the car has similar suspension setup and settings as the Cooper, handling is spot on and the overall suspension setup does a stellar job of handling the extra power. With all that extra power the claimed fuel efficiency for both the Cooper and Cooper S is surprisingly identical at 15.63kmpl. The only downside in both the cars is the ride quality, not only is the suspension stiffly sprung but the cars also feature lower profile run-flat rubber that only makes matters worse.
In terms of safety, both models feature six airbags, ABS and DSC. The Mini Cooper and Cooper S are priced at Rs 24.9 lakh and Rs 27.9 lakh respectively (ex-showroom, Delhi). For an additional 3 lakh rupees the Cooper S makes for a better buy since it not only offers more power but also returns similar fuel efficiency with more kit coming as standard. Yes, for the same amount of money one can choose bigger and more luxurious cars but the Mini is something else, it is the true enthusiast's choice. It's what you call a legend, an icon, a cult car. A car you would even consider a family member. If you don't agree with me then speak to the million and growing Mini followers around the world. Or better still, drive one shortly at your nearest Mini dealer.