Mini Cooper S
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My first impression of the Mini Cooper brand in India goes back to the Auto Expo held in January this year. The range of cars: Mini Cooper, Mini Cooper S, Mini Cooper Convertible and Mini Countryman were unveiled with a lot of fanfare alongside the new BMW M5. The BMW M5 was launched first and presumably, it blew the entire audience away! After the M5, it was the launch of the Mini and one would wonder if it could attract as much attention. May be that the M5 would overshadow the Mini. All such anxieties were put to rest the moment the launch event of the Mini brand began! The excitement at the launch was fairly impressionable! In spite of being in such elite company, the Mini was able to hold its own. Was able to gather its share of attention from the media and fans who were present there. The manner in which the people were drawn to the cars, one knew, the Mini had arrived. The next thing that on my mind... no prizes to guess... to drive it!

After a real long wait, the moment arrived. It was my time to spend a few days in the lap of a stunning, red coloured, black top Mini Cooper S.  We knew the moment we collected the car that the next few days are going to be extremely thrilling to say the least. The sight of the car set my pulse racing! Trust me. Some cars just tend to do that to you!

The hexagonal signature grill, the big headlamp console, the large alloy wheels pushed as far out as possible with the extremely low profile tyres, the large front windscreen, the two tone paint job, the signature sloping roof line towards the rear... some of the cues that make this car a true Mini!

This new Mini takes from its processor who has already accounted for sales in access of 20,00,000 across 90 countries. That is some achievement! When a car sells so much and across so many countries, people tend to build an impression of that car. People already have a check-list of attributes that a car that inherits such lineage must have. It is some burden to say the least. I'd expect the engineering team at Mini to not only keep that essence intact, but, enhance it further in their own way. Have they? ...Let's find out!

I admitted myself into the driver's seat. A fleeting glance of the cabin tells you how they have tried to retain the classic touches of the Mini lineage. It could be through the switches that look a lot like the old switches we often found on table-fans or the central large speedometer. But with these antique touches, the manner in which they have taken the design cue forward is amazing! Everything that is modern with the Mini interiors is so much in tune and blends so well with the classic bits and vice-versa! The aircon vents or the large steering wheel with the logo for example. Thumbs up! The interiors are fairly luxurious on the whole. Leather, plastics, all of a very good quality. The ergonomics of the seats is also very good. The rear bench of the seats is strictly for academic interest. It's not that a full grown adult cannot sit there, but, well, not for too long. And add to that the way the suspension behaves in the city, you'd rather use the rear bench to store some additional luggage.

After this initial inspective glancing, it was time to get to the business. It was time to bring the Mini to life! And the first ergonomic problem presented itself. I could easily locate the Start/Stop button, the sight of which is always impressive :o) But, as the car did not have a keyless entry mechanism, I needed to insert the key somewhere...!? I struggled for some time to locate the key hole. Finally, after a few anxious seconds, I managed to locate the same hidden nicely behind the wiper stalk. Not the best start. Then I looked for the power window switches. Again, not present in the door panel. They were located under the air-conditioner controls in the central instrument panel. Again, not the most convenient location. But the displeasure was momentary at best! Keyed in and brought the car to life. The car settled into a faint, sophisticated  and calm hum. I revved the engine and the readiness with which the tachometer needle jumped across the dial, I was grinning from ear to ear! I wouldn't mind if I had to enter the key at a position located under the driver's seat if after doing that this was how I was going to be treated!

The Mini Cooper S is powered by a turbocharged 1.6 liter engine that generates a whopping 184 hp of maximum power @ 5,500 rpm! The maximum torque 240 Nm is produced consistently through the 1,600 to 5,000 rpm rev range!!! On aggressive acceleration, this higher torque value of 260 Nm is produced by increasing the charge pressure (over-boost meaning = :D). This mind-blowing performance is achieved by injecting the four cylinders with pre-compressed air from a twin-scroll turbocharger system. Too many jargons? Let's spend a moment talking about them...

If one is to extract such additional power from an engine, a conventional approach would involve the deployment of a single, large turbocharger. A large turbocharger requires higher pressure of the exhaust gases to start functioning and hence, providing the desired power boost. As a result, this turbocharger is effective only when the engine revs at a rate beyond a certain threshold rpm value. At this threshold value, the turbo is said to “kick-in”. A drawback of such a system is that, when the engine revs at an rpm value lower than this threshold value, the lack of this power enhancement (turbo) is felt. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “turbo-lag”.

As mentioned, the Mini Cooper S employs a twin-scroll turbocharger system. Rather than employing one large turbocharger, it employs two smaller turbochargers which are driven by exhausts from two cylinders each. These being smaller in size, have a lower threshold value for the exhaust gas pressure for them to kick-in, and, combined, they provide as much or in most cases higher power output than the conventional single turbocharger system. Not only is the power output higher, but also, the “kick-in” threshold is much lower owing to the smaller size of the individual turbochargers. As a result, there is hardly any turbo lag and the net result is pure exhilaration! Irrespective of the gear you are in! Irrespective of the rpm value on your tachometer!

There is also an exterior fallout of this feature: twin exhausts, one per turbocharger which add to the menacing look of the car.

Coming to the other equally important aspect of the Mini that defines what it is: the suspension and the steering. When you start driving the Mini, invariably you do have to amble around on routine, spoilt and bad city roads until you get to the playground: the highway. So, city roads in any Indian city are usually not even, and, with mild to deep disturbances caused either by bad patch work, construction or just poor maintenance. The Cooper S, not only did over react to the disturbances on the road, but also the slightest of the bumps or holes were felt right inside and with significant intensity. An elongated patch of bad road almost gave us occupants an impression that we were being indifferent over a set of rumble strips! Believe me. It was that bad! A few days of city driving in the Cooper S and you are almost certain to develop some back stiffness owing to all the shocks. Have I here given you an impression that this is the tragic chapter of this tale? Hold on. Spend a few anxious moments in the city until you reach a well made highway on the outskirts of Mumbai. Get the Cooper S to spread its legs and it turns into a different car altogether! That same stiff suspension that caused so much devastation in the city, actually redeems itself at the high speeds! The car is so planted that you could take a corner at any speed you want and it'd just oblige in the most "matter-of-fact"-ly manner! Speeds over 200 kmph are not only reachable, but also sustainable and trust me, you are yawning when the car is at its play this way! Body roll is virtually non-existent! Phenomenal stuff! The steering is extremely direct too! Mini calls the Cooper an overgrown go-kart! They have hit the nail on the head and that is exactly how the car is. Legendary stuff! If you are someone who decides to go for the Cooper instead of the Cooper S, this Sports suspension is available on that one too as an optional upgrade! A must buy in spite of the rough city ride. At least that'd be a thoroughbred petrolhead's opinion.

The Cooper S is also fitted with a Limited Slip Differential (LSD) to get you out of those tight spots that high speed and a lot of adrenalin might land you in. What the LSD does, is  that if one of the wheels connected to a single axle were to skid or due to the dynamics at the moment get off the road, it will ensure that controlled amount of torque is delivered to the other wheel so as to restore the equilibrium between the two wheels connected to a single axle!

There is also that button which switches off Traction Control. Traction control is a mechanism which limits the amount of torque that reaches the wheels so as to prevent a state of skidding due to torque much larger in magnitude than the value the dynamics of the wheel can handle! Honestly speaking, I had no guts whatsoever to use that button and then tell the beast, "come on! you can kill me now!"

The Mini Cooper S has a lovely automatic gear box! The gear shifting is fairly keen and the gear ratios do justice to the S tag in the car's name. The car is equipped with flappy paddle tip-tronic manual gear shifts. Unlike the system in BMWs, I wasn't exactly happy with the way they worked. Shifting using the flappy paddles was adequately urgent, keeping the lag component that usually ruins the experience to the minimum but the downshift kinda had a mind of its own. That was such a sore point that we stuck to driving the car in the automatic mode itself.

Turn on the sports mode and the following happens. The gear shift points for the automatic transmissions change allowing for quicker gear shifts. The throttle response gets more rapid. What also happens is that the steering tightens for an even quicker and sharper behaviour. Also, there is a dull popping sound that the engine makes during deceleration. All in all... that's the button that turns the already awesome Mini Cooper S into something even more WOW!

So priced anywhere above27 lakhs depending on the optional extras that you buy, the Mini Cooper S is in the luxury car price bracket. It is as expensive as the entry level variants of the Mercedes C-class, BMW 3-series or the Audi A4. It is also more expensive than the V6 Superb and the VW Passat. Taking these names here as that will tell you the kind of cars that Mini-money can buy! Also, the Mini would come with certain exclusivity factor bu,t on the road, trust me, it is not as distinct as the VW Beetel! A red Cooper can get lost amidst the red Switfs, Puntos and Polos on the road. So it is distinct, but well, to a petrolhead's eye. But, the package that this car is, is truly mind-blowing! I would go to the extent of calling it the "cheapest genuine sports car" money can buy in India! Its performance is truly adrenalin pumping! So, if you have close to 30 lakhs in your kitty and are looking to pamper yourself with some true petrolhead-fun, this is the car you would want to buy!

Not because the company’s posters calls it one but because the true essence of the Mini that rolled out over five decades ago is not only preserved in the current variants but also finds itself relevant to this day. If this is not a true legend, what is?

 

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