BACK FOR MORE. Completely redesigned for 2014, the new MINI Cooper S has a lot to prove. Renaldi Hutasoit finds out whether it lives up to the hype
In any successful product’s lifespan, there comes a point in time when the decision has to be made: stay true to the original or change according to the (perceived) demands of the market. With hindsight, it would appear that the best solutions usually involve a bit of both.
The triumphant return of the MINI in 2004 under the wing of German auto giant BMW is an excellent example. The classic car was reimagined into a modern 21st-century hatchback, all without losing too much of its original character. Though significantly larger in size compared to the original, it was also much more fun to drive and easier to live with. For 2014, the MINI Cooper has undergone another milestone in its evolution. After a minor facelift and a change from the use of a supercharger to a turbocharger within the S model in 2008 comes the completely new MINI Cooper. As in 2004, the 2014 car is larger than its predecessor. Overall, the new MINI is 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller than before. Other exterior alterations include the headlights, which each feature an LED arc gracing the top, while the now full LED rear lights are also larger.
However, the changes made inside the new car are much more obvious than those on the outside. While the previous MINI Cooper always aimed to be a fun and quirky car that stood out from the crowd, such a design was not suitable for all occasions. What BMW has done with the latest car is make it more appealing to the universal driver who appreciates both form and function. Gone is the pizza-pan-sized speedometer from the center of the dash, replaced by an 8.8-inch screen controlled by BMW-esque iDrive system. More conventionally, the speedometer now resides in front of the driver, alongside a miniscule rpm counter and a digital fuel gauge. The awkwardly positioned window switches (previously positioned on the central console) are also gone, relocated to the doors.
ON THE ROAD
Last month, I had the privilege of testing the top-of-the-range new MINI Cooper S. As with any car in the premium segment, the S is equipped with a host comfort and entertainment features. One that many customers will likely appreciate is the ability to play music over a Bluetooth connection, an amenity absent from the previous model. Other features on the 2014 MINI Cooper S include a Bluetooth phone, satellite navigation and a superb sounding Harman Kardon sound-system.
The new seats are also excellent, as supportive (particularly when driving enthusiastically) as they are comfortable, while finding the perfect driving position is made easy by the reach adjustable steering wheel. The front certainly has a more spacious feeling cabin feel, however the rear of vehicle seems similarly as cramped for passengers despite the car wheel base being 28mm longer. Another non-surprise was the still small luggage space. Though MINI claims it is now larger, it is merely larger than the previously very small space. Two cabin-sized suitcases will fit in there, or one medium size and one standing on its side, but not much else.
“While the previous MINI Cooper always aimed to be a fun and quirky car that stood out from the crowd, such a design was not suitable for all occ asions”
Elsewhere, refinement has been significantly improved with minimal road or engine noise infiltrating the cabin environment. This is especially good news for owners who wish to use the MINI for their daily drive. But the key factor that sells a MINI is fun, and the new MINI Cooper S still deliver this in spades.
Relying on MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link suspension at the rear, the S maintains its predecessor’s go-kart-like handling but with subtle improvements along the way. While the old car could be a bit too eager when changing direction good if you know what you’re doing, bad if you don’t the new MINI Cooper S manages to retain such agility but with a slightly less direct steering feel. On the downside, I did notice increased ride harshness when compared to the previous model. Inadvertently, hitting a pothole now feels like you are using bricks for suspension. It is all too clear (or painful for those of us living in Jakarta) that the natural habitat of the S is on a smooth road surface.
It is here than you can coax out the full performance of the MINI. Unlike the previous generation in which both the Cooper S and Cooper shared the same 1600cc capacity (albeit turbo and non-turbo), the new Cooper S now features a 2.0L four cylinder turbo that serves up 189hp (5hp more than the previous generation). The engine produces its maximum power between 4700rpm and 6000rpm, thanks to BMW’s TwinPower turbocharging technology, with up to 298nm of torque available at 1250rpm, much higher than the 259nm of the previous 1.6L Cooper S. This abundance of torque in a car weighing just one and a quarter tons eliminates any sensation of turbo lag, or any lag for that matter. Put your foot down in 3rd gear and the resulting acceleration is addictive. MINI claims 0 to 100kph in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 233kph, both of which are perfectly believable. At full throttle, the engine and exhaust notes combine to make some beautiful music angrier and throatier than the previous generation.
For the Indonesian market, the 2014 MINI Cooper S is only available with a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. While the automatic transmission is fine for relaxed driving, there is some transmission lag in Normal mode, to the extent that I often ended up switching to Sport mode to counter this. However, Sport mode is also far from perfect. After heavy braking, the transmission seems momentarily confused so that you lose power for maybe half a second before the engine responds to your throttle input. However, all such frustrations disappeared when I selected Manual and began to flip the paddles myself. In this setting, the car responds immediately and allows for a much more involving drive.
Ultimately, the improvements made to the new MINI are more evolutionary than revolutionary, BMW wisely deciding not mess around too much with a previously successful formula. On the contrary, BMW has made a good compromise with the 2014 MINI Cooper and Cooper S models. It has made the MINI more civilized and appealing to more people while retaining its core values, its DNA. Think of it as your best friend who has grown up. Gone are the days of wedding crashing and spontaneous skinny-dipping, replaced by party hosting and snorkeling in Raja Ampat. The guy is still the same fun person but with a bit more sense and sophistication.
SPECS: MINI Cooper S
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder MINI Twin
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
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