1956 saw the heightened effect of reduced oil supplies and petrol rations due to the Suez Crisis. This bucked the trend of increasing large car sales and had people flocking toward smaller cars. That’s when a true legend was born. The British Motor Corporation (BMC) started producing the Mini Cooper in 1959, right through to 2000. 2001 then saw the introduction of the ‘New Mini’, now produced by BMW.
During the drive out to BMW’s HQ in Melbourne I contemplated what the Mini would be like to drive. Back when I was a little tacker I recall driving a Mini at a friend’s property. I remember having a great time thrashing the Mini around – sure, parts of the floor were missing, but it was great fun nonetheless.
After collecting the keys, I discovered that the Mini I was assigned was the Cooper S Chilli with the John Cooper Works kit. For those of you not in the loop, I’ll explain what the JCW is all about later on. After settling in, I hit the ‘frog and toad’ to see if I could have the same amount of fun with the new Mini as I managed to have with the old one.
The inner –
Sitting inside the New Mini is best described as a nostalgic experience. At first, it’s quite overwhelming; everything has its unique spot and serves a single purpose. One of the first things that jumped out at me was the speedometer and tachometer cluster. They are small circular gauges that are attached to the actual steering wheel. The advantage of such a setup is that they are always visible, no matter which position the steering wheel is in.
Much like some other BMW models, there is a progressive red-line indicator. As the engine gains temperature, the redline increases, reaching its maximum when the engine is at optimum operating temperature. One of the first things I noticed when I latched onto the steering wheel was its size and comfort. It’s a nimble wheel that makes steering this little rocket so much easier and enjoyable.
Toward the centre of the dashboard is a massive circular unit that houses the associated temperature, fuel and pressure gauges. Although it takes up a large amount of space on the dashboard, it really looks a treat and dates back to Minis of yesteryear.
One of the coolest features of the interior has to be the aeroplane style switches that control everything from windows to fog lights. A task like lowering the window is so much more enjoyable due to the pleasure involved in flicking the switch.
Driver and passenger get to lay their backsides in fine Recaro style. The John Cooper Works kit customers receive leather Recaro sports seats that feature extruding side bolsters and extendable front lips. The seats feel much like those featured in the Mitsubishi Evolution IX, just slightly more recreational and user friendly. The seats also have inbuilt seat heaters for those Chilli mornings (pardon the pun). A brushed aluminium look features along the dashboard and doors, adding to the go-fast style of the car.
Cooper S Chilli customers also receive the harman/kardon, 8-speaker sound system that is very impressive. Even with the bass midway from low to high, the levels are incredibly deep and satisfying. The treble is also uniquely sharp and crystal clear. This sound system – in my opinion – rates on par with Lexus’ 14-speaker Mark Levinson system. The only downfall with the audio in the Mini was the lack of 6-stack CD player. The Cooper S Chilli only received a single-disc CD-player.
Rear seat passengers may struggle slightly when it comes to leg room. The Mini’s not a big car – as I’m sure you’re well aware – and as such, there isn’t much room for the people stuck with the rear seats. In my opinion, children could easily – and comfortably – fit in the rear and I found that adults could also fit, but only if they crossed their legs over the rear seat.
The indicator and windscreen washer stalks are pretty robust and feel good to use. When you run out of washer fluid, the end of the windscreen washer stalk flashes a yellow colour, alerting you of the issue. Shifting gears is an easy task with the large gear shifter knob. It gives the driver the opportunity to grab the gear lever with confidence and grab the next gear when in a hurry. The chrome coated knob matches the polished aluminium look to the pedals.
The outer –
The classic Mini styling strikes chords with many nostalgic folk who owned Minis back in the day. In fact, when I was at the supermarket, it took no less than 2-minutes for one joyful fan to come along and start talking to me about the Mini. This lady confessed to owning a Volkswagen Golf with a few kays on the clock and was madly in love with the Mini’s unique styling, looking for any excuse to trade in the Golf for a new Cooper.
That’s the type of effect the Mini induces in some people. It’s such a great looking car and is far from offensive to the eye. The front air-intake for the supercharger instils that sense of performance in a subtle manner, whilst the dual exhaust pipes ladle the ears with a sense of utter astonishment when the Mini burbles on the overrun.
It’s also hard to look past the 17” wheels shod with 8-spokes; they cover the John Cooper Works branded brake callipers with unique style. Along with Xenon headlights, the front end features a chrome coated grille, plus a set of fog lights.
On the road –
The only differences between the Mini Cooper and a go-kart are the extra seats and radio. It’s amazing just how similarly the Mini handles like a well poised go-kart. On approach to a corner you instantly notice how accurate and heavy the steering is. It’s certainly not vague around centre – like some cars…cough…300C…cough – and the precision is remarkable. I liken the Mini’s steering to something like the Mitsubishi Evolution IX; it’s obviously been engineered to resemble the ‘perfect’ steering setup for a tight handling pocket-rocket.
Through tight sections of TheGarage’s test route, the Mini Cooper S exhibited little to no body roll – thanks to the super firm John Cooper Works suspension – along with tremendous amounts of grip from the 205 R17 Pirelli run-flat tyres. The only issue with the suspension setup was the extremely stiff ride through urban and city conditions. The smallest bump would send a spine shattering jolt through your body, and although this was the perfect setup for hard and fast driving, it was far too extreme for day-to-day touring.
The Mini’s brakes had varying levels of satisfaction. Although the pedal had great feel to it, along with decent response, closer to the end of the circuit, there was a considerable amount of smoke fleeing the wheel arches, along with mild brake fade. Although the John Cooper Works kit upgrades the brakes, I feel that the Mini could easily do with slotted or cross-drilled rotors, along with possibly larger callipers at the rear.
The supercharger provided that instant and constant jolt of power that made exiting corners far more exhilarating and concise. A supercharger, opposed to a turbocharger in a vehicle this size makes it far more flexible and agile to drive. There’s no need to wait for the revs to dive into the sweet spot before fluxes of power are unleashed, the supercharger provides that constant band of power that’s there from the get-go. The other advantage is the dirty whine a supercharger emits. The Mini sounded like a jetliner from ear-shot distance and progressively increased its tune as revs rose. At 5000+RPM an additional air-inlet opens, adding even more noise to the equation.
One thing that constantly stood out – and for the wrong reasons – was the utterly intrusive Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). The slightest loss of traction sent torque plummeting and there was a momentary lapse before it was all back to full steam ahead. Although the Mini Cooper’s Limited Slip Differential (LSD) makes understeer a bit wild (only really becomes a problem when accelerating too ambitiously), I found that driving with pace really required the DSC system to be switched off. Although there was a slight chirp every so often, power could remain constant without the DSC trying to nanny everything.
The gearbox and clutch combination are an absolute breeze to operate and very decisive when driving. The size of the gear lever makes for quick and easy shifting and the clutch’s very small pickup point means that shifting between gears can take place in the least possible time. The pedals also accommodate for heel-toe shifting, entertaining those more adventurous drivers.
Under the hood –
Opening the bonnet is a unique experience. When you flip it open, the entire light assemble comes with it, it’s the first of its kind I have ever seen.
Once it’s open though, you will find a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder supercharged engine. At 6950RPM the engine produces 154kW, whilst at 4500RPM there is 245Nm of torque on offer.
A sprint for 0-to-100 takes just 6.6-seconds. During the week (even after the flogging through the test route), the Mini returned a fuel average of 8.6L/100km (very good). In my opinion, that’s quite impressive considering the lead foot driving involved, along with the majority of city driving.
Price, safety and features –
Mini Cooper S Chilli pricing starts at $42,500, whilst the Cooper S Chilli with the John Cooper Works kit can be had for $51,300 (being test driven). The JCW kit premium includes a modified supercharger (compressor), modified cylinder head and valve gear, along with several other features that increase power output. There are several other Mini models on offer, check out your local Mini dealer (BMW) for more information.
Standard features associated with the Cooper S Chilli include: Leather seats; automatic climate control; alloy wheels; run flat tyres; electro-chromatic rear vision mirror; cruise control; electric mirrors; Xenon headlights with headlight washers; central locking; harman/kardon, 8-speaker stereo; front and rear fog lights; single disc CD-player and electric windows.
Safety features include: Driver and passenger airbags; driver and passenger airbags; front and rear curtain airbags; ABS brakes; Brake Assist (BA); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC); run-flat tyres and engine immobilizer.
I came away from the drive in the Mini Cooper S Chilli JCW with a big smile on my dial. I am yet to experience a ‘hot hatch’ that can provide the amount of joy and entertainment both aurally and visually that the Mini did and does.
On a windy stretch of road, the Mini is really in its own league. The combination of supercharger, agile handling and brilliant steering is the type of thing champion cars are made of and I think the Mini really did tick all those boxes.
The interior’s retro feel can be somewhat daunting at first, but once I had the chance to figure out where everything was and what it did, I was in business. As I mentioned earlier, city driving was somewhat tarnished by the extremely firm ride, but I’m sure that’s something that can be adjusted in an aftermarket manner.
Aside from great looks, a killer drive and burnout capabilities to die for, owners have the unique experience of being part of the Mini Club. Australia’s Mini Club – a BMW endorsed organisation – organises cruise events and other such gatherings for Mini drivers. It’s a unique experience and proves that you don’t need to own a big, expensive car to be noticed. If you’re in the market for a ‘hot hatch’ that thinks outside the box, make sure you test drive the Mini Cooper S with the John Cooper Works kit, it’s bound to leave you with a smile from ear to ear – it sure as hell did for me.
- by Paul Maric
CarAdvice rating (out of 5):