Go-kart handling, many car makers promise it but rarely do they deliver on that promise. When BMW bought the Mini brand, car enthusiasts were sceptical but had high hopes that the purveyors of the Ultimate Driving Machine would bless the rebirth of the iconic hatch with similar traits. And boy, did they deliver.
The 2nd generation R56 Mini Cooper S Chili, besides being a mouthful to say, is a gem of a car. With the step up to turbo charging from the first gen’s whining supercharger, the R56 is embodied with the go to match its looks and handling setup. The iconic design, with its happy ‘face’ and wheel in each corner stance not only bless the hot hatch with great looks but also contribute to its, yes, go kart like handling.
Whether you live in a city, using the punchy little 1.6L unit to zip into the smallest of gaps in traffic and using its diminutive size to squeeze into parking spots that would make a smart car jealous, or our on the open road attacking the bends like a cat on carpet the Cooper S is perfectly suited for whatever day to day life you may lead.
Sure there’s the odd niggle, the 6 speed auto box is a bit clunky when left to look after itself and the paddle shifters on the wheel are infuriatingly designed (both paddles do the same thing on either side of the wheel, pull to upshift/push to downshift), an unfortunate carryover from the BMW ownership. The muted exhaust note is also a little disappointing, a little flatulent in tone (a result of the Chili pack?), although it comes alive as you chase the revs and wring it out on a favourite stretch of road.
Space is a little tight in the back seat and the boot is laughably small, but really, who cares, this is a car to enjoy driving, not be a passenger in. While the suspension can be on the firm side around town, it’s a small price to pay for amazing turn in with the hefty steering wheel and the confidence inspiring handling that comes from the tank-like build quality and the wide stance of such a small package.
The switch to turbocharging has another added bonus with a pretty remarkable level of fuel economy from the engine, whether you’re pootling around in city traffic or blasting down the road like a stabbed rat, expect to see anywhere between 450-750km range out of a tank of high octane juice. The retro styling of the exterior carries over to the driver centric interior, which pays homage to the original 60s classic with its large, centrally located speedo, excellent all round vision and super cool fighter pilot toggle switches for the power windows and interior lighting.
The addition of the special ‘Chili’ pack brightens up the interior with two-tone leather seats, turned aluminium effect highlights on the dash and an eardrum pounding 10 speaker sound system with boot mounted amp, just to give your kidneys a nice battering with the bass turned up. Tech heads are also well catered for with AUX and USB inputs to plug your favourite music device into, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, all of which can be controlled by the small diameter, fat rimmed multi-function wheel.
Despite rolling on run flat tyres and 17″ rims, the Cooper S Chili rides relatively smoothly, with only larger road imperfections and potholes unsettling the ride. So, yes, the ‘new’ mini is twice the size of the ‘original’ Mini but it lacks for nothing and has lost none of the traits that made the Monaco Rally winning gem such a favourite amongst enthusiast drivers. Its comfort, luxury, sportiness and roadside appeal are relatively unmatched in the segment and the handling gods who developed the chassis should be knighted for the work they’ve done.
6 years on the R56 still looks fresh and iconic, the fact the newer models looks pretty much the same only backs up the “if it ain’t broke” mentality that only the all-time classics can get away with. This is just a fun car, you can’t help but smile driving it and hearing the little turbo pssshoooo as you lift off the throttle, an absolute gem.