For many people, cars are just a means to an end. A way to get from point A to B. And there’s nothing wrong with that except one thing. These cars generally lack excitement.
The MINI has more than just excitement. There’s nothing that it hasn’t done in its storied history. From rally cross to carrying royalty, it has been treated to a never-ending stream of updates so that it’s still in production today in some shape or form.
It rocked the world in 1959 with its debut and for model year 2015, the MINI has been updated once again. I don’t care what shape you are or what car you drive now. If you get into a MINI tomorrow, you will love it.
In 1957, Alec Issigonis created the Morris Mini Minor and next thing you know, he’s “Sir” Alec Issigonis.
It is unlikely that the Queen will be bestowing knighthood upon American designer Frank Stephenson, the new overseer of the third generation MINI’s wrappings. However, Stephenson and his Bavarian counterparts have managed to preserve and enhance the plucky little car while still infusing the cheeky spirit of the original that made hundreds of thousands fall in love with it.
40 years ago, auto manufacturers makers could sell you something much smaller, but for 2015, Mr Bean’s runabout gets a little bit bigger due to safety regulations and consumer demand.
But this ain’t Mr Bean’s 1976 Citron Green MINI
Top Gear UK’s Jeremy Clarkson once said, “If we’re looking for a car that has done more to advance the course of motoring itself, this would probably be it”.
Still, you can be forgiven if you didn’t spot the 2015 model versus the 2014. It still has those classic MINI cues, even though it’s a little less MINI in this latest iteration.
In fact, it’s actually now 5 inches longer and about 2 inches wider, though you would be hard pressed to tell from just standing by it. The big benefit is a little bit more room in the cargo hold and more shoulder room for passengers.
The new nose has been designed to be more pedestrian-friendly, as per the latest European regulations, and there is now an available outer ring of LEDs that function as daytime running lights. Cool!
This is certainly a unique lighting signature that draws even more looks and smiles to this car. The fuel filler cap now also moves to the passenger side of the vehicle, like on most other German vehicles.
Previous MINIs have had interiors that were a crazy blend of classic MINI cues such as the centre mounted speedo. This latest MINI goes a bit more mainstream, a bit more to its BMW roots. This should come as no surprise because this MINI is essentially a BMW under its skin. Yes, there are different colour themes and some fun MINI-esque lingo, but the infotainment system is pure iDrive and controlled by the same multi-functional knob. Since the latest version of iDrive is actually quite good, I liked the overall functionality of the system. The speedometer now moves to the steering column where you would expect it. The power window and mirror switches are also now right where you expect them, on the door where they belong. The multi-coloured LED lightshow around the centre console was one of my favourite quirks about this 3rd generation MINI. Not only can it be configured for ambient lighting, but it’s also responsive to the climate control adjustments or engine revs. Uber cool!
Overall, the dash layout is a bit more normal, the materials a lot more upscale, and the controls more ergonomically sound (aka more usable).
But the MINI is definitely not for everyone. The upright windshield makes it hard to see traffic lights overhead even for shorter drivers. The rear seat is better than ever, but far from commodious.
How does it drive?
With its quirky styling and nimble handling, the Cooper S aims to inject a dose of excitement into your daily commute. A 189-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic provides enough scoot to live up to the car’s sporting intentions.
Although the engine is only moderately boosted, it develops plenty of torque very quickly where you want it, at low rpms. To me, it felt more like a larger, naturally aspirated engine thanks to its lack of turbo lag. Combined with a well-calibrated throttle pedal, the powertrain produces smooth and linear thrust.
My test Cooper S was equipped with the sweet shifting 6-speed manual transmission with rev matching. It provided perfectly rev matched downshifts in any gear ,which when combined with the light clutch pedal, made manual transmission ownership a real joy even in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.
Despite having electric power steering, steering effort is not too light or artificially heavy. It still feels go-kart like with far more reaction to your inputs than most other cars. Call it agile without feeling twitchy.
Like more recent BMWs, the MINI Cooper S also has three adjustable steering/throttle mapping/suspension calibrations, from Eco to Sport. The centre display promises some amusing little indications of how the settings differ from each other from an eco-friendly “MINImize” mode to “Maximum go-kart feel”.
I found that the middle setting delivered a great combination of suspension control and suppleness. Sport mode was fantastic for an autocross track layout, such as what I experienced at a driving event put on by MINI. However on the street, the extra firmness made the short car pogo a little over bumps.
That being said, my Cooper S tester felt more grown up with a generally composed and quieter ride than earlier models. While there is extra sound dampening added to the 2015 model, the cabin lets in just the right types of noises to make the experience wonderfully visceral but not annoying.
A lot of checkboxes ticked
With even more horsepower. the MINI Cooper S is amazingly fun to drive. With the rough edges gone, this car scores even higher on the entertainment scale. Part of this entertainment is also due to the customizability that MINI owners can indulge in to personalize their cars.
Anecdotally, the MINIs I see around town all look slightly different from each other in some shape or form. Whether it’s the multitude of bright colours, union jack decaled roofs or wing mirrors, they’re largely unique. Try saying that about a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry!
And so the third generation MINI still remains distinctive despite being more civilized. With an upgraded and robust chassis, the spunky Cooper S provides tossable handling and a quiet cabin with plenty of upscale touches. It’s also still a comfortable place to cruise.
Do I want one? Absolutely.