A few days in the not-so-mini MINI Cooper S proved to be slightly less grin-inducing than one would have imagined at first. The obsession with creating cars with dual personalities can dull both edges of the sword. Compromising the integrity of the aspects we desire in performance cars feels like being sold a razor blade only to find out you’ve been given a safety pin.
Looks wise, the Cooper S is difficult to beat in the ever more angular and aggressive world of “hot hatches”. Retaining much of the car’s authentic stylistic design cues — bright eyes excitedly gazing forward, with an updated, more modern take on the shoe-box-like original Morris Mini-Minor — the heritage hasn’t been forgotten. With being said, the interior could not be further removed from the austerity of the sixties. Like the cockpit of a fighter jet, there are plenty of buttons and switches, but none more exciting than the bright red start/stop switch. Who doesn’t want to feel like a fighter pilot from time to time?
No practical person buys a MINI for its boot space in the same way no honest person goes to Mavericks for the food. People buy these cars because they’re a break from the drudgery and soullessness of the modern hatchback market. The MINI is also something of a status symbol where the majority of the competition is not. The iPhone of the car world?
A 2-litre engine and a clever turbocharger have been shoe-horned into have been shoe-horned into a little engine bay, which makes for one helluva sprightly run-about. Smooth, long gearing with an automatic transmission make for an effortless drive, but is this really what you want in a MINI? Effortless? Smooth? I’ll take mine slightly rougher around the edges please. First step to that would be a manual gearbox, and not the far-too-conservative automatic box, which is very good for freeway cruising as I found out. The automatic lacks the immediacy and tactility of the excellent short-throw manual option.
This gearbox isn’t totally useless, though. Turn the collar on the base of the gear stick all the way to “Sport” and some of the definitive MINI characteristics do come to life. The engine revs with more character and the steering weights up beautifully, which means more nuanced driving input is welcomed and the exhaust note is turned up to brash. This was reassuring. This is what the MINI Cooper S should be like all the time.
The Mini Cooper remains a wonderful character in the world of automobiles. From its inception when it was only about the size of your bathroom basin and about as luxurious as a downtown holding cell, it has grown up into a sophisticated, quite grown up and certainly dressed up car about town.
MINI Cooper S
0-100 KM/H: 6.7 sec (Manual 6.8 sec)
Top Speed: 235km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5.9l/100km
Price from: R339,500