Elvis shocked the world with his pelvic gyrations in the 1950s, but it was the 1960s that brought about the sexual revolution. The baby boom generation, born in a time of new freedom, reached adulthood and spurred a meteoric rise in drug culture, and a great liberation of the music scene, none of which was more iconic than the Beatles.
The Beatles owned Minis, while their screaming fans wore minis, and driving one of the diminutive cars became a fashion statement through into the 1970s. My parents owned one. Some of my friends owned them. Even my extremely untrendy biology and maths teachers owned them.
While the masses saw the “image”, John Cooper, a builder of open wheeler and rally cars, saw the potential of the Mini in competition — lightweight, a wheel at each corner, and easy to repair. Cooper was a friend of Issignonis, the designer of the Mini. Issigonis wasn’t keen on the idea of the Mini as a performance car, but Cooper persisted and the two men collaborated to launch the Mini Cooper in 1961.
With an increase in power from 25kW to 41kW from the naturally aspirated 997ccc racing-tuned, twin SU carburettor engine, the Mini Cooper also featured a closer-ratio gearbox and disc brakes at the front. A Cooper S was released in 1963 with a 1071cc engine, then a 1275cc engine in 1964.
Fast forward over five decades and Mini is no longer a British-owned icon, having been sold to BMW. New MINI (BMW insists people spell it with capitals; we think it looks wrong so we’ll continue with Mini), is 55cm longer, 30cm wider and 400kg heavier than the original Mini.
This Cooper S version has ditched the puny naturally aspirated motor and now sports a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, giving 128kW at 5500rpm and a healthy 240Nm of torque at a low 1600rpm — good enough for a 0-100kph time of 7.1 seconds, and small enough to give a sensible 6.9l/100km fuel consumption. The small and unobtrusive bonnet nostril gives the game away over the naturally aspirated Mini.
The Mini is a car that embraces you and makes you feel a complete part of the driving experience. The funky interior contains a lot of circles. The speedometer, which is the same diameter as the full moon, dominates the centre of the dashboard, and contains an inset LCD giving information about the stereo. All the air conditioning vents are circles. The rev counter, which sits right in front of you like in a racing car, is also circular, as are the buttons and insets on the steering wheel, and the gear knob.
There are also various switches that are protected by their own little roll cages. Cool. Unless you’ve got really fat fingers.
Back to the driving experience: acceleration is good, but overwhelms the front wheels in first and second as the turbo comes on boost. It’s the braking and handling that are the stand out performers. The Cooper S brakes like a racing car — there’s very little front-end dive under heaving braking. Even when the surface is undulating, or when pushed hard into a corner, the Cooper S stays very flat, and the rubber in the tyres finds all the grip it can to change the direction. There’s nothing wrong at all with the cornering — even coming into a cambered corner while braking heavily didn’t upset the Mini, which merely showed a slight antilock brake-induced chirp from the inside front as I began to turn in.
A car like the Mini Cooper S could be a better daily driver than a balls-out rally-inspired four-wheel drive like the Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. The WRX is in the same price range and, while more practical and faster, isn’t as stylish. The question would be whether you could ever make up your mind from the large number of options offered.
Price: from $43,900 (manual), or $46,900 (automatic). This car was fitted with an optional wheel and racing stripes package.
What we like
- With the rear seats folded down there’s a surprising amount of room
- Handling is spectacular
- It brakes like a racing car
- It’s still funky
- Easy to drive around town
What we don’t like
- Traction control struggles to reign in the front wheels’ tendency to want to spin
- Some switches are a little too funky, making them difficult to operate
- Will the Fiat 500 Abarth become more trendy?
- Could get expensive when ticking that options list
New Cooper S Price
Type (cylinders / valves) 4 / 16
Capacity (cc) 1598
Power output kW at rpm 128 / 5500
Max. torque (Nm) at rpm 240 @ 1,600
Length / Width / Height (mm) 3714 / 1683 / 1407
Luggage Capacities (m3) 0,160 – 0,680
Fuel capacity (litres) 50
0-100 km/h1 (seconds) 7.1
Maximum speed1 (km/h) 225
Fuel Consumption / Range (ltr/100km / range) 6.9 (725) *
Brake dics, front (ventilated) and rear
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) – including EBV & Corner Braking Control (CBC)
Automatic Stability Control & Traction (ASC+T)
Driver and front passenger airbags & front side airbags plus pyrotechnic front seat belt tensioners
ISO fix child safetly seat attachment with front passenger air bag deactivation
Tyre defect indicator monitoring tyre pressure
Alloy wheels 6.5J x 16″ in 7-Fin styling (195/55 R 16 tyres) with run flat option
Heated exterior mirrors and washer jets
Front fog lamps
Remote central locking with deadlock facility and crash sensor
Air conditioning including cooled glovebox
Height adjustable driver’s & passengers seats with height adjustable seat belts
Interior lamp package includes map and vanity lights
Interior surfaces of facia in alloy look “Patina”
Leather-bound height adjustable steering wheel (3 spoke sports on Cooper S)
Stainless steel brake, clutch & acclerator pedal
Sports seat for driver & passenger
Upholstery, cloth flock velours Space
* Fuel consumption figures have been established using a test cycle procedure for exhaust emission calculation. Actual fuel consumption figures may differ from those achieved in the test procedure, depending on driving technique, road & traffic conditions, environmental factors and vehicle condition.
MINI Option List
Automatic (6 speed automatic transmission with electronic control)
Interior surfaces and handbrake lever with silver trim
ASC & T
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC III)
ITS head air bags for front passengers
Exterior mirror package (electrically foldable and heated)
Alloy wheels 6.5J x 16″ in 5 star styling Daytona (195/55 R 16 tyres) with run flat option
Alloy wheels 7J x 17″ in S spoke styling (205/45 R 17 tyres) with run flat option
Alloy wheels in “White”
Bonnet stripes “Black”
Bonnet stripes “White”
Chrome line exterior
Headlight washer system
Mirror caps in body colour
Mirror caps chrome plated
Park distance control
Rain sensor & automatic dipping interior mirror
Roof & mirror caps in black
Roof in body colour
Roof, & mirror caps in white
Xenon headlamps high beam (incl headlamp washers)
Anti theft system
Automatic air conditioning with microfilter
Chrome line interior (chrome features to instruments bezels, cup holders,gearlever) Cockpit chrono package
CD changer 6 stack
Hi Fi speaker system “Harmon Kardon”
Headlining in anthracite
Interior surfaces in body colour, door frames, dash board and console struts
Interior surfaces in silver, door pull frames, pockets, console struts etc
Interior dashboard surfaces in Anthracite
Interior trim strips in high gloss myrtle wood trim
Mini Disc player in dash (replaces CD unit)
Multi-function for steering wheel with cruise control
Navigation system proffesional
Non-smoker kit (storage bins instead of ashtrays)
On board computer
Preparation for CD changer installation
Seat heating for front seats
Steering wheel wood 3 spoke
Sun protection glazing (tinted glass in rear windows and rear screen)
Sunroof glass electrically operated
Telephone preparation (incl aerial, cables etc for hands free operation excludes handset)
Upholstery, cloth / leather combination Satellite
Upholstery, leather “Gravity”
Upholstery, leather “Soft”
MINI tlc ( 5 Year / 80,000 kilometre Scheduled Servicing)
Words Darren Cottingham, photos Brad Lord