MINI Cooper S: 5-door Enhancer

By Lee Pang Seng

MINI has introduced a five-door model in September that should enhance its appeal for those who are looking at a more conventional option besides the Clubman and Countryman. This was launched as the second body variant of the new generation MINI and this five-door model was made available in the Malaysian market a couple of months later. However, Malaysian MINI buyers has only one version that is readily available, the Cooper S five-door, while MINI Malaysia would gladly bring in the MINI One or Cooper should there be sufficient demand for them.

The design of the MINI five-door was approached without losing its original appeal in that it won’t lose the compact nature of its styling. To accommodate the five-door styling, the MINI five-door needs to have a longer wheelbase over the three-door and that is duly fulfilled with a 2567mm span, which is 72mm longer. The body length is naturally longer and by a bigger margin of 161mm at 3982mm.

What that means is more interior room over the three-door: an improved 61mm in width at elbow height and 15mm better headroom. The luggage space at the rear can also hold more items with an additional 67 litres (or 30 per cent more) with 278 litres of space now available. If you fold the 60:40 split rear seatrests, that space is extended more than threefold to 941 litres, which should accommodate a fair bit of your hobby gear, among other things.

In other dimensional aspects, there is no difference in body width (1727mm) between the two door model variants although the five-door is slightly taller by 11mm at 1425mm. An interesting note is that the length of roof is said to be the same as the three-door to retain that compact look and the main difference are the C-pillars that are at a more acute angle to flow with the longer body.

This increase in body size might have led to some added poundage but MINI has retained the wheel tracks of the three-door, these being 1501mm front and rear. The kerb weight for the Cooper S five-door automatic is 1240kg, which still works out nicely in good power-to-weight ratio with the strong output from the MINI TwinPower turbo direct injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with variable camshafts on the inlet and exhaust valves (Double VANOS and Valvetronic).

If that sounds familiar, the engine is developed by BMW but tuned to the MINI driving needs. That explains why the output is slightly lower against a similar engine displacement unit in the BMW vehicle range, which is generally heavier. The MINI 2.0-litre is rated at 141kW (192hp) from 4700 to 6000rpm and 280Nm torque peaking very early at 1250rpm and holding till 4750rpm (300Nm with overboost). Performance-wise, the Cooper S five-door 6-speed Steptronic automatic accelerates to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 230km/h, marginally slower than the three-door although the combined fuel consumption is similar at about 5.4 1/100km (18.5km/l).

There is also a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel variant, which would not be brought in here until a time when the Euro 5 diesel is made widely available locally (given the current scenario with the recent introduction of that fuel in Johor Bahru by BHP, who knows, we may see the turbodiesel here in good time). For now, we would focus on the petrol model that we were first acquainted with in the UK. This was in the Oxford district where the MINI is produced and the MINI was first introduced by Sir Alex Issigonis way back in 1959.

With Henley as the starting point, we had about three hours’ driving time in the morning and a much shorter one in afternoon to check out the Oxford area, crisscrossing the B-grade roads into the countryside and the university area. We decided on being a rear passenger in the first leg and see if our 165cm frame would be comfortably accommodated. MINI says the longer wheelbase meant rear passengers would enjoy 72mm better foot space and legroom.

We found the legroom adequate although thigh support wasn’t exactly the best, which was understandable given the compact nature of the MINI and such styling measures were necessary to provide adequate passenger space. Our hour-plus ride in the rear wasn’t too bad and it was pretty comfortable, despite the centre console that flowed to the rear seat cushion restricting foot space some. The MINI five-door was best for four adults although five can be accommodated for short jaunts, with the middle rear passenger having to ride a little spread-eagled.

The new MINI comes with a keyless-go function, which means you don’t need the key to start the engine. Instead of the common pushbutton start-stop engine feature, MINI has chosen a toggle switch located on the centre dashboard panel for the function. To separate it from the other toggle switches, the engine start-stop item is in red and located in the centre of the lot.

As this was our first acquaintance with the new generation MINI, we noted a pleasant change that was more to our liking. The centrally located round dial that used to house the speedometer now has a huge 8.8-inch multi-info display panel. The speedometer and tachometer is moved to the binnacle in front of the driver, with the Head Up Display being available as an optional item.

The MINI Cooper S comes with its share of driving options or modes and this is made easy with a rotary switch at the base of the gearshift. The options are MID, SPORT or GREEN. In SPORT mode, the accelerator pedal characteristic curve and steering are switched to a sporty set-up along with quicker shift times for the 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. We also opted for the hot exhaust note during our drive as it went ‘pop-pop-pop’ on deceleration.

The GREEN mode is good for fuel efficiency and the coasting function is available with the Steptronic model, similar to that in BMWs. The drivetrain was decoupled at between 50km/h and 160km/h when we took our foot off the accelerator pedal. This allowed the MINI to roll along at idling speeds and optimum fuel mileage could be obtained. And of course, the MID mode is for normal driving.

There was no doubt about the performance aspect of the MINI Cooper S the moment we hit the road. The early delivery of the maximum torque made for a strong getaway and the wide spread of the peak pulling output allowed us to maintain quick speeds through corners along the twisting B-grade roads that covered mostly farmlands.

The electromechanical power steering played its part too: the initial moments of torque steer was quickly compensated, especially on hard acceleration. This is achieved in a mechanical way in which the longer driveshaft of the transversely located engine is sectioned: the shafts attached to the front wheels are of equal length through this design to maintain balanced output to the wheels.

Another strong aspect was its suspension, which sees a single-joint spring strut axle in front and a multi-link rear. To achieve low vehicle weight while retaining a high level of component rigidity, the front has aluminium swivel bearings and axle supports, and the wishbones are made of high strength steel. The rear sees components made of high strength steel. Tube-shaped stabilisers are used front and rear for the same weight-saving approach.

The Cooper S we drove came with Dynamic Damper Control and by switching to SPORT mode, the dampers stiffened up and the ride was noticeably harder over road ruts and bumps. The sacrifice in ride was worth it when we could take corners at good speeds in a rather flat manner. The compression and rebound stage are adjusted via electronic control of the EDC valves in the dampers. Its go-kart agility was easily its most enjoyable experience.

On the highway, the Cooper S showed its readiness to gobble up the distance during initial acceleration although we observed the speed limits most of the time as we were warned about the high frequency of police speed monitoring. The Cooper S 5-door had a higher aerodynamic resistance of 0.32 but we found its cruising performance (and occasional spurts of up to 150km/h on long stretches of B-grade roads) quiet enough to converse without raising our voices.

The Cooper S five-door should find favour with those who want a sporty compact car that would accommodate a young family’s needs. It could be driven in a docile, fuel-saving manner when the family is on board for a holiday and then be switched to its Mr Hyde role for some hot sporty driving when the situation or mood calls for it.

The imported Cooper S five-door petrol model is available at RM238,888 on the road without insurance.

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