MINI Cooper S three-door: Powerful Drive Down Memory Lane

By Lee Pang Seng
THE MINI Cooper S three-door sure brought back some good memories; while driving it through our regular ‘test’ mill, we couldn’t help relate the go-kart experience to the MINI 1000 that we had some fun driving with back in the late 60s and early 70s. The power might have been a world of difference between the two – 28kW (38bp) against 141kW (192hp) – but the basic fun factor is very much the soul of the MINI.

With its three-door body, the current MINI is about as close as you can get to the good old days, when the MINI was a two-door car with a boot (a door is defined by its accessibility for entry and egress from the passenger compartment). There is no question about the current MINI being a bigger car against the old, but by the standards today, it would be comparable to the MINI of old in its compact interior.

There are similar parallels in getting in or out for the rear passengers: with the old MINI, you tip either of the front seats forward but with the new, you merely recline the seatrest forward. While the old has a benchseat and you can squeeze in three (or more as we had done during our young days), the new MINI has bucket seats to suggest only two. A third person may be accommodated for short distances, sitting spread-eagled on a raised hump as the centre console is extended to the rear seat. However, this is not recommended at all in the name of safety.

The three-door styling has seen to the flexibility of the interior to accommodate more items by folding the rear 60:40 split seatrest down. That is one area where the new MINI wins hands down over the old, which could only take in three medium size travel bags at best and even then, at a pinch. That adds to the current MINI’s appeal as even the young or young-at-heart would have need of the extra space from time to time.

The current MINI is styled after the MINI I had owned before rather than the angular front of the model that was introduced in the mid-1970s. The slightly bulbous bonnet with chrome horizontal bar grilles and two single round headlights formed the face of the MINI that was readily recognised back then. It was a matter of retaining the original look, and the new MINI carries that well to some extent.

Going back to the soul of the MINI in driving feel, we felt almost the same ‘joie de vivre’ when driving the new MINI three-door. Being the Cooper S version didn’t colour that pleasure, if not in adding to the thrill of it. After all, there is huge difference in the power-to-weight difference: the old MINI 1000 that weighs about 500kg would work out to 17.8kg per kW while the MINI Cooper S three-door is streets ahead at about 8.0kg per kW. The old MINI would fare better against the MINI One.

Back then, the MINI Cooper was strictly a race car but there were Cooper power parts (among others) available for those who would like to soup up their MINIs. We recalled driving a few souped-up MINIs that blew us away. Imagine feeling the sheer rush of engine power with the accompanying throaty exhaust, heightened by the gush of air as we charged down the road (no car air-conditioning back then). That was the closest we could relate to as we put the pedal to the metal with the Cooper S down a clear stretch.

And we wondered if the old could have challenged the new: after all, the Cooper S is no snail, rushing to 100km/h in 7.8 seconds (6.7 in the Wired version) and a top speed of 210km/h (233km/h). This comes from the turbocharged four-cylinder undersquare 1998cc engine (82.0mm bore and 94.6mm stroke) that delivers 141kw (192hp) at 4700-6000rpm and 280Nm (300Nm with Overboost) from 1250rpm to 4750rpm. The engine outputs complement each other in keeping the Cooper S fully on song.

We also like the option of selecting the best driving mode to suit our mood, with a mere flick of a switch on the round console of the gearshift. There are three to choose from: Sport, MID or Green. Choosing Sport has the computer hotting up the engine by selecting a lower gear and stiffening the shock absorbers for attacking the corners and going at a fast pace. MID mode is best for normal driving and going Green means a calmer and easier running engine to improve fuel consumption and achieve cleaner exhaust emission.

Our drive experience with the MINI Cooper S five-door was in the Oxford area in the UK (the home of the MINI) where some reservations on unfamiliar grounds kept our exuberance a little in check. The three-door drive was done right in our backyard, through familiar corners and winding stretches, and we could push the Cooper S till the 205/45 R17 Dunlop SportMax tyres squealed. The shorter wheelbase (by 72mm at 2495mm) Cooper S three-door held a tighter line through the corner and we believed that it carried a bit more speed too.

The EPS (electric power steering) gave us good directional feedback to take the corners with confidence and the active systems working in tandem with the car’s suspension helped as well. The Cooper S three-door is independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front and multi-link trailing arms at the rear. The front has anti-dive geometry and two of the active systems are Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC).

This exciting winding road experience sure took us further down Memory Lane. We recalled throwing the MINI 1000 through our favourite corners too during our young and heady days and hearing the cross-ply 5.20x10 tyres on 10-inch steel rims squealed in protest! We loved every minute of that back then and we revelled in the same delight with the Cooper S three-door today.

We could also enjoy the same scoot-and-drive of the old with the Cooper S, zigzagging our way through slower traffic with seeming ease (thanks to the turbo power) although that is not advisable unless you are aiming for a traffic summons. We just got caught up in a retro moment but eased off not long after for the sake of enjoying the short experience.

If there is one area that the old MINI beats the new, it is the price. We bought our new MINI 1000 in the mid-1960s for less than RM5000. Inflation has obviously gone up manifold over the years: The imported MINI Cooper S is retailed at RM228,888 (without insurance and MINI Service Inclusive Package) and the Wired version comes at an additional RM20,000. Yup, the MINI go-kart pleasure is strictly for the well-heeled while the rest of us can only dream about it.

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