Mini Cooper S 3-Door: Fun size, no compromise

WHILE FILIPINOS, as with many vehicle owners and browsers around the world, are ardent fans of SUVs and MPVs, we apparently have a soft spot for a brand not exactly renowned for space, known as among the main virtues of the aforementioned categories.

This was confirmed by Kidd Yam, who heads the Mini Asia regional office located in Singapore. “(The Philippines) is one of our key markets, and registered one of the highest sales in the region — with close to 31% growth,” he recently said to members of the media gathered at the flagship Mini BGC dealership in Taguig. The absolute figures may not be earth-shattering (130 units moved in 2020, 152 in 2021, and 204 last year — per the Philippine Automotive Dealers Association), but these are encouraging ones — particularly since Minis are neither high-volume nor affordable movers.

And, no surprise too, that Mini owners usually have another vehicle tucked in the garage — typically the “more practical” (read: bigger) ride for the trip to the grocery or for the family outing.

“Mini has always been known for its iconic three-door hatch design. Not many people in the market are aware of the fact that we have a Mini Clubman with six doors, or the Mini Countryman — a full-size SUV. It’s about communicating more effectively to a broader audience that we do have these, but we’ve already seen some success especially in the last two years — with the impressive growth of the Mini Countryman particularly in the Philippines,” continued Mr. Yam.

Yes, the Countryman or Clubman can be that compromise if you want to have your Mini cake and eat it, too. But if you want to experience what the brand is really about, nowhere can the breadth of Mini values be fully felt than in its smallest form factor: the Mini Cooper Three-Door.

Last week, I was reacquainted with just that: the S variant of the model that has, to be honest, steadily grown in size over the generations while truly remaining a staunch and stubborn exemplar of Mini.

Gorgeous in British Racing Green (with racing stripes straddling its bonnet), this Mini Cooper (as an S variant) has a standard piano black exterior touches — with the door handles, side scuttles, and fuel cap finished in black. This design ethos of ditching the traditional chrome extends to the Mini logos on the hood and luggage compartment lid, model lettering and tailpipes, and even surrounds of the headlights, radiator grille, and rear lights — which feature the signature Union Jack design. Even its huge six-spoke, 18-inch wheels are finished in black.

“With the current model revision, the Mini has reached a level of maturity that makes it more exceptional in the small car segment with regard to design, product substance and premium quality, than ever before,” declared Mini Brand Head Bernd Körber in a release. “The Mini is the original that stands out from the crowd and it continues to reinvent itself again and again.”

Lest you misinterpret “maturity,” let me just say that being mature also means knowing how (and when) to have fun. Mini, of course, has veritably owned “fun” — reflected in spirited performance, an exhilarating go-kart-like handling, and an innate ability to make people take notice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We start with its vital stats. This Mini measures only 3,876-mm long, 1,727-mm wide, 1,414-mm tall, and bears a wheelbase stretching but 2,495mm. Positioned as a four-seater, there’s an asterisk for the two rear seats because these will only take in smaller passengers. But the correct way to think of this Mini Cooper is as a two-seater with two cargo holds, methinks. And if you drop the rear seatbacks you get a total of 731 liters of space. Not bad.

And getting into the front seats is a lot easier than you’d think — certainly the case if you compare the Mini with full-on sports cars. Part of this is explained by a respectable ground clearance of 143mm. Speaking of the front seats, the Cooper gets firm, well-bolstered ones that keep you and your passenger in place even if you take curves at speed.

Why, pray tell? Well, you’ll be sorely tempted to push this car — because you can, and it welcomes the demand. Despite its diminutive size, the Cooper S boasts a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder Mini Twin Power Turbo mill that blurts out 192 horses (from 5,000rpm to 6,000rpm) and 280Nm (1,350rpm to 4,200 rpm). You can extract performance through a seven-speed dual clutch sports transmission. Three driving modes are available: Green, Mid, and Sport — and these correspond to the readiness of the engine to rev up and push forward. Throughout some 200 kilometers that I drove it, I largely left the setting on “Mid,” and mixed-situation motoring yielded a thirst rate of around 11 kilometers per liter. Not bad — considering I frequently gave in to the temptation of pushing the Cooper S. See that space right there on the highway? Vroom. Yup, we’re there.

And when you push the Mini, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. At speed, the vehicle is surprisingly stable and unperturbed.

By nature, the Mini scrimps on space, but little else. The accoutrements within are fit for a premium vehicle, and here is where you’ll see more of the brand’s affinity with BMW — which acquired it in 1994.

The gear shifter is much like the one found on its German sibling, and the level of clarity and quality of execution on its all-digital instrumentation, and infotainment screen — as well as the knob and switches which help you navigate them — call to mind BMW’s as well. The instrument cluster — housed in a five-inch-diameter oval — is still affixed to the steering column, which helps to keep its visibility consistent regardless of the positioning of the tiller.

The choice of materials within also reflects the more premium price point (shell out P3.15 million for the Cooper S Three-Door), and the ethos again eschews shiny chrome in favor of black accents. Air vents surrounding the central infotainment system have been redesigned, and are flush with the interior surface. The dash design now also crosses the entire width of the instrument panel into the driver’s area.

The trademark circular element in the center console houses the infotainment system, expressed through an 8.8-inch color touchscreen display, with touch-sensitive favorite buttons and piano black high-gloss surfaces. The LED light ring now bears laser engraving, and complements the perception/enjoyment of various functions ranging from the volume of the audio to air-conditioning setting and others. A more advanced and polished-looking graphics display is highlighted by “live widgets,” wireless/wired Apple CarPlay, and a sundry of niceties.

Meanwhile, Driving Assistant with Lane Departure Warning is fitted as standard. The feature, among other things, provides a camera-based speed and distance control, and gives a perceptible vibration in the steering wheel when you unknowingly stray past the markers of your lane.

Countryman and Clubman aside, I can see why people would opt for the smaller Mini at a time when more is, simply put, more. The raison d’être for the Mini Cooper S is simple: It exists to make you, your passenger, and the people who see it, smile. To be sure, you can’t find too many things in this world which distill and capture so much fun in such a compact package.

Forget conventional wisdom. Go small or go home.

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