The MINI Urban Trail

BY Azfar Hashim

MINI lets us have a go at the new generation Cooper and Cooper S — does it still possess the fun factor, or has it grown up into something else?

Photos courtesy of BMW Asia

Without a doubt, the MINI hatchback is a cheeky little car. If you have driven or owned a Cooper or Cooper S (R50 and R56) before, I am very sure you would agree that it is the one car that never fail to put a smile on the driver’s face: you can drive it hard and chuck it around like a toy, without any fear of losing control.

And so the new MINI is here. It is an all-new plot this time around though: the MINI has grown in size, and the engine variants have both shrunk and grown now. The ‘base’ Cooper is now a turbocharged 1.5-litre, while the hotter Cooper S — previously a grande and now a venti - has gotten itself a 2.0-litre (yes, also turbo’d) lump; the previous R56 MINI Cooper and Cooper S were powered by 1.6-litre engines.

Recently, BMW Asia invited Burnpavement to sample the new MINIs first hand on a specially designed course: Zouk’s car park area. Knowing it was all loose gravel, I anticipated lots of slippin’ and sliding’ the entire day…

It began by tackling the base Cooper around a makeshift roundabout that gets tighter as you make your way into the center. The objective here is to show off the Cooper’s capability maneuvering in tight spaces and the alert Dynamic Stability Control. Of course, even with the instructor next to yours truly, the Cooper was driven slightly (really slightly) faster and what was surprising here was how it still manages to stay within control over the loose gravel; all you needed to do was simply ease off the accelerator and steer the car closer to the inner part of the circuit and the car simply corrected itself while maintaining traction. Goes to show that even a novice driver can turn pro in the Cooper…

Next up was the slow slalom, where I got to sample the base Countryman with a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine. This slalom was tight, which was obviously set up that way to, again, showcase how easy it is to drive any MINI model all thanks to the — in MINI speak — ‘go-kart feeling’. The steering does not require much movement, the suspension taut while body movement was well-controlled; on top of that, the ever alert traction control works in tandem to ensure the Countryman retained its composure.

Immediately after the slow slalom was a course that has been set to mimic the words M-I-N-I. With the Countryman, I went all “ahh-no-sweat-bro”; the taller driving position made judging distances much, much easier. Which also meant maneuvering - even with the steering going full lock some instances - was a cinch…

Out of the course and into the fast slalom. Going - as the name suggested - faster now, it again showcased how responsive the MINI’s steering and suspension was. The Countryman was alert, and although it sits taller than the Cooper hatchback, you experience more fun as the more obvious body movement made me, well, fight with physics to keep the car in control. Also helps knowing that, in the worst case scenario whereby my reaction seemed a little too slow, the traction control will correct things for me. Which happened, of course (I blamed it on my age that is creeping up).

Away from the course, a few other fellow journalists and myself were then sent packing on a city drive. I chose the base MINI Cooper for this part of the Urban Trail, with the sole intention of seeing how this little number perform.

It does not disappoint one bit; what we are seeing here is potentially the next top model amongst drivers who want a small runner for the daily tasks that does not struggle to keep up with traffic.

The Cooper has no qualms keeping up with the faster Cooper S in Singapore’s — generally — congested traffic, also taking sweeping corners with gusto.

This being the World Cup period, the day ended with penalty taking back on the course using the Cooper. Let’s just say yours truly, err, read the wind direction wrongly, did not factor in the additional braking distance over the loose surface and the ball went straight to the post instead.

The good thing about such a driving experience over diverse environments (both the course and urban drive around town) was it showcased the MINI’s many talent from its diverse model range. This was only the sampler; well readers, look out for our review of the base MINI Cooper and Cooper S soon…