I honestly didn't know what to expect when one of the most exciting auto brands in the world put out a call for a drive in the quaint and quiet resort island of Lombok in Indonesia. Would the roads be exciting? Would the scenery be fantastic? Would the motorcycle riders be challenging?
Yes, as it turned out, and on all three counts, but that shouldn't be a problem behind the wheel of a Mini.
The idea of touring this island came about through Peter Medalla. Sunny, as he is known to us, is a veteran Filipino automotive executive, having taken on posts at Ford Philippines, BMW Philippines, Mini Indonesia, and now as head of Mini Asia in Singapore. He is joined by BMW Asia's Corporate Communications head, Mr. Seth Anutarasoti, on this multi-day road trip in Lombok.
Mini had shipped over several examples of their latest S models to be enjoyed on this island's roads.
Starting the line up was the new generation F56 Cooper S 3-Door, a model that is undoubtedly one of the most popular ever since BMW took over Mini a decade and a half ago. Unlike the previous generations which had turbocharged 1.6-liter engines, this new one has a 2.0L which has likewise been turbocharged. As such, this new Cooper S gets 192 PS and can easily sprint from 0 to 100 in just 6.7 seconds.
Following it is the very important F56 5-door models, both in Cooper and Cooper S trim levels. I say important because having a 5-door version opens up the Mini to more customers; it's just easier for families and companions riding in the back to not have to fold the front seats just to get in and out. The S version has the same 192 PS engine as the 3-door version on hand, but given the minimal difference in weight, it can do the 100 km/h sprint in 6.8 seconds.
With the racing experience and background that many of us in the group have, the one we were truly looking forward to driving the most has the be the new generation F56 John Cooper Works, or JCW. It's the most exciting Mini in attendance and features many enhancements for performance with the upgraded suspension, the better brakes, the more powerful 2.0L engine with 231 PS and a long list of other upgrades that we'll get to fully test - and enjoy - in the next few days. And it's the first one we got behind the wheel of.
Unlike Bali, the more popular Indonesian island with all its shopping districts, bars, clubs and the like, Lombok is still being developed. It's much less commercialized and therefore much more natural. Think of it this way: Bali is Indonesia's version of Boracay while Lombok is more like Palawan.
Whereas Bali is home to Indonesia's Hindu minority, Lombok is predominantly Islamic. It wasn't so apparent when we arrived given that it was nighttime, but when we woke up the next day, we could clearly hear the muezzin reciting the Muslim call to prayer from the nearest minaret from one of the 1,001 or so mosques is Lombok.
This island's collection of roads are clearly newly built, a sign of the accelerated pace of infrastructure development due to the income generated by the increasing number of tourists. There is even a four-lane motorway currently being built that, once complete, will connect many of the locales, particularly the resort town of Senggigi, almost directly to the airport.
The yet-to-be-completed (and still unopened) motorway provided a great opportunity to stretch the legs of the JCW. Agility is always a great thing to have when you're behind the wheel of a car, and the JCW has it, wholesale. The steering is direct and almost feels like it's connected direct to your senses, making weaving around nonchalant motorcycle riders, the random (but frequent) dog crossing, and rocks.
Once out of Lombok's version of a motorway, we made our way up the mountains towards our destination: Kuta Beach on the southern part of Lombok. The JCW is made for these kinds of winding mountain passes, but that doesn't mean the cars following me are slouches. In fact, tailing my every move was veteran race car driver, Georges Ramirez. Judging by my view through the mirrors, he was having a blast behind the wheel of the heavier 5-door Cooper S as we sliced through the corners from one town to another, applying a somewhat friendly level of pressure on me much like a race car driver would.
Mini also had a nice little surprise in store for us, as apparently there is a little racing circuit on this island in Selagalas. It's small and tight as the circuit is meant for grassroots underbone motorcycle racing, but it's got some banked corners and places an emphasis on precision; something the JCW has in spades.
The JCW really feels comfortable on a tight course like this, kicking up dirt and grass whenever we cut through any apex. You can't really feel much in terms of top speed here, but the ability to put a wheel where ever the driver wants is always a good thing to have on a small circuit. After a few laps, it was time to head back on the road.
We pushed the pace, passing rental motorcycles ridden by tourists who like to get stoked; you can tell by the surfboards they were carrying on makeshift racks bolted on to the bikes. The tarmac got a little tighter and a little choppier, but the JCW, 5-Door and 3-Door Minis made quick work of the road. Yes, the waves in Kuta were paradise for the surfers, but the roads were ours.
Maybe that's what Mini was telling us: if you have a car that has Cooper on the tailgate, any road anywhere in the world instantly becomes a playground. That is what life is like behind the wheel of any Mini, something the holds as true today as it did six decades ago.