If there's one thing we know, it's that the Mini Cooper is an icon. With its go-kart handling and very potent powertrain, the pioneering front-wheel drive city car designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and built by British Motor Corporation also became a performance icon thanks to John Cooper.
Today, that greatness has grown. Now owned by BMW, the Mini marque and the Cooper nameplates was brought into the new century, emerging as a peppy premium compact car from its very economical beginnings.
Recently, Mini Philippines invited us on their first track day at Clark International Speedway as a way to check out their current lineup of vehicles along with the all-new Cooper 5 Door that was just launched during the 2015 Manila International Auto Show.
Organized by the Autohub Group and its subsidiary British United Automobiles, various driving activities were set up that will get us up to test the handling prowess of the longer Mini 5 Door.
The 5 Door Conundrum
Yes, the Mini we all know and love is now available with a 5 Door variant instead of the usual 3 Door hatch. Practicality-wise, it is better to have additional doors and a longer body as it will provide better legroom and cargo space. Compare it side by side with the 3 Door model however, there is no difference as its distinct front end, sleek silhouette and wide rear carries over from the smaller hatch.
Under the hood, the 5 Door Cooper S is powered by a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline-four which can also be found on the 3 Door model. It puts out a healthy 192 PS at 4,700 – 6000 rpm and 280 Nm of torque available at 1,250 – 4,750 rpm. Mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox, it can leap from 0 – 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds before hitting a top speed of 233 km/h.
There is also the standard 5 Door Cooper that is driven by a 1.5-liter TwinPower Turbo inline-three. Its engine produces 136 PS at 4,500 rpm along with a torque pull of 220 Nm. 0 – 100 km/h comes in at a respectable 7.8 seconds while its top speed is limited to 210 km/h.
Out on the track
Mini Philippines's idea of a track day was splitting it up into three distinct activities that showed the capability of Mini's new models.
There was the lapping run that taught us how to properly take on the track, a high-speed slalom course that highlighted the hot hatch's go-kart handling and the strangely-named 'Italian Job' which we'll tell about later.
Driving the 5 Door Cooper S
Step inside the 5 Door Mini and it’s clear that there is better interior space than the smaller 3 Door hatch. Being unfamiliar with the cabin, it took quite some time to get accustomed to the cabin. Once settled in, it was easy to get going.
For our lapping run of the Mini, Autohub had prepared a navy blue Mini Countryman Cooper S that will act as the pace car and guide us around the track, showing us when and where to brake, accelerate and the line to properly attack a corner.
Setting it to Sport Mode, the car remained civilized as there was no apparent change. Off to a slow start from the pit lane, the car kept itself prim and proper but once we left the pits, I planted my foot down to the accelerator and it suddenly changed to Mr. Hyde. There was a bit of turbo lag but nothing too dramatic that it will influence torque steer or jerk the front wheels during mid-turn, though I admit I was able to make the tires chirp when I exited out of a corner too quickly.
The Cooper S also had some very snappy brakes as all it took to apply stopping force was a slight prod on the pedal; a trait that becomes very helpful before entering a corner on a racetrack. In typical Mini fashion, it was a breeze through the corners as there was little understeer at these speeds; indeed it's good for an FWD. The perfectly-weighted steering wheel also helped in cutting through the tight chicanes and around long bends.
Hatchbacks normally carry an inherent problem (or fun factor for some) wherein excess body roll actually makes the inside rear wheel lift a bit (read: three-wheeling) when the car tackles a very tight turn. On the Mini, there is still a bit of body roll though nothing too scary or concerning that the car might want to roll over on its side. Compare it too older hatchbacks from the 80s or 90s, today's hatchbacks keep their tires planted to the pavement even though the body still tends to roll a bit.
As for the gearbox, even though it was only set to Drive, it was spritely and never missed a beat. It kicked down a gear with a prod of the throttle and held it mid-corner, preventing the engine from losing power. I wasn’t exactly able to check if the navigation system was activated because on paper, Mini claims that the navigation works in tandem with the gearbox, which provides the proper gear ratio depending on road conditions.
Driving the 5 Door Cooper
The 5 Door non 'S' Cooper comes with less power and standard brakes. But it still came with the same familiar Mini handling. However, having started our stint with the 'S', it kept on wanting us to go back and asking for more. Then again, that's the gearhead in us.
For the normal motorist, the standard 5 Door Cooper will take you around town with enough power and weave around effortlessly with the same 'go-kart handling' on Sport mode or a more relaxed feeling in Normal mode. It still comes with the same eye-catching Mini Cooper appeal with more convenient rear doors to seat passengers, your kid in a car seat, or your shopping bags.
Driving the 3 Door Cooper S
After finishing up a lap around the speedway with the 5 door, we then switched over to the 3 Door as a way of comparing it to the longer 5 Door version. Off the line, both cars seem to share the same feeling of acceleration but once you get into a turn, the 3 Door is better in terms of handling.
Not stating that the 5 Door is a bad handling hatch, both models are still ‘point and shoot’ cars in my opinion; it’s just that the 3 Door felt nimbler around the bends, given its shorter length and lighter weight. Overall, both cars carry the same personality.
As Mini itself is a fun brand, the organizers set up what they call the 'Italian Job' which involves a Mini Countryman, a driver, a shooter and two brown paper targets masquerading as the unlucky targets. Basically a mockup drive-by shooting that draws more inspiration from Grand Theft Auto, participants would both get a chance to be the wheelman and a would-be assassin.
Straightforward it may be, there were some ground rules that had to be followed. The designated driver must start from a standstill and was only allowed to reach a maximum top speed of 30 km/h before letting off the throttle and letting the car coast by the targets. Braking while coasting was not allowed as it meant disqualification.
The shooter on the other hand must only let off one shot per target as a 'double-tap' will merit a disqualification. Participants will only get 2 tries before they have to switch over to the other role. The scores of both members will then be tallied up.
Hitting the target at center mass (i.e. heart/chest area) or at the head will award the shooter the highest attainable score of 5 points. Landing a hit on the abdomen will merit 4 points, while hitting the limbs will award them 3 points.
The 3 Door or The 5 Door?
Now comes the million-dollar question, which would be a better choice, the 3 Door or the newer 5 Door? Well, different strokes for different folks.
The 3 Door Mini Cooper is great for successful young professionals that want a potent pocket rocket that has just enough interior and cargo space for themselves or for those trips with a date.
The 5 Door Mini Cooper on the other hand seems to be the better choice as you can still have the fun factor of a hot hatch but it has better cargo space and can easily fit 3 adults at the back due to the added length.
Personally, I'd take the Mini 5 Door over the 3 Door because for me it represents the more useful and more practical choice.
Mini Cooper 3 Door – PhP 2,200,000
Mini Cooper S 3 Door – PhP 2,700,000
Mini Cooper 5 Door – PhP 2,300,000
Mini Cooper S 5 Door – PhP 2,800,000