The cars peel off the line, diving for the first corner of the new Clark International Speedway in unison... and the fun is measured by the smiles on our faces.
What's great is that this is no new sportscar, roadster or rally rocket... it's a MINI.
Yeah, you read that right. After exactly 50 years since the original and 8 years since the modern MINI (under BMW ownership), the enterprising Autohub Group is set to bring in some of the most recognizable cars around. To introduce the characteristic British brand, the Autohub Group, and MINI Asia sent us to the all-new Clark International Speedway along with their latest models to get a feel for what the brand has to offer.
On the main straight are 8 MINIs in various forms. The base MINI, the Cooper, is represented, along with the far more powerful Cooper S as well as the unique Clubman models.
Much in the same way that the VW Beetle was to the Germans, the Mini was to the British; and like the Beetle, the Mini became one of the most recognizable brands around. The 1959 original was a breakthrough for both design, engineering, and has seen production for 40 years. Thanks to the BMW Group, MINI was brought into the 21st century; quite the irony.
All current MINIs are actually second-generation (or Mark 2) models. The unmistakable look of the front end comes straight from the original MINI: well-balanced contours, a rounded motif with the large headlights, the sweep of the radiator grille, and the wide air dam at the bottom for the radiator (and intercooler for the S). There's the low and wide stance, complemented by the fender flares and side skirts. Towards the top is the blacked-out pillars to convey a continuous glass area, topped off with a tub roof. In the back are the vertically stacked taillamps, finished with a central tailpipe. The Cooper S gets the larger rims, the hood scoop (purely cosmetic now that the intercooler was relocated), and twin-muffler tips. The Clubman, on the other hand, is slightly stretched to afford more rear legroom, the passenger door swings forward to reveal a Club door that swings backward for easier ingress/egress into the back seat, while the tailgate has a 50/50 split.
And here they all are (minus the Cabrio), basking in the afternoon sun.
The base model (Cooper) starts at just under PhP 2M, powered by a 1.6-liter inline-four engine that's good for 120 PS and 160 Nm of power and torque, respectively. The Clubman gets the same engine, while the performance-oriented Cooper S gets a healthier dose at 175 PS and 240 Nm thanks to a twin-scroll turbo and front mount intercooler.
Taking the Cooper around the track for the first time, and it's apparent how the MINI's suspension was engineered to produce sharp driving dynamics and handling. Toss the Cooper into a corner and the outside front digs in for grip, and the rest of the body follows suit. Engineers pushed the wheels as far out as possible to lend reflexes similar to go-karts, and if that wasn't enough, there are minimal overhangs on all four corners. The S has the added benefit of more power to rocket the car out of the turns.
The flowing nature of the new circuit proved an easy match for the MINIs, taking the chicanes, decreasing radius turns and long straights with plenty of confidence. The seats also feature impressive support and, of course, there's the unique retro treatment all around the cabin.
MINI designers paid careful attention to the interior, with the dashboard and pertinent controls getting a cheerful and unique design. There are two large dials, with the large tachometer dominating the driver's view with the speedo in the middle of the dash. Toggles take the place of some of the buttons, and recessed knobs for other controls. The controls look confusing at first, but is actually easy to get accustomed to; more importantly, fun to use.
Now, this is more like it. Where a vast majority of locally offered cars are often mundane to the look, touch, and drive, MINI offers a refreshing breath of air.
After 50 years, we've finally gotten an official taste of what we've missed, and thanks to the Autohub Group, the upcoming opening of MINI's showroom at Fort Bonifacio Global City and a complete line-up from Cooper to Cabrio S, we won't have to miss it anymore.