Even by the standards of the best launches, my drive on the second day of the 2014 MINI Hatch launch was exceptional. Without doubt, the drive of my life.
Video commitments meant I was late leaving the hotel. The route was two and a half hours, and I had two hours to do it. Perfect way to showcase the new car’s sat nav shortcuts: press and hold button ‘2’ for the fast track to the airport. If I needed it.
I was determined I wouldn’t.
The first bit wasn’t all that special – a 50km trek up the motorway. I mused on cutting short to get lost on some twisty roads then ping up Palma Airport. Thank goodness I didn’t.
Almost as soon as it began to get twisty and interesting, the cyclists appeared. The first part seemed to take in a training mountain also used by hundreds of cyclists. Literally, hundreds. One gaggle had, I swear, 50 wobbly riders, all teeth gnashing in unison.
Clearing them was imperative, for the purposes of testing, sanity and safety: having cyclists repassing you on blind corners with cars coming the other way convinced me I didn’t want to hang around anymore. Enter the new Cooper S, and its first great strength: torque.
Straight bit – blast, squirt past. Corner, straight bit – blast, squirt past. No turbo lag, no delay; the immediacy was remarkable. Time exposed to danger was minimal too, thanks to 189hp and 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds. Finally, they were cleared and I could do some proper driving.
With more time now to make up, it was hard driving. The roads were empty, the roads were blindingly good, I was on my own. What else to do but brake deeper, corner faster, get on the power harder, and earlier, and start exploiting the car’s remarkable adjustability to get it on its toes and rotating with the profile of the road, WRC style.
Front end bite, I soon found, was mighty; the way the nose could be flung into a bend and still dig in was astounding. Even when it did nibble wide, it still did it with plenty of feel. No meek washing out here, and the reassuring help from the rear end added confidence too. Suspension engineered to the highest order – the harder you press, the more you feel the benefits, the more it stands out against hot hatches with lesser, cheaper suspension.
Despite all the torque, torque steer and corrupting wheel fight was almost completely absent. Leaving DSC on helped here; so measured was its interaction (and so smoothly and quickly did it ease out again) that I can’t imagine why you’d turn it off on public roads. It’s DSC more akin to a record producer sliding an analogue fader up and down. Rather than someone pressing a sticky button on and off.
It even rewards driving a front-wheel drive car properly. If you’re hard on the power with some lock on, the DSC will be dialled up. So wind off the dab of steering lock as soon as you can, get those front wheels straight, ensure they only have to do power transmission rather than cornering too. As if by magic, the DSC will disappear and the front end will bite. And you’re away.
All the time you’re doing this, the engine will be driving hard, forcefully, telling you as much with motorsport-grade turbo whistles, whines and wastegate flutters on lift-off. It’s as high tech as you imagine F1’s going to be this year – but the best is on lift-off. Proper clattering pops from the exhaust, addictively intense (and, top tip, best if you lift off and run down around 4,000rpm…). Rotary-like smoothness, an interesting and never-harsh engine note plus an apparent willingness to rev forever adds further appeal. It’s a motor as charismatic as the original Cooper S’ supercharged unit and, with all that instant-on torque, pretty much as responsive while being a whole lot quicker.
The Cooper S is lithe, it steers with pinpoint accuracy, it is confident and bereft of nasty tricks, it’s an utterly rewarding high-grade driver’s car that has the substance and the integrity to only give you back more when you push on to find the limits, rather than wilting under duress. It’s fantastic.
It’s also, although bigger than before, still the smallest car in its sector. The MINI is still mini. And thus pretty much ideal to drive Mallorca’s fiendishly twisting mountain rally stage roads.
The only complaint was a soft set of brakes by the end. Bigger anchors, and perhaps a few more pots on the calipers, are needed. It’s not many hot superminis where the brakes run out before the talent of the rest of it does, nor your absolute confidence in wringing its neck like racing car subsides. Such is this car’s thrashability, MINI, you almost need carbon composites on it…
They didn’t stop me getting out at the end knowing I’d had the drive of my life, though. The date in the diary is marked for posterity.