Roomier ride in the new Mini

The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.PHOTOS: MINI
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.PHOTOS: MINI
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.PHOTOS: MINI
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.
The new Mini Cooper S is bigger than the previous model, and boasts far better build quality.PHOTOS: MINI

The new Mini is a lot bigger, beefier and better finished

There is something strangely unfamiliar about the new Mini, and it takes me more than a day to figure out what it is.

It has nothing to do with the way the car looks. Despite a host of cosmetic changes that make its appearance sportier and more sophisticated, it is still recognisably and unmistakably Mini.

The 7mm addition in height is not apparent but the 121mm increase in length is - especially to rear occupants. But that is not it.

The cockpit is clearly different. Window controllers are now located on the door and the speedometer is now where most speedometers are, right in front of the driver along with the other gauges. But that is not it either.

Logic has prevailed but that's that - it is plain to see. It still does not explain the nagging feeling that something is amiss. Something quite profound.

And then it hits me. After a day tooling about in the Cooper S, it dawns on me that the cabin is utterly rattle-free.

I turn down the volume of the radio and strain my ears. Nothing. I take the firmly sprung hatch over speed humps without shedding speed. Still nothing.

Now, this is a real feat, especially for Mini. The BMW-owned British car has always been susceptible to a degree of cabin rattle. People seem to accept that, almost as an inviolable fact of life.

So, when you are in a Mini that emits not a pip or squeak, it is an unfamiliar sensation. But a pleasant one.

No less tangible are improvements to the car's overall fit and finish. It is obvious in almost everything you see and touch - from the soft plastics on the dash and door panels, to chrome-lined switches and levers that might even pass muster at Rolls-Royce, to the level of attentiveness paid to the way panels are aligned and shutlines are kept tight and uniform.

Even the wing mirror controls, which used to be rather flimsy, have improved.

The seats are also more ergonomic, offering better support and comfort, and mitigating the effects of the car's sporty suspension.

The tight and grippy multi-function steering wheel is retained (but imbued with torque steer compensation), while the ignition button it used to partially obstruct has been replaced by a flip switch on the centre console. Besides being more user-friendly, it is also way cooler than most of the other push-start buttons.

And being cool has always been a strong proposition for Mini. So much so that buyers were willing to compromise on other qualities. But they do not need to any more.

The new car also packs more technology. The huge circular space on the centre console where the speedometer resided is now occupied by the car's infotainment monitor.

Accessing this is a BMW iDrive-like controller, complete with a touchpad that accepts scribbled instructions. The car has practically all the connectivity and cleverness you will find in a BMW.

So the car is bigger, roomier, better built and smarter. But how does it drive?

In terms of outright performance, the Cooper S is nothing short of amazing. With a 2-litre turbo engine that puts out 192bhp and 280Nm of torque (4 and 17 per cent respectively better than its predecessor), and a body that is 5kg lighter, it goes from zero to a hundred in 6.7 seconds - shaving half a second off its previous timing.

But it actually feels quicker than that. Especially in Sport mode, where even the slightest caress of the throttle will send the car surging forward in mid-cruise.

And it is more than adequate in Mid mode. Even in Green mode (supposedly the most fuel-efficient), the car is far from a laggard.

Most drivers will pick Sport, which is surprisingly usable in almost any traffic and road condition, thanks to Mini's torquey engine, highly responsive throttle and quick-acting autobox.

In fact, the automatic is quicker in the century sprint than the manual. Indeed, the Cooper S is in a special league when it comes to power launches, overtaking and filling gaps in traffic.

The car has a very strong reverse gear too. So if you ever need to outrun baddies, this comes in handy. Otherwise, it makes backing into a sloping car porch swift and effortless - without you having to tap the throttle at all.

The only minor downside is that it can sometimes be tricky when you are inching into a parking space, as the car tends to surge backwards if not tempered by just the right amount of brake pressure.

The new Mini retains its handling and road-holding prowess, but it seems to have lost a small degree of its go-kart feel. Perhaps it has to do with its extended wheelbase, longer overhangs and slightly raised ceiling.

Few people, other than diehard followers, will miss those features. For sure, no one will miss the cabin rattle.

christan@sph.com.sg

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