Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First Drive: 2016 MINI Cabriolet Cooper S and Clubman Cooper S (w/ Video)

Bali—the Island of the Gods. One of the most exotic destinations in Asia, it’s best known for its vibrant, and sometimes wild, beach life. And while this is the most opportune moment to sip Piña Coladas while ogling at bikini-clad women, this isn’t the time. Instead, it’s time to explore Bali in the most captivating way possible: aboard two of MINI’s newest offerings, the Cabriolet and the Clubman. Armed with sunnies and sunblock, it’s time to set off in the MINI Adventure 2016.

There’s a lot at stake for MINI with these two new models. It’s about a return to MINI’s roots of maximum driving fun in a minimal footprint. At the same time, they’re moving beyond the young and reckless attitude they’ve cultivated way back in 2001. They’re moving away from the long-associated image of Vodka-Red Bull chugging, EDM-fueled parties of people who work hard and party harder. Today, it’s all about having fun while enjoying the finer things in life be it through Swiss watches, single-malt whiskeys, or the newest pair of designer shoes.

It sounds like a clash between two irreconcilable worlds—between tradition and moving forward; brashness and premium-ness. Yet, it’s one challenge that the MINI relishes so well. Outside, both models remain unmistakably MINI, but with every surface carefully evolved. The most characteristic part is the English Bulldog-like “under bite”. On the Cabriolet, the soft top is both fun and practical. The fully automated canvas roof offers better sound insulation and can be stowed in just 18 seconds at speeds up to 30 km/h. Plus, woven right into the fabric is a Union Jack pattern while a unique sliding mechanism offers a targa experience for those who don’t want to drop the top entirely. Meanwhile, the Clubman not only offers five full-fledged seats, but offers flexible storage volume stretching up to 1,250 liters. It’s the MINI for the family.

Strapping into the MINI Cabriolet for Day One, a 181.9-kilometer route lay ahead stretching from Ngurah Rai to Menjangan Bay.

Basking in the scorching Bali sun, Melting Silver seems like an appropriate choice of hue. From the driver’s perspective, everything is playful with the continuous motif of round shapes while the diamond-quilted Leather Chester Seats providing a handcrafted feel to the cabin. It’s also mighty practical with peerless ergonomics and easy-to-master controls. The most appropriate driving position is low, with only the fenders marking the front corners. The view from there is alright, with the upright A-pillar and rounded door mirrors doing most of the work. There’s also good space around the foot wells, with the pedals perfectly aligned to the driver’s body.

Flicking the red-colored toggle switch at the center turns the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in the Cooper S. Filled with technical goodies such as direction injection and TwinPower turbocharging, it puts out 192 horsepower and 280 Nm of torque. After just a few meters, it’s obvious that it pulls without fuss. It’s torquey and smooth, without enough low-end grunt on tap to pull out of any corner. Driven civilly, there’s a distant turbine whistle and muted exhaust note, but at full throttle, the exhaust will crackle a pop or two.

Built as a convertible from the get-to, the new platform is impressively rigid and stable thanks to a stiffening plate under the engine and reinforced sills. It keeps the rattles and cowl shakes to a minimum with the top up while keeping the driver pleasantly happy. It’s easy to find a good rhythm here and chucking it from one hairpin to another easily becomes second nature. It’s a willing dance partner whatever the road condition.

Day 2 means it’s time to switch to the Clubman Cooper S. From the Naya Gawana Resort in Manjangan Bay, it’s a 143.5-kilometer drive back down to hip beach district of Seminyak.

After canyon carving in the Cabriolet, there were apprehensions about the Clubman’s capabilities. After all, can the biggest MINI ever made still be fun to drive?

Back-to-back with the soft top, the family-oriented Clubman is clearly the softer riding of the two. It’s comfortable and civilized over most kinds of road bumps, managing both small and large bumps very well, even from the rear seats. It’s keeping with the character because it’s supposed to seat a family of five and their luggage. Yet, it keeps close to MINI’s promise of delivering sharp, uncompromised handling. It remains quick through corners, with the steering remaining progressively natural.

The big news in the Clubman is MINI’s first-ever 8-speed automatic in the Cooper S. Aided with GPS, it plots for an up- or downshift even before entering a corner or bend. Not only does this maximize the available power from the 192-horsepower engine, but it reduces unnecessary shifts keeping comfort levels up. Still, jab the throttle hard and the gearbox is keen to downshift. It makes the trek through the mountainous roads arguably easy.

In conjunction with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine shared with the Cabriolet, the Clubman Cooper S moves with a verge that belies its curb weight. It hits the century mark in just 7.1 seconds (same as the Cabriolet); though it actually feels faster than that.

Whether they come with three, five, or six doors, a fixed roof or a soft-top one, MINI proves once more that original defining spirit is still there. They prove to be great long-distance tourers that deliver the most smiles per corner.

Since its creation in 1959, MINI has always stood out for ideas, inspirations, and passions. Though everyone points to the brand’s ethos of providing big smiles in a small package, the brand goes beyond that. First and foremost, MINI is a celebration of the spirit of the age. The original one did so, providing a rebellious flare that made it legendary today. Meanwhile, the new-generation MINIs are moving forward from there, adding sophistication to the mix. The MINI Cabriolet and Clubman can still be gung-ho, but they certainly have a more refined way of doing it.

1 comment:

  1. I have a so-so impression about Mini until I read this review. It makes me excited to own a Mini in the future. For now, Mazda 3, then an IS350, then maybe a Mini. #dreambig