motioncars
The Mini Driving School
 
“Putting your money where your mouth is”, is perhaps the best marketing line ever invented. After all, just anyone can spew ‘sporty’ or ‘dynamic’ on their press releases, but if you really want to prove your car’s worth, bring it to the track. That philosophy is what exactly led the folks over at British Automotive, the Philippines’s exclusive distributor of MINI automobiles, to bring over 100 enthusiasts and media personnel to the Clark International Speedway. All in all, that afternoon would see the entire Philippine MINI line-up—the Cooper, the Cooper S and the Clubman be punished around the relatively technical circuit. They even brought in expert BMW Group driving instructor Klaus Heimerl and local racing guru George Ramirez to give driving tips and tricks.

The entire affair was simple and pretty-straight forward: strap yourself in one of a dozen MINIs available, then you listen on how to take the racing line properly; and lastly, you gun the throttle like there’s no tomorrow—there’s no joy better than an event like this. But of course, before any running and gunning, no event is complete without a technical briefing about the MINI cars, and no one else but Feisal Meeajaun, a BMW Group trainer headed the workshop.

Even without Feisal uttering a single word, it’s crystal clear that the new MINI wears its illustrious design heritage on its shoulder. BMW calls it “from the original to the original”—but in layman’s terms, it means that the new MINI takes various original design elements and mixes them into a truly modern form. The most obvious connection to the Sir Alec Issigonis version is its compact exterior mounted on a long wheelbase. This is called ‘stance on wheels’, which not only gives a larger interior room but better road handling and stability, especially when combined with the MINI’s short overhangs. Upfront, you’re greeted by the expressive face with the large oval headlamps and grinning hexagonal grille. At the sides, the ‘floating’ roof design (the roof of which can be ordered in various colors) gives a nice flow that ends with a bulbous rear end. All in all, it looks like a sculpture on wheels.

Inside, the MINI’s premium feel continues with its boutique-like control design and layout. Though the cockpit feel is certainly driver-centric, you can’t shake the feeling that the interior feels over-the-top with its large central speedometer as well as toggle switches for controls such as the door locks and power windows. Because of the interior’s unique design, it takes time to get used to especially if you’re well-adjusted to Japanese car controls. That said, once you get used to it, the interior shares a lot in common with a typical BMW automobile down to the acronyms used. All in all, it’s highly ergonomic and no-nonsense. The materials used are certainly top-notch, though it must be said that the equipment level are quite stingy.

The Philippine MINI line-up is composed of the Cooper, Cooper S and Clubman; the first two of which are available in a cabriolet model. The entry-level One is slated to appear by January of next year. All the MINI models get the basic stuff expected out of a premium automobile such as leather steering wheel, all power amenities and a heart-thumping radio system. And like all other modern BMW cars, the MINI also has an engine start/stop button—but you have to insert the key into the fob; sorry, no Comfort Access is available at the moment. Besides the aforementioned features though, you’ll be hard-pressed to see other unique standard features inside the MINI. Though you can still tick different options in its checklist, you have to understand that even the basic Cooper tested here already costs a whopping P 1.98-million. The Cooper S is even more of a shocker at P 2.40-million. Nonetheless, it’s good to know that all MINI models come complete with a full-range of safety and driver-related features such as anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control.

The squat look of the MINI certainly gives it an illusion of girth since its 3,699-mm overall length makes it even shorter than the already short 3,750-mm Toyota Yaris. But the MINI outstretches the Toyota in terms of wheelbase at 2,467-mm versus 2,460-mm. That said, it’s surprising how snug the MINI feels for all occupants. At the front, it’s not so bad thanks to the non-existent center tunnel and pushed out door panels, but the rear seats are close to unusable despite the MINI being classified as a 4-seater. Even the luggage space is small—fitting no more than a couple of weekend luggage. However, a 50/50 split-fold configuration adds more flexibility.

However, all the complaints about the MINI’s practicality and space gets wiped out the moment you drive one on the track. We decided to start out with the 120 horsepower Cooper. Off the line, it doesn’t feel anything special but MINI does quote a 0-100 km/h of 9.1 seconds. As ordinary as it feels in a straight line, once you enter a corner, the Cooper becomes magic. On paper, the Cooper is nothing extra-ordinary—it has a transverse engine and independent suspension all around just like any other road car; but on the track, it’s a communicative and addicting little thing. It easily swings through the corners with neutral steering and excellent body control. There’s minimal fuss through the S-bends with nonexistent body roll. On the dry track, the 175/65 R 15 tires constantly squeal, but they’re enough to keep the Cooper headed in the right direction.

We are already all smiles after our run in the Cooper, so imagine how it was when we hopped into the full-blown Cooper S. Using the basic 1.6-liter engine as the Cooper, the S uses a twin-scroll turbocharger upping the horsepower to 175. More importantly, the torque goes up from 160 Nm to a whopping 240 Nm (260 Nm with overboost). Though the 0-100 km/h times tumble just by 2 seconds (7.1 seconds), behind the wheel, the Cooper S accelerates like a rocket. The suspension is beefed up to cope with the additional power and 205/45 R 17 tires fitted at each corner makes sure the Cooper S feels even more stable through the twisty bits. Unlike the Cooper, which squeals its way through the course, the Cooper S is stable, solid and precise. There’s going to be trade-offs when it comes to ride, but you won’t probably care. It must be noted though that the Cooper and the Cooper S share the exact same brakes—no bigger discs, no extra pistons. Still, both the Cooper and Cooper S offer excellent and fade-free braking performance.

The MINI Driving Experience is certainly an excellent way to wet the appetite for MINI buyers and fans in the country. It’s a nice way to highlight not only the MINI’s sporty potential, but its glorious heritage as well. People have waited a long time for MINI to arrive in the Philippines, but the wait will be over soon. Although British Automotive is already selling cars at a temporary location in Greenhills, San Juan, its official dealership will be officially opened by January 2010. Until then, we can’t wait for more exciting news from this iconic brand.

Interested in a MINI? You can reach them via +63908-507-4676 or +63915-324-7233 or visit their showroom at the Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang & Jason K. Ang
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August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998