$0-50K: 11th - Mini Cooper S

Mini claims its new Cooper S is “proper quick."

"It only needs 6.8 seconds to hit 100km/h and for the enthusiast who uses the race track, it won’t stop until there’s a mind-bending 235km/h on the speedometer."

Such spiel spawns high expectations. Particularly given how finger-licking good the Mini GP was – of course, last year’s Bang winner.

Let’s start with the engine, whose philosophy for going fast is now all torque rather than revs.

Boot it in first and you’ll notice a long ratio, but through which the engine swiftly hauls. Max torque of 280Nm at 1250rpm will do that.

But you fall off a cliff past 6000rpm and quickly discover the last 1000rpm before redline is a dead zone not worth visiting, particularly given there’s no blood-chilling exhaust note living there.

Unfortunately, while its numbers are midfield – 0-100km/h in 7.43sec (9th in class), 0-400m in 15.3sec (8th in class) and 80-120km/h in 4.22sec (6th in class) – the Bang formula is unkind to the Mini’s $36,950 price, spitting it out a pretty average 11th in class, or 16th outright. But surely the Mini is a hoot to drive on track, right? Well, sort of.

On a recent road blast, the Cooper S impressed MOTOR with a light rear end, sturdy steering and a sweet manual gearbox. But on track, and with high expectations, we were disappointed to learn the Cooper S struggles to emerge from the Mini GP’s very long shadow.

The suspension, so capable at smoothing mid-corner bumps on the road, felt too soft on track. It’s like driving a lowered Countryman.

The feeling of mass is made worse by a standard tyre that just can’t handle the cornering load. Of all the 22 cars tested at Bang 2014, the new Cooper S recorded an apex speed of 50.11km/h – stone cold slowest.

The lower grip, too, means the Cooper S is understeer prone. Once upon a time, you’d get a trophy for understeering a Mini.

Meanwhile the rear-end lightness apparent on the road doesn’t directly translate into wickedly hilarious on-track playfulness. Flick the Cooper S and it will rotate into oversteer, but in an inelegant, mildly frightening way.

Fortunately, a lack of mid-corner grip didn’t impact the Mini’s laptime, with a 1:46.3 landing it a solid sixth in class. Thank the torquey turbo donk that’s able to hurl the Mini through its long gears, reflected by a seventh-best Winton v-max of 161.37km/h.

Upon serious reflection, BMW has built a Mini that is a much, much better car than the last. It’s beautifully polished – it rides well, it’s quiet, comfortable, with a nice interior. BMW has built a superb road car but it left us lukewarm on the track.

With stiffer suspension and stickier rubber, we’re pinning our hopes of salvation on the JCW. Bring it on.

Results
$0-50K placing – 11th
Overall placing – 16th
Judges’ ranking – 13th

0-100km/h – 7.43sec (17th)
0-400m – 15.30sec @ 154.71km/h (16th)
Lap Time – 1:46.30sec (12th)
Price – $36,950 (9th)

Specs
Engine: 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 141kW @ 4700-6000rpm
Torque: 280Nm @ 1250-4750rpm
Weight: 1160kg
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Suspension: struts, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, anti-roll bar (r)
Brakes: 295mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 260mm solid discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 17 x 7.0-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 205/45 R17 Hankook Ventus S1 evo2 (f/r)

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