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  • [SC BLOG] How The Modern MINI Could Be Better

    The new Mini Cooper S is a very good car, as youíve probably read on the review article. However, good as it may be, I have my complaints about it, and as someone who owns a classic Mini, I believe there is a way that the new, modern Mini Cooper could be even better. Trust me, those German BMW engineers with years of intense training know nothing compared to a classic Mini owner like myself. Kidding.

    Anyway, my main complaint about the modern 3-door MINI Cooper S is just how uncomfortable it is, the suspension is too stiff and the ride is very crashy, especially in Sport mode. Its Mid and Green mode is better, but itís not as soft as Iíd like it to be. Of course, to be fair, those with spines and hips made out of granite and carbon fibre wonít mind the harsh ride, however, hereís the reason why Iím complaining about the ride: itís too well-equipped and refined to have such a bumpy ride.

    You see, classic Minis, especially the Mk. I and Mk. II versions are very simple Ė they have an engine, four wheels, four seats, and a steering wheel. Thatís it, Iím not kidding, itís basically just a very simple car that happens to be very good to drive thanks to its transverse engine and good chassis, the original models didn't have air conditioning or even a radio, so youíd forgive its terrible ride, it was the 1950s anyway you canít expect a car to be both sporty and comfortable back then.

    The new Mini is now so much more than just a hatchback: itís a luxury car, itís a hot hatchback, itís a sports car, and more than anything else itís a lifestyle icon. My point is, the modern Mini is now much more refined and very well-equipped that it has become a really good car that youíd expect it to be a good all-rounder with a comfortable-ish ride. The car is so refined that it feels weird for it to have such an uncomfortable ride, and I know BMW couldíve done a better job. The BMW M235i for example, that was sporty without having to sacrifice its comfort, one of the most comfortable sports car that Iíve ever driven, in fact.

    Some would say that BMW is trying to capture that classic Mini spirit, to make it still feel like the original thing, and that would be fine if they went all the way to capture that classic Mini Cooper spirit; the simple interior, the lightweight and compact body, the affordable price tag, but they didnít do that. All they managed to capture is that uncomfortable ride thatís so bad youíre better off walking or taking a cab if you have a bad back. Frankly, if youíre over 35 and you actually like the Miniís stiff ride, youíre either a psychopath or going through a mid-life crisis.

    This brings me on how the Mini could be better, for one, the ride could be more comfortable and voila! You have the perfect hot hatchback slash sportscar. However, I have a better idea, and to explain why, weíre going to have to take a look at a Mazda. Yes, a Mazda.

    Image from NetCarShow.com

    This was the original Mazda MX-5, the NA generation. What made it so successful was actually quite similar to the original Mini: it was light, with enough power to have fun in the corners with the chassis. It was basically a rear-wheel drive, convertible version of the classic Mini, and of course, much more reliable as well than a classic Mini.

    Image from NetCarShow.com

    Take a look at their third generation car, the NC, and it started to lose focus: the engine options are bigger and more powerful, the roof now had a complicated folding hard-top mechanism rather than a simple soft-top, which of course means more weight. There was nothing wrong with this generation of the MX-5 as it was still, all things considered, pretty good to drive. But the driving enthusiasts, as well as the MX-5 cult following would agree the NC MX-5 had lost its way.

    Image from NetCarShow.com

    Fast forward to the latest-gen MX-5, the ND, and Mazda had remembered what the MX-5 was originally about: simplify and add lightness. Oh wait, thatís the Lotus slogan sorry, but the idea is quite similar. The ND still has the same engine options, but Mazda has taken the gram approach, where they save weight in the small things as much as possible and it adds up to big results, not to mention going back to the simple soft-top mechanism, except for the RF version of course. Now I realize the MX-5 ND still have bigger engines, but even so, a lot of car journalists have said that youíre better off with the smaller 1.5L engine than the 2.0L engine, even the great Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond agree, and that says a lot.

    This brings us back to the Mini, why wouldnít BMW try to do this? Iím not saying they should make it a gloomy, badly-equipped, and unreliable British hatchback, but maybe do something similar to Mazdaís MX-5 ND.

    Thereís nothing wrong with the way the current Mini looks as Iíve said in the review article, especially with their latest facelift, so maybe they donít need to change that, not just yet anyway. Also, should BMW want to take a different approach on the next-gen Mini, it would be too risky as its consumers might not actually like it. But hereís an idea: why not take a current Mini, and make a lightweight version of it as a learning platform and to test the market out.

    Hereís what I have in mind: take the Mini Cooper, because itís going to be light youíre not going to need that much power anyway (not to mention it's going to be cheaper) and then shed some weight. Manual gearbox only for excitement purposes and no heavy dual-clutch nonsense, use lighter materials for the body panels, design thinner and lighter rear-view mirrors, carpets, switches, interior consoles and pretty much shave the weight off everything they could while retaining that Mini look both inside and out. Of course, keep the rear-seats as it should still be usable just like the classic Mini. Then maybe they can shave off more weight by removing some of the speakers and use a simpler, lighter entertainment system.

    Do all this and hopefully the car then can shave up to 100kg, which would bring the curb weight of the Cooper down from 1,160kg to just 1,060kg, and while that doesnít sound like much, shaving off 100kg in a car is actually no small-feat and can improve both fuel-economy, and of course performance as well. I didnít say this in the review, but while the Mini Cooper S is very good to drive and handles really well, you get the feeling that itís a bit too heavy, a bit of a pig if you will, and while itís still capable of a spirited drive, that lively feel that you get in the classic Mini is somewhat gone.

    Anyway, the idea here is not making it into some sort of lightweight track monster like a Porsche GT3 RS, but to give it more of a simple and spartan feel, the feeling that itís a simple, focused hot hatchback just like the original Cooper S and 1275GT Mini; the feeling that it can take a corner at the speed of sound with one wheel in the air. Only then, only when this spirited feel of simple hot hatchery is achieved, then I can forgive the Miniís uncomfortable ride, because by then itís no longer a luxurious, refined, well-equipped, and well-rounded sporty hatchback; itís just a simple hot hatchback that wants to be chucked into sharp corners with one rear wheel on the air, much like the classic Mini.

    Of course, a safer bet maybe would be a lightweight version of the John Cooper Works version, which would make more sense as that car is already very performance-focused and by shedding its weight, MINI can sell it as a lightweight track-ready version while serving as a learning platform as well as a way for MINI to learn about the market, because of course at the end of the day MINI is a business and they need to sell cars, which means making whatever the market wants to buy, not what a few enthusiasts might want. Or they could just make the current Mini Cooper S more comfortable. Your choice, BMW.

    To sum it up, the Miniís uncomfortable ride feels counterintuitive to what the car has become: a well-refined, luxurious hot hatchback. If the Mini Cooper S was more comfortable then I can forgive this, but as a classic Mini owner, I feel like the Mini could be better if it went all the way to capture that classic Mini spirit: simple, light, and that lively feel you can only achieve when the car is as light as it can be. Without the reliability issues of the classic Mini, of course.

    What do you think? Is a lightweight Mini Cooper a good idea? Or have you driven the modern Mini and you think all is well? Tell us what you think in the comments!