A MINI is not for everyone, since it addresses a very specific kind of buyer, and is built for a very specific purpose. The cars from MINI are fun to drive, very mechanical and while old school in their character – they are very modern cars with new tech and safety built-in. The Cooper S hatch and convertible or cabriolet are updated for 2021. This third generation car has been around since 2013, and already received its facelift in 2018. So technically this is a second update. Some do believe the new car has been delayed – I mean the new generation – since it is very much due. The confusion at MINI appears to centre around whether it is too soon to take the fourth generation into an all-electric space or wait, and that is why we don’t have one yet. The good news is that the 2021 MINI Cooper S still looks very appealing and includes a few tweaks and updates of course.
Also Read: 2021 MINI Range Launched In India
A new reworked front grille sees a fat body-coloured horizontal strip run through it – unlike the all-black treatment earlier. This works with a bumper redesign. The side body indicators are now integrated into the side scuttle, nice and slim. The headlamp cluster is also slightly tweaked, with the fog light now integrated into it. The taillight does not really have a huge massive change, but you thankfully still have the retro cool Union Jack motif. And at the rear the new bumper and diffuser make the car look a bit more aggressive. So on the whole – nicely done changes, but rather subtle. The Union Jack print on the convertible’s soft top looks really really nice too. Many always like having that very British emblem on the car – but that’s a cool ₹ 1 lakh optional extra if you please! You can get body coloured, or black, silver, or white mirror caps – at no extra cost though. I am glad the round LED daytime running lights or DRLs have been retained, as they give the car a distinct identity.
There are new body colours too – Island Blue and Rooftop Grey on the hatch, and Zesty Yellow a new colour only for the convertible. Luckily both my test cars are in the brighter colours – as a MINI should be. The last facelift on the MINI Cooper happened in 2018, and at the time too we thought the rounded looks of this generation got sharper. At the time MINI also moved the Cooper S from its optional 6-Speed torque convertor to a 7-Speed Dual-clutch gearbox. The latter has been retained and the Sport version is an optional extra. You can also spend more and get optional adaptive LED matrix lights, piano black elements on the exterior, and silver black or white stripes on the hood.
The MINI Cooper range in India is all petrol now. The 2.0 turbocharged engine on the S models has been slightly updated for 2021, but it’s essentially the same engine. What’s great about it is that it still delivers on performance and sounds fantastic. It’s nice and peppy, and you will really enjoy driving this car; because well, that’s the sort of character it’s supposed to have anyway. The good news is that you can hear the growly little motor on the hardtop and soft top just as well. It really does sound energetic. The numbers are more or less the same, with the engine making an ample 189 bhp and also belting out 280 Nm of peak torque. The standard gearbox on the India spec cars is the 7-Speed dual clutch (DCT) Steptronic. You can pay more for the optional 7-Speed DCT Sport Steptronic. The hatch will go 0-100 kmph in 6.7 seconds flat, while the convertible takes 7.1 seconds.
Ride and Handling
Compared to previous generations, this third-gen has always felt a bit softened – for a variety of reasons. And yes that was mostly intentional anyway. On this update some work’s been done to further improve NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels – specific to the suspension. To me it just takes away that direct character that MINIs are supposed to have. But I know from an Indian conditions point of view that’s not a bad thing though. The cool drive mode names are also gone – so no more ‘Go-Kart Feel’ mode for instance! You just get Green, Mid and Sport. How boring! But put it in Sport and the car is anything but boring. And I keep coming back to that glorious sound from the turbocharged tyke under the hood. The handling remains taut, steering on point and while a manual MINI was always more fun, we have no choice but to be happy with the automatic in India. That said, the dual-clutch box is quick and plenty fun too, especially with the paddles in play.
I drove the twins back to back in pretty hot conditions. And despite the high temps, I did drive the convertible with the top down for more than three-fourths of my time spent on the car. It was surprisingly pleasant with its AC vents pointed at me, and the windows up. I mean it’s a convertible, so you’ve just got to fold down the roof right? Yeah, maybe the heat just got to my head!
Cornering brake control, antilock brakes or ABS, stability control, brake assist and crash sensors, dual airbags, 3-point seatbelts – are all standard safety equipment. The convertible also gets a special roll-over protection system. The adaptive suspension, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control with emergency braking, and tyre pressure monitoring though are optional extras. And yes this is strictly a 4-seater don’t forget.
Tech and Interior
Both cars get subtle changes on the inside too. Slightly updated 8.8-inch touchscreen with better touch response, a new AC vents design, and new finishes for the dash and door inlays. The digital screen on the instruments is optional, as is the head-up display unit. Also optional are the wireless phone charger, navigation, Apple CarPlay and a Harmon Kardon sound system.
India does not get the 1.5 litre 3-cylinder engines on the Cooper, nor the two diesels still in many other markets. And of course, we remain intrigued by the 2020 World Green Car finalist – the Cooper SE all-electric, which too we have lost hope on ever getting here. MINI does offer the JCW or John Cooper Works version though, and the Countryman of course. But overall, its range has dwindled as compared to a few years back. Prices start at ₹ 38 lakh for the hatch and ₹ 44 lakh for the convertible – but you’ll always add some optional extras on a MINI! The Cooper S remains attractive, and yet its appeal remains niche. That is essentially what a MINI is – and always has been since BMW rebooted the brand. But the hope I have is that the focus and relevance of MINIs remains as it has – centred around fun driving first and foremost – always.