A wide grin spread across my face as i felt the car pull ahead and push me back into the body hugging seats. Inside that ‘practical’ guise was a car that lived up to the Mini Cooper tradition and was a supremely fun drive. But hey, we’re a technology website, what the heck are we doing writing about cars? That’s a question i had for the folks over at Mini when they called us over to check out their range of cars. Their answer? There’s more to the Mini than pure driving. We spend a day driving the Mini Cooper D to find out more about the technology that ticks below the surface!
With the Auto Expo around the corner, Mini decided to do something different. While the expo is a nice way to get a glimpse at all sorts of vehicles, some cars are just meant to be experienced. With that in mind, we set off on a short drive from Delhi that would take us across expressways, the rural hinterland and even a hillock or two. There’s a huge amount of technology built into the vehicle and a real world driving experience is what it takes to get a better idea. Made in Oxford, there’s the quintessential British charm that can be seen in almost every facet of the vehicle. Look it up from the front and the DRLs almost make it appear that the car has gleaming eyes. Add to it the racing stripes and the gorgeous orange color, the car makes heads turn wherever you go. The beautiful chrome grille and the matte black 17 inch alloys just add to the charm. I could wax lyrical about the quirky beauty of the vehicle but i’m sure you’re well aware of that. There’s a reason why vehicles like the Mini don’t get revolutionary changes in terms of looks. The retro yet timeless nature of the appearance is a huge part of the appeal here.
First things first, the Mini Cooper is a very traditional car in more ways than one. Physical toggles abound. That begins right at the start button which is a toggle switch sitting bang in the center of the console glowing an ominous red in a bid to warn you of the fun that lies ahead! I’m a bit of a petrolhead with an affinity towards manual shifting so the automatic, diesel took me back for a few minutes. Slot the car into drive though and it just takes off with a roar. For a car that takes the practical approach versus the Cooper S, it sure does seem like a pocket rocket.
From the speedometer, tacho and all the way to the center console, the design choice is an old school round shape which seems to befit the curvy looks of the car. A large display sits bang in the center that serves as the command center of the car. A rotary dial sits by the side of the driver seat that is a breeze to use. This is akin to the iDrive spotted in BMWs and is a much better way to access the system without having to stretch your hand across to the console. I’m used to voice control on my Ford and while that’s an option here too, the rotary dial just seems like a much more ergonomic way to access the menu without getting distracted.
As we set off towards Neemrana while navigating through NCR traffic, I decided to put the navigation system to the test. Interestingly, Mini has tied up with MapMyIndia for the content and you get access to the latest map data for two years. The navigation interface has been completely adapted to the vehicle and makes good use of the rotary dial. My favorite feature though? The split screen view. From a technology standpoint, the likes of Carplay and similar are of huge interest but the fact remains that its still a while before it gets standardized and then too, there is the question of device compatibility… at least on the Android side of things. A smarter and well designed in-car system is honestly the best option and the beautifully designed system here just proves the point. The split screen view offers a modicum of multitasking and you can view both the navigation and media displays simultaneously. Switch entirely to the navigation screen and you’ll get an overhead map with lane guidance on the side. The rotary dial lets you zoom in and out of the map.
As we approached our first stop, I imagined that parking the vehicle on a crowded slope with minimal room on the side was going to be quite the issue. In reality though, the multiple parking sensors make it a fantastically easy task. Certainly not something unique to the Mini but the live heat maps generated with the array of sensors around the body piqued the interest of the inner geek in me while making parallel parking a walk in the park.
Done with the first stop, we set off again on the highway just as I noticed my phone’s battery starting to die. If you follow me on twitter, you’d probably be aware of my love for heavy metal and really, I find it hard to drive without some hard hitting, head banging tunes. Now this might sound like a shameless plug but I was certainly surprised, pleasantly of course, to find that the car has about 20 gigs or so of storage built into it where you can copy over media files so that you don’t really need your phone or a usb drive to play your music. The Harman Kardon speakers all around certainly don’t detract from the experience either. As I mentioned earlier, I’m partial towards manual shifting and despite the great performance of the vehicle, my hand was always itching to really push the car. The Cooper D does not come with paddle shifts but you do get a semi-manual mode using the electronic gear shifts. Switch to it and man, the car really roars ahead with breathtaking acceleratation. All this enthusiastic driving however had me worried about the fuel efficiency or perhaps the lack of it? Those fears proved to be unfounded though as I was reminded that the car has been rated for a combined mileage of 21.5 Kmpl. Let that sink in for a second! Add to that my 2nd favorite feature of the car. For lack of better words, the car switches off the second it comes to a stand still and switches on the moment you press the accelerator. The entire transition happens so quickly that you just don’t notice it. A feature like this should be standard across vehicles given the amount of fuel wastage we observe in the stop-go traffic in city driving.
By now we were approaching the lush green fields and the rolling aravali hills signifying the end of our journey. Remember that I mentioned the rapid start stop as my second favorite feature of the vehicle? Well the first is the gorgeous panoramic sunroof on the car. The thrill of driving an almost open-top vehicle is pure luxury yet so much fun that I’m almost in a mood to retrofit one on my own car! Of course, my justification for it is that I can do photography during roadtrips straight from the car itself but truth be told, its just way too much fun to feel the wind gushing through the car as you take it down the highway.
You might’ve noticed that I didn’t really focus too much on the engine specs or the driving of the car. I’ll leave that to the automobile experts. From a technological perspective, the Mini Cooper is just an amazing vehicle and there’s so much to enjoy and discover. I started off the drive with mixed feelings about the vehicle, by the end of the drive i was pretty convinced that i needed one of these in my life. Time to start saving?