Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Small in size, big on luxury
Mini has given its iconic hatchback and convertible models a couple of tweaks and tucks as part of a mid-lifecycle update to keep them as fresh as possible.
The exterior changes are quite minimal and it’s hard to spot the differences, especially if you don’t have the previous Mini alongside as a reference. The subtle styling updates are centred around the revised nose, which gets a broader grille.
The JCW model gets sportier treatment than the regular Mini with more prominent vents in the bumper and a full-black, mesh-finish grille. The signature Union Jack tail lights are unchanged, but the rear bumper is new and incorporates fog lamps. There’s a new range of colours, the roof comes with a three-tone option and you get a spanking set of newly designed alloy wheels.
The cabin is similar to the pre-facelift model, but gets new upholstery colours and more equipment. A significant change is a bigger 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen (earlier it could only be operated by the iDrive controller and an optional 5.0-inch digital instrument display.)
I’ve picked the Mini JCW, the hottest variant of this three-door hatchback, to see what fresh thrills it gives. JCW (for John Cooper Works) is to Mini what AMG is to Mercedes, which is essentially the in-house tuning division that produces high-performance derivatives for Mini.
Our test Mini JCW is well-equipped and fitted with options like a panoramic sunroof, front parking sensors, hands-free parking and wireless phone charging. Matching the funky looks is an equally funky cabin, which isn’t particularly spacious. But then it is a Mini after all. Though the cabin is small, it’s not uncomfortable (if you don’t sit at the back), the seats are surprisingly generous and even tall people can find a very comfortable position. There’s not much storage space in the cabin though, and large smartphones like my iPhone 12 Pro don’t fit in the wireless chargerholder that’s new with the 2021 model range.
The Mini however isn’t small on luxury. Cabin quality can rival the biggest of luxury cars and the overall feel-good factor of the funky cabin is a big part of the car’s charm.
The Mini JCW is powered by BMW’s 2-litre, four-cylinder motor which develops a healthy 231 hp. In this midget-sized car weighing under 1,300 kg it’s enough to scamper from rest to 100 kph in a claimed 6.1 seconds.
But the JCW feels even quicker than it actually is. Even with a flex of your right foot, it lurches forward and you need to modulate the throttle pedal in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s this ultra-responsive engine which revs fast and vigorously coupled with diminutive dimensions and nimble handling that makes the JCW a weapon in traffic.
This is a car that feels alive like no other. It’s instantly reactive, has lightning quick reflexes but at the same time demands a lot of attention and doesn’t let you relax. To be honest, Mumbai roads aren’t the best playground for this hyperactive baby. The suspension is excessively stiff and has very little travel and hence on rough bits it bobs and skits around quite a bit.
The truth is there are few roads in India where you can genuinely enjoy the Mini JCW. Its ideal habitat is a smooth, twisty (and empty) road where the Mini’s perfectly balanced chassis can pirouette from corner to corner. There’s a certain precision in the way the JCW drives that you don’t find in any other hot hatch. And it’s this delectable handling, the way it accelerates, turns and steers that makes for an epic driving experience.
You need a certain amount of commitment to buy something like the JCW, which is priced at ` 45.5 lakh. It’s a bit too excitable to be an everyday hatchback and this is one car that the owner needs to pamper rather than the other way around. But it’s hard not to be smitten by the JCW’s charms, nothing feels quite as alive or engaging for the money and if you can find the roads, you will value it for what it is.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, July 11, 2021
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