Usually dream cars are always expensive, big and masculine. And the systems in them are also extremely expensive, devouring a five-figure sum and flaunting five-figure performance data. The combination of Mini Cooper S and Harman/Kardon shows how things can be done differently. Here you get great car cinema at a relatively low price. At least that’s true if you don’t compare the 3.85-metre-long Brit to other small cars – which its form and function naturally invite you to do. But as far as the dynamics and emotionality of the car and the system are concerned, the 192 hp power car is poaching in the territory of thoroughbred sports cars. There, until not so long ago, attributes such as impunity and directness were considered essential ingredients. And above all, low weight . But in the course of competition and the greed for ever larger target groups, the German premium manufacturers in particular have undermined this age-old formula for success.
The widespread use of turbochargers in particular has caused power output to virtually explode over the last two decades. At the same time, the unwillingness to do without superfluous gimmicks such as electric seat adjustment and ventilation drove the weight ever higher. To make matters worse, the advancing development of electronics makes such not infrequently 400, if not over 500 horsepower bolides widely idiot proof. Then all you need is a bulging bank account, a wide, straight German autobahn and good nerves. This is now enough to conjure up awe-inspiring speeds on the speedometer. But here in Switzerland there are strict speed limits, tight curves and high mountains. Where else, if not here, should you duly appreciate a car like the Mini Cooper S, relaunched last year?
If you’re not fooled by the droll googly eyes and see it as a richly expensive, stylish alternative to the Opel Corsa and VW Polo, you’ll find it an affordable sports car alternative with a practical tailgate and great practical value.
Quite big now
Of course, the Mini also grew quite a bit in dimensions in the third edition. This is due in no small part to the fact that it shares a platform with the F40-generation front-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series. However, around 1200 kilos in just under 200 hp and the torque of a 2-litre turbo unit from the Bavarian parent company that is sovereign in every situation is an extremely rare treat these days. Combine that with a directness and spring stiffness that BMW wouldn’t even begin to ask of its other customers today, and the result is a huge amount of fun to drive. Viewed impartially, the Super Cooper is more reminiscent of last “honest-to-goodness” high-volume sports cars like the Porsche Cayman and Porsche Boxter. However, these are significantly more expensive, especially including popular extras. From a distance, the Mini even brings back memories of exotic cars such as the Lotus Elise, whose comfort and everyday utility, however, tend towards zero.
With the new chassis, which seems a whole lot more grown-up and balanced than before, you can of course argue passionately at the regulars’ table about the subjective sportiness aspects. But all the sober figures speak clearly in favor of the new generation . When it comes to infotainment, there are no ifs or buts. Here, the new joint platform for the Mini and BMW 1 Series is providing a huge boost to innovation. The little Brit inherited all the blessings of contemporary technology. This includes in particular the IDrive concept with rotary and push buttons on the centre console from its Bavarian half-brother, which can hardly be surpassed in the meantime. However, and I particularly like this, the developers in the Mini implemented everything with an unmistakable wink. Getting back into a BMW after an extensive test drive of the Mini Cooper S seems about as sober and austere as moving from a hip music club to a university lecture hall.
Everything so beautifully colorful
The central colour screen of the Mini Cooper S, which can be used as a split screen, is framed by a multicoloured LED light element in the Wurlitzer look. In this way, the designers, who were infected by the play instinct, underline all possible functions of the car. Apple fans were allowed to take great pleasure in the pulsating light, which humanizes the snooze function at traffic lights when the engine is switched off, just like on a Mac notebook. When the engine is started automatically, the colour then changes from green to red. The Mini’s on-screen display is just as witty when switching between the three driving modes. When I switched to Sport mode to adjust the engine and automatic transmission response to my preferred driving style, the otherwise serious colleague in the passenger seat went into a laughing fit. He pulled out his phone to capture on camera the illustration of a thought bubble with a go-kart and a rocket that appeared on the screen. In contrast, the lightshow drew begrudging glances from fellow drivers and provoked involuntary laughs as well as discussions about meaning.
In the end, such somewhat labored ideas only arouse the suspicion that the product planners at Mini were primarily concerned with not giving the impression that the Mini had really grown up and become sensible in the third generation. But the playful extra is only of limited use as a deterrent for older generations. For one thing, because they either find it quite funny, as I do. Or because they can dim it or deactivate it completely in the intuitively controllable iDrive menus.
Harman/Kardon rocks the Mini
Those who now believe that the Harman/Kardon system in the Mini Cooper S is also designed to scare off the over-30 generation might be surprised at the very neutral and broadband tuning. The 800 Euro HiFi system with its 12 loudspeakers only has marginal weaknesses. It harmonizes with absolutely any listening taste including classical. This is mainly due to the use of comparatively high-quality drivers. They work very linear and add only minimal distortion or even coloration to the music signal. Above all, however, I was thrilled by this extremely deep and at the same time extremely controlled bass. Where compact, sporty cars exaggerate the range around 100 Hz in order to hide the fact that the lower octaves are completely underexposed, here there really is still substance.
Benefits from the BMW 1 Series
The Mini owes this significant plus to the shared platform with the BMW 1 Series. The UKL platform brings with it blessings such as the so-called central bass. Behind this term hides a groundbreaking subwoofer design. Their 21.7-centimeter woofers hide under the front seats to use the volume of the door sills as an enclosure. I found the resulting performance by Elvis Costello simply stunning. From the Brit I heard the song “Watching The Detectives” in several live versions on the perfectvia Bluetooth or USB into the operating concept integrated iPhone have. The audio system, officially rated at just 400 watts, produced a gripping, explosive reproduction of the bass drum. Not only in the recording from the album “My Aim Is True”, by the way. Due to the high resolution of the two-way systems with metal matrix tweeters and 10 cm ALumaprene midrange drivers, you felt like you were in a different room every time. For a car system, even more so in this class of vehicle, a real surprise.
Center must not be missing
The developers even added a centre speaker in the middle of the dashboard to stabilise the listening area. However, of all things, the spending spree elsewhere undermines this ambition: The full-fledged rear speakers have a counterproductive effect. The reason: It is a pure HiFi and not a multi-channel surround system. Therefore, the two-way systems located directly behind the front seats receive the same signal as those in the doors. That’s not gonna happen. This essentially creates the sound impression of a giant pair of headphones. Or that of an electrically amplified rock concert or a music club, where there is also no clearly defined listening stage. In this class, however, one can confidently speak of luxury worries.
Fine tuning in detail
Another point of criticism from an earlier test drive, on the other hand, has since been addressed by the developers. On rough road surfaces or with loud music, the cover grille, which was fitted with plenty of play, occasionally began to buzz. This seemed like midrange distortion at first. However, they can actually handle quite a lot, which also led to a frown, especially in view of the moderate performance specification. That should be about the loudest 400 watts in the entire industry. If you haven’t yet saved up the money for a detached house and an exorbitantly expensive high-end sound system, you’ll find a unique opportunity for little escapes from everyday life here.
Makes you smile
No matter how stressed or annoyed I was before boarding. The Mini put me in a good mood every time after a few meters. As effortlessly as the system shook a sheer incredible dynamic from its sleeve, so weightlessly did the Mini pull away from low and medium revs when starting or sprinting in between. It’s safe to say that this is where the formula of shooting sparrows with a four-cylinder, 2-liter turbo cannon pays off. Such lightness and sovereignty can only be experienced again in much higher spheres of the automotive world with six, eight or twelve cylinders plus plenty of displacement.
Measured against the driving experience, the fuel consumption, which varied between just over eight and just under 10 litres per 100 kilometres for me, is quite acceptable. However, I didn’t even come close to the minimum fuel economy possible with my own 2nd generation Cooper S during the test period. But frankly speaking, the new car is in a different league in every respect than its predecessor, which was fidgety at high speeds and seemed downright sluggish in terms of longitudinal dynamics in a direct comparison.
Conclusion Mini Cooper S with Harman/Kardon
With my first generation Mini Cooper S convertible, I easily managed double the fuel consumption. And that even with significantly less performance. Not to mention the sound system and extras like the head-up display: BMW created the best Mini ever. With an intoxicating sound system, the performance of which you would search in vain for in many full-blown saloons. For me, the now sadly extinct straight, climate-friendly steeply raked windows add to the appeal of this exceptional car. What good is the best air conditioning if the sun is burning through huge curved glass panels on your arm? Now, however, those responsible for me can safely freeze further development. Otherwise, one day the young savage will roll into the yard as huge, polished and trimmed for mainstream as a 3 Series.
- Price Mini Cooper S 3-door: from around 27,000 euros
- Price Harman/Kardon Hi-Fi-Sound System: 800 Euro
- For more information: www.mini.co.uk
Stereo Guide Rating
+ Balanced sound tuning
+ Driving pleasure in reciprocal relation to the dimensions
+ Even Amazon Alexa can be used in addition to the very good voice control in the Mini
- Spatiality of the reproduction somewhat diffuse
Price/Performance sound system9.0