The annoying thing about being able to drive some of the best cars on sale in the country is that you can get desensitized to it all.
A couple of years ago when we had just started Opus, I remember the look on the faces of my team when I pulled up at our studio in a Lotus Exige Roadster. I had to pick up their jaws from the floor and wipe their saliva off the ground. It must have been 3 in the afternoon and it wasn’t until dinner time that everyone decided to retreat back into the office. For what had seemed like only a few minutes, we had unknowingly spent three hours ogling at the car. It was a triumph to have a Lotus on our six month old webpage. Nowadays, it’s a little bit different.
When I arrive in an Aston Martin DB11, they no longer run outside like a hungry pack of wolves. Instead, they give me a thumbs up from behind the glass and then tell me to come back in an hour or so when they’re ready to take some interior photos. Times have changed, indeed. Back when we started, I always wished that the novelty wouldn’t wash away, but we’re as human as can be. It happens to me too. You could have the biggest poster crush on Kate Beckinsale, but if she ever became your girlfriend, trust me, in six months time you’d be looking for that ‘Click’ remote too.
In the past week or so, I had a healthy lineup of cars to drive. I had a Nissan GT-R, a Porsche Cayenne, and an Audi RS5 — none of which dip below 7 million pesos. In between the Porsche and the Audi was a wildcard in the form of a MINI Cooper S. Since we started this outfit, I had been dying to get into a proper MINI. Now that the opportunity had finally presented itself, I was a bit worried. Back then, we tested almost any category of car from a Toyota Altis to a Nissan Navara — meaning that the MINI would be put on a pedestal. Nowadays, we only feature what we want to and I feared that I wouldn’t have much to say when it’s in the company of performance giants like the GT-R or the RS5.
When I arrived at the MINI dealership, I was expecting a red car with a pair of Union Jack side mirrors or perhaps a blue one with some white hood stripes. Whatever it would be, it was going to be a splash of bright colours and would reek of juvenile excitement. Instead, presented to me in the middle of their garage was a Cooper S in British Racing Green. I stopped and took two steps back with a hand in my heart for I was left in absolute awe. In front of me was a car I couldn’t have drawn up in my head. It’s no different from your best friend setting you up on a blind date with a girl he says is cute and funny, and turns out to be Audrey Hepburn. It’s one of those things you’re just not ready for.
Over 6 decades of motoring.
It must be said that as soon as I drove out of the dealership, the car caused more of a stir than I expected. At the heart of the Fort in BGC, where most people wouldn’t even look twice if a naked Kim Kardashian bounced down the middle of the road in a zorb, women from offices would stop halfway and nudge their friends for a better look. Guys in motorcycles gave me the thumbs up.
People at the bus stop snapped photos as I crawled through the mayhem of rush hour traffic. It was far from absolute chaos, but I can tell you this much: I’ve never driven any mainstream road car that warranted such an outpouring of affection from all demographics of people. Not ever. It was like I was zipping about in a reincarnated blend of Jesus Christ and Princess Diana.
The interior of the latest Cooper encapsulates the British invasion — a genuine psychedelic stunner. Although lit like a David Bowie concert with red nail polish lights, it has also been blessed with lush Malt Brown leather in diamond pattern stitching. Laced around the luxurious seats are white leather piping — like the arms of a flirtatious lady that can barely hold you in her arms. It’s feels a little Mandalay over here. The infotainment system may take some getting used to. It’s a remix of BMW’s greatest technological hit, the iDrive — except it’s already on its second dose of ecstasy.
It’s all over the place, but you can tell that it’s happy to be there. The speakers are quite good, too. I haven’t gotten into knowing what they are, but the highs are crisp, the midrange is full, and the bass can be felt. What I love most about it are the toggle switches. They’re so well-made and the overall ambience sells a completely unique experience to any other car. You can never mistake it for anything else other than a MINI just by looking at little bits of the car. Oh, and that steering wheel. It’s got a John Cooper Works bowtie on, so it feels lovely and tactile in the hands.
By now you might be curious as to how it drives. To put it bluntly, it’s quick, zippy, and go kart-like. The turn in is quite sharp and communicative. The ride is expectedly stiff thanks to a sporty suspension and a short wheelbase. It also sends good feedback from the tires, which means you can guess what brand of cement they used on the road just by driving over it. The car offers roughly the same amount of smiles-per-hour as a game of naked twister between Behati Prinsloo and Jessica Alba.
The 7-speed dual clutch transmission was always on the correct gear even when I’d leave it on ‘Drive’. However, for the full experience, I think a good ol’ stick is the way to go. It makes a fruity noise as well with some pops and bangs from the exhaust. Unfortunately, it’s too well-insulated inside that you don’t hear much of the action. Through the corners, the Cooper S is sensational. Albeit, you can also get it all wrong and understeer straight into a wall, but you’d have to be driving like a complete idiot before that even happens.
The spirit of the streets.
The only thing that throws me off is how the car reacts under hard braking. The brakes are fantastic and you’ll find yourself in a complete stop way before you even expect it. It just feels a little nervous when shaving off some serious speed. Even on a straight line, the car has a tendency to weave like a belly dancer — a feat attributed to being front wheel drive with a really short wheelbase. There’s too much load on the front tires that it loses its mind when you ask too much from it. It’s a car that you don’t drive quick, absent-mindedly. The MINI is like an adorable untrained puppy. It’s a cute ball of fur until you poke it enough and it bites off your lips. Trust me, you want to keep those candy lips.
What I adore most about this proper MINI is that it has a soul — a beautiful one. In ever changing times in human history, it has become increasing difficult to connect deeply with another. We draw conclusions through social media. Yet, once in a while, we make that accidental connection — and it’s shocking. There is no automobile in the world that is more human than a MINI. It feels designed by humans, for humans. The Cooper S has a fierce spirit, yet it knows how tickle the inner child — reminding us to always stay young and to never lose sight of our sense of humor. And while it has all the accolades to hold its own on paper, it is the car’s intangible qualities that make you fall in love all over again.