A new twin-clutch automatic and some innovative personalisation make the Mini Hatch Cooper S more desirable than ever.

Automotive icons aren’t easy to redesign in new-generation forms mainly because of what they are. So where does that leave Mini when it has the task of giving its iconic Hatch a mid-life update?

Predictably, the German-owned British marque gave the funky three-door hatchback only subtle tweaks on the skin. Mind, though, the changes are quite significant if you’re a die-hard fan of Minis.

While adaptive LED lights now feature on the front end, the tail lights have new, clearly visible Union Jack design. Moreover, there are new black casings for those lamps on both ends of the car.

There are new wheel designs, as well, with three styles to choose from. Whichever one you’re going to opt for, each of them looks markedly new and amply freshens up the current-gen Hatch in its third year. Suitably, there are new colours to choose from for not only the exterior but also the interior.

But the bigger news comes with Mini’s personalisation scheme. Apart from being able choose this and that, buyers can order customised bits for the side gills on the outside (once occupied by the car’s badges) and on the passenger-side fascia. These are aided by 3D printing technology, claimed to be a first by Mini.

Because of all that, the updated Hatch does a fine job in delivering that distinction it needs over the pre-facelift model. That’s merely from the perspective of the Cooper S, the only engine variance available for the media to sample at the international driving trials in Spain late last month.

This mid-life revision, however, isn’t just restricted to the visual side of things and extends to the drivetrain and chassis. The four-pot engine, for one, sees a new turbocharger and direct injection with higher pressure. Outputs of 192hp and 280Nm remain unchanged.

But here comes the real headlines. Replacing the six-speed torque-convertor automatic is the seven-speed dual-clutch type. Together with those new engine ancillaries, the new transmission is claimed to help reduce fuel consumption by some 5% to a near-20kpl average.

Mini has beefed up the suspension to cope with the increased weight of the drivetrain. Interestingly, performance figures remain exactly the same as before which could possibly be attributed to the new tranny.

Which is why the Cooper S performs in relatively the same manner, that is, highly accelerative for a near-200hp B-segment hatchback. The Hatch test car was only available with the six-speed manual, although we tried out the new automatic in a Cooper S Convertible.

As the maker rightly claims, the dual-clutch ’box swaps cogs quite snappily and does so very smoothly when you floor the gas pedal for maximum performance. But it isn’t blindingly quick if you have been acquainted with some sports cars equipped with the same gearbox technology.

Driving the manual version of the Hatch did provide the chance to remind us how tractable this petrol-turbo motor is. You can loiter in high gears at low revs to notice the engine’s fine levels of tractability for real-world driving. At times, you tend to enjoy the surge in the mid-ranges rather than near the redline, where it feels a little lifeless.

Even so, the Hatch will still not be offered with a gearstick when Thai sales start in the third quarter of this year because most buyers prefer a two-pedal setup in this part of the world. 

Whether the average user would find the twin-clutcher useful or any different over a regular auto remains to be seen, but at least the additional seventh forward ratio theoretically helps for better fuel consumption and maintained performance. 

As for the chassis, the firmer suspension has slightly taken away some ride comfort when traversing bumps and potholes, but the overall handling remains properly sporty and agile with additional thanks going to a slightly heavy but crisp steering feel. Yes, the Hatch is still about driving fun.

Other changes include a redesigned steering wheel, 6.5-inch central screen, wireless charging for smartphones and toggle switch (rather than the twist-type on the gearbox surround) for the various drive modes. 

Once again, it appears more logic is filtering into Mini cabins which can’t be a totally bad thing because it makes driving more fuss-free, just like how well the head-up display works.

Expect the Cooper S Hatch in automatic form to cost more or less the same as today’s 2.77 million baht sticker price. Sure, this Mini remains a pricey import, but it’s still hugely fun to drive and can now be made more individualistic to make the buying proposition more attractive.

News Reporter

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