Dropped off my 545 for its new gearbox today (almost exactly 4 weeks since the repair was authorised, takes a while for a complete gearbox to arrive from ZF it seems). Rather than getting a diesel 3-series, this time I have a Mini Cooper S for a couple of days. Shame about the weather really; it's definitely not on winter tyres.
Unlike the last Mini courtesy car I had (a One D) this one has quite a few toys. Took me ages to find the auto wipers and I haven't yet found the pairing mode for the Bluetooth on the unintuitive computer (come back iDrive, all is forgiven!), but I was quite taken with the idea of driving something I'd never buy now.
Tested the ABS within yards of moving away; Sytner's parking area was sheet ice and some lackey cut straight across in front of me in a Mini Coupe. My 545 on its Falken ZE912s was pretty unconcerned about the same ice a few minutes before on my arrival, so I can't say I rate Hankook Ventus V12s in cold weather.
At first the Mini felt pretty rough and unrefined, quite different even to the One D which was smooth and nicely damped (everything from the clutch action to the ride was more pleasant in the One). There is a bit of a dead spot just below 2k rpm in the Cooper S; it must be turbo lag but by dialling out that sensation it just feels like bad throttle mapping.
From Solihull I had to do a few errands before heading back home, so took the lanes towards Kenilworth. Stupid move; they hadn't been gritted and immediately outside Knowle I managed a quite epic four wheel drift after trying out the throttle a bit more in 3rd. I suspect the ESP is what kept me in a straight line even though there was no grip at all. Gingerly I made my way back to a more well-used B-road instead.
After attempting to fall over twice on sheet ice in Kenilworth, the dual carriageway seemed the best route home. And I discovered, accelerating down the sliproad, that it's actually quicker than it feels at first. Hold onto the gears (well judged ratios, though it feels a bit busy at 80 in 6th at over 3000rpm) it makes a nicely raucous noise and feels like it's goading you a bit. Still feels like the natural change-up point is 4000rpm, dropping you back into the torque at 3000 in the next gear. Throttle response, which was annoyingly jerky at low speed, is much more appropriate driven like this. It is capable of cruising about slowly too, so it's not just one dimensional.
I've got to say that I prefer the way the One drove on softer suspension and smaller wheels and tyres, though. The steering feedback on the Cooper S is pretty minimal; I found some more ice just as I got near home and realised that the loss of grip isn't really telegraphed through the steering so much as your bum (which clenches). The economy is OK I guess, 36mpg average for me today; the performance is pretty sensible, quick enough up to about 90 and then you can tell it's got less than 200bhp because it doesn't keep hurling you well into 3 figures. I don't like it anywhere near as much as my 545, which I suppose is to be expected.
Hope the weather warms up a few degrees at least so I can go and drive it a bit harder, mind.