Soaking up the sun (rain)

Mallorca in the spring. A Mini Cooper S. Incredible driving roads. There was only one problem: BMW still cannot control the weather. They’re probably working on it.

When you think of the Balearic Islands in Spain, do you imagine sunny beaches with crystal waters and warm nights, or rain, more rain and then some more rain? I am guessing the first but, I am very sorry to say, you are wrong.

I just went to Palma de Mallorca for the press launch of the new Mini and I didn’t see one ray of sun. Not one. On the other hand, I did see rain, pouring rain, bucketing rain and, after that, a bit of torrential rain to wrap up proceedings.

I read that in Palma there are less than two months of precipitation a year and almost 62% chances of sun. We really must have chosen the wrong time to go there.

Okay, the new Mini. Well, not exactly new. This is the LCI version, the code BMW uses to identify a facelifted model. Sometimes there are a whole array of changes and sometimes some small ones just to freshen up the model until it is replaced two or three years down the line. In the case of the Mini, there is actually quite a lot going on with the LCI model, but you would never say by looking at it.

BMW says there are 12 main changes operated in the facelift. To me, the three main ones are:

1. the introduction of two new Steptronic gearboxes as optional; a double-clutch seven-speed unit for the Mini One, Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper D, and an eight-speed conventional automatic for the Cooper SD. Why? Because the 2-litre diesel has so much torque it is better to stick with a torque-converter auto than a double-clutch.

2. Owners can now personalise their cars a step further, with the introduction of 3-D printed parts with their names, their pet’s names, their city, their favourite Victoria’s Secret angel, etc, etc. Just go to the Mini Yours Customised website, follow the process and three weeks later the postman will deliver the part to your door. It is so simple, it can only be seen as the beginning of a trend.

3. The new LED lights at the front and at the back introduce a sub-zero cool detail to the car. The Union Jack flag at the rear light clusters looks amazing and it is one of those things that makes the Mini feel a bit more special.

The other nine are new alloy wheels, more leather in the cabin, a new multi-function steering wheel, a new touchscreen, wireless mobile charging, new Mini Connected and Mini Connected XL options, projection of the Mini logo below the driver-side mirror and introduction of the 1.5 litre petrol engine in the Mini One, the same brilliant one used in the Cooper.

The facelift affects the three models of the ‘standard’ Mini, the 3D, 5D and the Cabrio. At our disposal in Mallorca, we had the 3D and the Cabrio, and, of course with so much rain, me and my co-driver for the day, Mr. Little Bird from Top Gear Portugal (yes, that is his name and he is a nice guy, just don’t tell him please) obviously chose the Cabrio. And we did open the fabric hood for all of 10 seconds before João, the photographer, who is usually pretty chilled and was riding along with us, started saying things I cannot write in here.

I have to be honest and say that with the conditions we were faced with, it was impossible to tell if there are any important changes to the way the Mini drives. All cars were Cooper S versions with the same 192 horse power, 2-litre engine as before and, on drenched roads, they still felt like great fun, even though we were driving at 50% of what the cars could do. I don’t think Mini would have liked us to improvise a little facelift of our own.

This is still a car unlike any other in the segment. Not just to drive, but also as an owning proposition, the Mini is different and those who liked it before will like it even more now, whereas those who weren’t fans will remain just that.

Around some fantastic mountain roads – how I wish they were dry – and even though we were being very careful, be it in the Cabrio or the 3D, the Mini’s fantastic front end still shone through, and it was clear the back remains just as playful as before, letting you have complete confidence in the car. The chassis is just as good as the engine and the two of them together are the reason the Mini is more than just a way of getting from A to B. I prefer it with the manual six-speed gearbox, but the Steptronic is so accomplished I wouldn’t blame anyone for choosing it.

Prices for the 3D Cooper S start at €31,500. Add another €4,000 if you want to be able to enjoy the al fresco driving experience of the Cabrio. Even if it is pouring down, the Cabrio is the more appealing car. And if you really must open it, well, that is what umbrellas were made for.

By Guilherme Marques

Photos: João Veiga dos Santos/Mini