It’s 5am, and we’re creating quite a racket as we come down the hill towards Lavasa’s water front area. It’s a wonderful piece of tarmac, smooth surface with white lines painted edge to edge. There’s no traffic at this point of time. We’re stringing a series of hairpins, hitting one apex after another.

I just did 120kmph on a 300m stretch between two hairpins, ignoring the security guard frantically blowing his whistle asking us to slow down. He looked pretty startled, seeing a pocket sized car make such quick progress. But then, the Cooper S attracts attention. More so when you have Race Mode enabled. But more on that later.

Last year, we did a special feature with the Mini Cooper Diesel in Mahabaleshwar, and we were blown away by how much fun it was to drive on a twisty piece of tarmac. The one gripe, if only slight, was that the diesel engine just made 116bhp. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great engine, providing linear performance coupled with staggering fuel economy. But we kept wondering what the car would feel like with a bigger engine under the bonnet.

Say hello to the Cooper S. One hundred and ninety-two brake horse power on tap courtesy of a 2.0L turbo charged petrol engine. In a car that weighs 1250kg, that’s on aim to provide some serious performance. The sprint to 100kmph is completed in 6.7s and the car will go on to do 233kmph if you keep your foot planted on the accelerator pedal.

We reach the bridge, which connects the eastern and western sides of Lavasa. Crossing over to the other side, we start heading away from the city. The sun’s creeping up slowly, and there’s a glow on the horizon signalling the sun’s arrival.

Finding a straight piece of road, I step on the throttle, and the car lunges forward! I’m pushed back into my seat – not with the ferocity of an R8 or F-Type – this is more of a tight hug. Driving the Cooper S on the limit is comfortable enough that I develop a pattern almost instantly.

Gather some speed, brake hard – turn the steering wheel to hit the apex – get the power on as soon as you get out of the corner. Easy-Peasy!

I decide to challenge the Mini’s chassis. The road is deserted, well paved and has ample run off area on either side. Time to switch off the traction control system. Engaging sport mode, I bury my foot on the throttle. A few seconds of wheel-spin later, we’re making rapid progress towards the next right hander – the valley towards our left. I get into the corner and mid-way, tap on the breaks a lil to get my line right. The rear steps out of line and into a small drift. I correct that with some steering input and get back on the power, to slingshot out of this corner and into the next! Needless to say, I’m giggling like an 8 year old – a huge grin on my face. Performance and Driving fun. Check!

Around an hour and a half later, we return to Ekaant – which has been our humble abode for the last day or so. Perched on top of a hill – in between Lavasa’s entry point and the lake front, Ekaant is quite possibly the best place to stay in Lavasa. The hotel offers great views of the valley, has lush green, manicured lawns and 20 well-appointed rooms. The place has everything you’ll need, and nothing you won’t. While there are other hotels in Lavasa, Ekaant is the only one that brings out the true essence of city.

We’ve been allotted a special parking spot right in front of the hotel’s reception area. I get down and walk away from what is unmistakably a Mini. Yes, BMW might claim they’ve changed every panel as compared to the previous generation Mini, but to the naked eye, the differences are minimal. And that’s a good thing.

So much of the Mini’s charm is about the way it looks, both inside and out. The car BMW’s sent us for the review is black in colour. Plain black, no racing stripes or any such add ons. It does however have the John Cooper works package – which comes with JCW badging and beefed up bumpers all around. On a personal level, I don’t like the idea of a black Mini Cooper.

Minis’s are supposed to be bright and cheerful – blue, red, yellow with a white racing stripe going down the middle.In that sense, the black paint job steals a lil’ from the cars playful character. On a different note, it lends the car a menacing, Darth Vader-ish personality. The “You don’t want to mess with me” look.

On the inside, I was surprised by how much space there was in the back. You see, conventionally, the Mini Cooper range has primarily been a 2 seater. The rear seats were only really meant for groceries or kids. This generation however, can fit 4 medium sized adults in relative comfort. Granted, it’s difficult to get in and out since this is the 3-door version – but it’s nice to have the option to use those rear seats when need be.

With regards to the interior, things are pretty much the same as the diesel version of the Mini, which is a good thing. The cabin makes you feel special. In a day and age where standardisation is the name of the game, the Mini range stands out for its detailing and novelty factor. While every other car manufacturer’s interior feels generic and picked up from the same parts bin, the Mini’s feels custom designed for the playful nature of the Mini. Everything – right from the door handles, to the seat adjustment lever (still no electric adjust), to the tachometer and the switches on the centre console – have been designed exclusively for the Mini range of cars.

This JCW version even comes with a cordless Race mode activator – a grenade shaped piece of kit that fits into the cup holder up front, and shines red when you press the button on it! The disclaimer on it says, “Only enable on a racing track. Using race mode on public roads might void your warranty”. They’re warning us against enabling Race Mode, which probably means we should enable it. Here goes!

Enabling race mode doesn’t do much for the performance of the car, but it opens the flaps in the exhaust, allowing for free flow of exhaust gasses and a “Look at me, I’m a sports car!” exhaust note! Mental, absolutely mental! And absolutely unnecessary! It might have worked like a charm if this were a naturally aspirated V8 – but on a 2.0L 4 cylinder engine, it sounds a lil’… uhhh… excessive!

This is my only gripe with the Cooper S frankly. In some ways, you get this feeling this car is trying too hard to be a car it’s not. It’s not a sports car – it doesn’t require careful planning before you head out for a drive – it’s not an event the way a Porsche, an AMG or an M series car is. This is a Mini – it’s a front wheel drive car that challenges the physics of front wheel drive architecture. It’s an everyday driver that has the ability to leave you with a smile on your face every time you get into it. In true Mini fashion, it’s supposed to be a hassle free driving experience – a car for which you don’t need a race track to feel like you’re driving it at its limit – because that’s when it’s fun to drive a car. The Cooper S feels like it’s on the edge of that theoretical boundary, especially when compared to the Cooper D.

The way I see it is, the Cooper D is the Cooper S’ biggest competitor. I’d prefer these two to any other premium hatchback on the market. But would I pick the Cooper S over the Cooper D? They are very different cars. The diesel Cooper can be your everyday driver. It delivers decent performance, it handles brilliantly and it’ll do 13kmpl on your run to the office and back. It’ll leave you with a smile on your face every day, while being light on your wallet.

The Cooper S on the other hand, is on the cusp of being a special tool. It’s incredibly fun to drive – and like the Cooper D, it challenges you to up your game and become a better driver. But it feels like a specialised tool of sorts. Mini’s have always been cars that you buy with your heart, not your mind. The Cooper D bridged that gap a lil’ bit. It’s a sensible, fun car to drive. The Cooper S takes that formula and buries it in the ground. It dials everything up to eleven. Let’s just say you’ll have to have a lot more soul to buy the Cooper S – a lot more heart. If you do, the Cooper S will deliver.