Conquering the Asturian Green Hell with the MINI John Cooper Works

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The Green Hell is the nickname of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, one of the most technical and challenging circuits in the world and one of the world’s meccas of motorsport. It is not the Green Hell that we are going to conquer today. Today we talk about Green Hell of Asturias, the Port of L’Angliru. The toughest test of the Vuelta a España cycling, an ascent of more than 1,000 meters in just over 10 km. Fortunately we have an ally in this battle: the new MINI John Cooper Works, fresh from the oven with 230 hp under his arm.

The MINI John Cooper Works is the sportiest version of the MINI range, already in its third generation by BMW.

The alarm sounds. It’s Friday, but the alarm goes off almost two hours earlier than usual. It’s barely 6 in the morning, I quickly make myself a strong coffee and go down to the street, where the new MINI John Cooper Works, still hidden in the gloom of the night. My first destination is a car wash near my house, where I remove the legañas based on hoses from the most powerful MINI ever created. With the car clean, I head to the top of L’Angliru, while the alarm clocks begin to ring in half the houses of Asturias.

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Placing the destination in the MINI navigator, I am somewhat taken aback. The top of the port is only 38 miles from my house, but the estimated time to the top is an hour and a half, without a single hint of traffic. About 30 minutes later I would understand why. I start to drive on the highway, and from the first moment I perceive that it is quite a different animal than the previous generation of the MINI. Built on a new front-wheel drive UKL platform, it is larger, longer and heavier than its predecessor.

I take off the legañas and take them off the car with a good hose. Camera, several lenses, a sweatshirt, and lots of coffee. I do not need more.

His poise on the highway has improved, as has his refinement. The Asturian Y highway is famous for its loud scratched concrete pavement, and the MINI is as comfortable as a compact or midsize SUV. It is inevitable that rolling noise will penetrate the passenger compartment, but the comfort on board is more than correct despite the hard setting of the suspensions of this sports MINI. Even in the dead of night, the optional HUD on this unit allows me not to have to take my eyes off the road for a second.

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I pass by the Soto de Ribera thermal power plant, which burns coal and natural gas to supply energy to the Asturian Mining Basin and the capital, Oviedo. Fortunately, the MINI has a 2.0 TwinPower Turbo petrol engine of BMW origin, so I don’t have to worry as much about nitrogen oxides. Jokes aside, and after a few kilometers, I reach the deviation of the MO-1 road, which will take me to the top of the port, only 25 kilometers away and about 1,300 meters higher.

Entering the mouth of the Asturian Green Hell

The valley is completely covered in mist. It really seems like I’m entering the gates of hell.

A faint glow begins to appear behind the Sierra del Aramo, but Asturias still sleeps. I am about to enter one of the most rural areas of the center of Asturias and several cows loose on a road that is little more than a “caleya” confirm it. Would the GPS have taken these unforeseen animals into account in its time calculation? After several kilometers in which it is impossible to exceed 30 km / h, I greatly appreciate the full-LED lighting on this MINI, at least I see what happens on the road.

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And I better see it, there are holes everywhere and some areas of the road are about to come off. The road ends in a false plain, the plain of Viapará. The last breath before the final ascent to the top of L’Angliru. Barely 7.6 kilometers to the top and a kilometer of false plain behind which there is no mercy. The climb to L’Angliru is the hardest stage of the Vuelta a España of cycling – by far – and one of the most difficult ascents in professional cycling on the entire European circuit. Little joke.

The cycling world knows and respects the climb to L’Angliru. The most fearsome port on the Tour of Spain, by far.

I get going, there are barely a few minutes until it comes out in the sun and I want to do a photo session at the Angliru summit, taking advantage of the fact that it will be absolutely deserted. The MINI John Cooper Works with sports automatic transmission that they have given me has an acceleration from 0 to 100 km / h of 6.1 seconds on paper, but must bow to Las Curvas de Les Cabanes and its slope of up to 22%. L’Angliru is not a pass to climb fast, and cyclists know it: the average speed record is just over 18 km / h.

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The MINI has no problem climbing faster, but I want to enjoy the scenery and see how impressive the climb is. Link little straights with tremendous slopes and very tight hairpins. The mist that was in the valley has disappeared, and after turning past a group of trees I emerged above the sea of ​​clouds that covers Asturias. An orange glow peeks out from behind the sierra. A magical scene that I must stop to capture with the camera. The image hardly does justice to the feeling of smallness I felt.

With the Sport mode activated, the exhaust backfires, rally echoes in a completely deserted and silent Asturian mountain.

The two cooling towers of the Soto de la Ribera thermal break the sea of ​​clouds, two columns that could well pass through the smoke coming out of the mouth of a dragon. I continue my ascent, and I leave behind La Cueña Les Cabres, a short slope of 23.5%, the hardest of the entire ascent. Les Piedrusines and its 20% mark the end of the ascent, which ends in a slight descent of 400 meters, which ends in a very well paved braña. Calvary is over. The cyclists who are able to climb it are true heroes, believe me.

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The sun has already risen, and I take advantage of “the golden hour” to do the exterior photo session of the MINI. Under the filtered light of the first thing in the morning, the changes are better appreciated compared to the previous generation. It has grown several centimeters, specifically 14. At 3.87 meters in length, it is already close to standard figures of the B segment. It is not so “MINI”, as far as size is concerned. But it still retains the brand image so characteristic, as well as its rounded optics, now with a circular daytime LED, surrounding them.

It has lost some of its personality inside, where many controls and controls are identical to those found in a BMW.

Its front is more bulbous, not as compact and flat as its previous generation. The air intake in the hood still feels essential, but for some reason its bumper is more reloaded. The black rims that MINI has chosen for this unit look great on the car, although they are prone to getting dirty very quickly. Only with the brake dust they already seem to be dirty. The choice of an intense red color with black stripes forms an aggressive contrast with the virginal high Asturian mountains, green and gray.

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From its double central rear exhaust – the trademark of the house – it emanates an interesting gurgling noise. We will talk about that soon …

Back to civilization

The 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is a torque converter, but it is exceptionally fast.

I remember few photo sessions as calm and comfortable as this one. On a weekday at 9 in the morning L’Angliru is a completely deserted place. I only meet a photographer doing a timelapse, whom I salute. I finish my round and I start the descent to an Asturias already full of life, in full sunlight. I stop at a roadside bar and have another coffee, I definitely need it. Getting up early was worth it, and this bar is at the beginning of one of my favorite test roads in the area, well twisted.

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A lonely road at any time of the day, with perfect visibility and wonderful curves. It’s time to unleash the 230 hp 2.0 TwinPower Turbo engine, which is accompanied by a 320 Nm maximum torque between 1,250 rpm and 4,800 rpm. A pair more typical of a 150 hp turbodiesel. I activate the Sport mode of the car and the central clock face is framed in red, Maximum “Go-Kart feeling”, the screen says. The sound of the exhaust deepens and the throttle response is much louder, more direct.

The MINI’s interior finishes and sheer number of options are hardly rivaled in their segment. Only the Audi A1 comes close.

Where the MINI has improved a lot over the previous generation is in the steering touch. At a strong pace, it is much more informative and has a very nice heavy touch. Of the best of its segment. The sound of the MINI John Cooper Works is poisonous, addictive … but not as much as its previous generation. Although the melody of the escape is delicious, I think MINI has made a mistake channeling some of the sound through the car speakersIt is not as realistic as it should be and it detracts from the experience, in my opinion.

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After several fast corners, a slow and twisty section begins, a short climb to a nearby stop. Where the 1.6 THP engine of BMW / PSA origin was explosive and gross, the BMW engine is much more progressive, less tight. It has kick and force, but it is not as atomic as the previous propellant. It is a more refined behavior that of this John Cooper Works. More planted, more effective and informative … but a little less playful, something less “badass”. Of course, we can continue playing with the rear of the car, making it slide to our liking.

The increase in its battle has also improved the accessibility and size of its rear seats and its trunk finally exceeds 200 liters.

But the weight gain is noticeable. With automatic transmission it weighs a whopping 1,295 kilos in running order, and rivals like the Ford Fiesta ST are almost 150 kilos lighter. I would like to have tried it with a manual gearbox and compare feelings with other rivals, but this time it was not possible. Where I do witness a clear evolution is inside: has fixed the improvable finishes of its predecessor, now it does have a true premium feeling. Its finishes and qualities are at the level of the Audi A1, the reference in this regard.

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Its ergonomics are outstanding with the sports bacquéts, and even after 500 km of travel my back did not suffer. The improved insulation and suspension setting also contribute greatly to this. Its price it is not affordable, starts at 33,700 euros In its automatic version and based on options, units like the one tested go well above 40,000 euros. It’s a whimsical car, but one that makes more sense than its predecessors for everyday use. A car that we certify as capable of conquering the Asturian Green Hell.

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