Fast. Relatively economical.
The Mini Cooper S is one of a handful of hot hatches competing for the money of UK motorists. It has been out for a while now, though, and it has not had a major redesign since 2001. Does that need to change?
The basic shape of the Mini has not changed since it was brought back from the dead in 2001. A number of body kit facelifts have been made over the years, along with revisions to alloy wheels, but other than that, the latest Mini Cooper S is immediately recognisable, which is a good thing for brand awareness.
From the outside, the Mini Cooper S is a likeable - but feminine - car which stands out next to your regular Mini with dual rear exhausts, bigger alloy wheels, and a unique chunky body kit. It looks the part but sat alongside a Peugeot 208 GTI or Fiesta ST, it looks dated.
This Mini Cooper S is a hot hatch first and foremost, and so its success is determined by the way it drives.
As you may already know, the Mini Cooper S is an extremely competent hot hatch. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces 184 bhp as standard allowing the Mini to accelerate from 0 - 62 mpg in just 7 seconds. That trails more modern rivals, but in the real world and not on paper, straight line acceleration is satisfying. Low down torque is strong and driving the Cooper S like a diesel (under 3000 rpm) is easy enough; do this and you'll get good economy too.
When pushing hard, the 1.6 T responds well to high revs and it even gives off a rather addicting exhaust note. Top speed is rated at 142 mph, and motorway surge is very good indeed.
For all of this cars power, though, it is let down sharply by its ride quality. A hot hatch is supposed to offer the fun and thrills of a supercar with the comfort of a Ford Fiesta, and Mini seem to have got the latter all wrong; the ride is harsh no matter what the surface, and it is frankly tiring to drive after a couple of hours. We wouldn't mind if the Cooper S had good sound proofing, but it doesn't, and you hear each and every bump. This gets incredibly annoying.
Out on a track, though, no other hot hatch can get close to the Mini Cooper S; that rigid suspension works in this cars favour at speed and you have to be travelling at stupid speeds to ever lose grip or scare yourself. The ESP system is not as advanced as one newer hot hatches, yet despite this, even the most novice of driver will find extracting the S's power a breeze.
When the Mini Cooper S was first released it wowed the press with its interior style which was retro and extremely stylish.
Years on, and it's now looking a little dated. The whole dashboard is plastic and so are the door panels. These creak when going over bumps in the road which is not reassuring for motorists who have to live with their car day in day out. The centre console is also plastic and each switch is plastic too. You get the sense with the Mini Cooper S that it would really benefit from an interior facelift, and reports suggest there will be one in 2014.
Until then, you'll be pleased to know that the driving position is great and the seats are comfortable. It only has a small boot, at 160-litres, but rear leg room is acceptable and all driver controls are within easy reach.
The Mini Cooper S returns solid fuel economy no matter how you drive. A combined run should see you easily achieve 44 mpg but even if you drive with a heavy right foot, high 30's is easily achievable. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine has plenty of torque, and riding the surge of mid-range grunt will allow you to keep your trips to the pump to a minimum.
Trim and equipment
The Mini Cooper S sits at the top of the Mini range aside from the ludicrously expensive Mini GP.
Despite this, standard equipment is lethargic.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, electric heated mirrors, CD and iPod / MP3 connectivity, and alloy wheels. This isn't very generous. Thankfully, the £2,075 optional Chili Pack gets you bi-xenon headlights, bespoke alloy wheels, front fog lights, half leather seats and multifunction switches for the steering wheel. We recommend ticking this pack, even though it's expensive, as it will help with the resale of the Mini Cooper S and also make it nicer to live with, as well as appear more stylish.
The Mini Cooper S is as much a competitor to the Fiesta ST and Renault Clio Sport as it ever was. With both of those competitors now having either had a face lift or a new car introduced, though, the Mini is dated in interior quality and also exterior looks. It is also let down by its frankly appalling ride quality.
But on a track or a twisty road with your attention diverted away from this, the Mini Cooper S offers a more involving drive than those two competitors, and you begin to sing praises for the rigid chassis and the amount of speed it allows you to carry through the corners. Does that make it worth a premium over the competition + Chili Pack? No, certainly not from your average consumers point of view, but if you're a hot hatch fanatic looking for the rawest new drive, you can do far worse than the Mini Cooper S. We'd buy a used one with a few thousand miles on the clock; this will roll in just under the new price of a Fiesta ST.
For motorists looking for something more economical, the Mini Cooper SD is a fantastic car which will offer 90% of the thrills with 10% better economy.