Road Test: MINI Cooper S

  • New performance flagships is faster and more efficient
  • Despite its larger dimensions, it’s great fun to drive
  • It’s expensive though: test car weighed in at £25,350
  • Darwin would approve of the all-new MINI Cooper S Hatch; MINI’s mantra is evolution, which is why aside from the longer, higher-set nose designed to satisfy pedestrian safety regulations, the latest Cooper S looks little different from the outgoing model.

    Yet a wealth of new pretenders to the hot hatchback crown means that underneath that seen-it-before bodywork the MINI Cooper S has been born again.

    Larger, more efficient engine

    Ousted is the previous 1.6-litre engine, its place taken by a 2.0-litre TwinPower turbo unit. Clearly downsizing isn’t part of the plan in the upper-echelons of MINI hierarchy, but the new motor’s both more efficient and greener than before.

    Claims of 49.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 133g/km best Ford’s Fiesta ST, and place the Cooper S in VED car tax band E (£125 at current rates).

    What a powerplant it is too, developing 189bhp and 280Nm of torque from just 1,250rpm. Its linear delivery offers power quickly, and being virtually lag-free there’s no unexpected surge of forward motion as the revs rise.

    Strongly applying the accelerator pedal will make the MINI Cooper S sprint from 0- 62mph in just 6.8 seconds, powering on to a top speed of 146mph.

    Overtaking manoeuvres are dispatched quickly, while downchanges in the six-speed manual transmission are punctuated by a blip of the throttle to match revs in the lower gear. The result is smoother down-changes and instantaneous progress.

    That big engine also allows the MINI Cooper S to be more serene on motorways, remaining quiet at speed. Only the firmness of the ride takes the edge off the relaxed atmosphere.

    Engaging handling

    Fear not, the Cooper S hasn’t become an autobahn-storming straight line specialist – it remains a playful and enjoyable car to weave around twisty ribbons of asphalt.

    Despite that power, the front wheels grip tenaciously around bends, even with the traction control switched off. The steering is accurate and quick to react to inputs, although some purists may lament the final degree of feel through the three-spoke wheel.

    Select the Sport driving mode, accompanied by an image of a cartoon rocket ship on the 8.8-inch colour infotainment screen, and it’s even more lively - though it never feels like it’s about to push wide and spit you off the road.

    When you do need to slow down, the brakes prove highly effective and in short this is a car that makes ordinary drivers look like heroes. Chirping tyre rubber through quickly negotiated bends, accompanied by pops and burbles from the turbo-fed twin exhausts, adds to the illusion.

    Equipment and options

    Standard kit on the £18,650 Cooper S is fine rather than generous, with sports seats, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, on-board computer, front fog lights and glossy black mesh grilles, complemented by more muscular bumpers.

    The considerable array of options fitted to our test car pushed the price up to £25,350.

    These included a head-up display (£375), LED headlamps (£610), Connected XL infotainment pack with sat-nav and social media functionality (£1,175 and one we'd opt for) and the popular Chili pack (£1,900 another must) comprising of 17-inch Cosmos alloys, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers and the switchable driving mode function.

    Should you buy one?

    Like all MINIs in the new Hatch range, the Cooper S is compromised compared to other small hatchbacks, so don’t buy one with notions in mind of fast road trips with three friends with their luggage.

    What the latest MINI Cooper S has evolved into is a quicker, more efficient, better built, more fun and even more desirable hot hatchback. Despite the advent of the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Sport Clio 200 and Peugeot 208 GTi, the MINI’s premium image will see it succeed.

    Even with a hefty price tag, the fittest hasn’t just survived, it’s thriving.