Parkers overall rating: 4.2 out of 5 4.2

Update 1: Introduction

2019 MINI Cooper S Exclusive British Racing Green

If you’ve had your heart set on buying a MINI but have wandered into a showroom feeling baffled by the vast array of body, engine, trim, paint and option choices, things became a little easier in Autumn 2018. Instead of bowling into a dealership with a vague idea of what you want and coming out with a fully-specced MINI costing north of £30k, purely because there’s a bewildering number of engine, colour, trim, interior and tempting option choices, things are now a little simpler. The trim structure and optional extras have been consolidated into three trim levels and a few specific options packs so customers don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of kit available.

Five steps to buying a new MINI

  • Pick a model – 3-door Hatch, 5-door Hatch, Convertible, Clubman or Countryman
  • Pick an engine – One, Cooper, or Cooper S
  • Pick a style – Classic, Sport or Exclusive
  • Pick an option pack – Comfort/Comfort Plus, Navigation/Navigation Plus and Driving Assistant
  • Personalise – choose your exterior paint, wheel and interior colours and any other individual options not available in one of the options packs

It’s not difficult to work out the difference between the new styles. Classic just looks typical standard MINI, although standard equipment has been boosted. Sport adds on a John Cooper Works body kit and interior style for – unsurprisingly – a more aggressive, sporty look. If you’ve seen a pre-update model with a JCW pack fitted, you know what to expect.

Exclusive is the range topper with a more sophisticated look (according to MINI), with two-tone alloys, full leather interior and plenty of chrome.

Personalising the car comes later in the process than before, after you’ve picked your trim levels and options. You can choose from the same number of colours with contrasting roofs and plenty of alloy wheel options. It’s just that only certain interior fabrics and materials, as well as dash trims and alloy wheels are available on particular trim levels to differentiate them.

We visited MINI HQ to sit down with Head of Product for MINI UK, and run through the revised range structure and pick our very own car.

This is what we ordered:

  • Model – 3-door Hatch
  • Engine – Cooper S
  • Style – Exclusive
  • Options packs – Comfort Pack and Navigation Plus Pack
  • Personalise – British Racing Green exterior paint with black roof, 17-inch Propeller two-tone alloy wheelsLounge leather upholstery in Satellite Grey (cream), with anthracite headlining

I'll be seeing if it still has that cheeky charm everyone loves about MINI, and checking out the very best bits about the car, as well as what the niggles may be after living with it for a few months.

Mileage: 522 miles

Fuel economy: 44.1mpg (claimed)


Update 2: Performance and handling

2019 MINI Cooper S handling

It’s become widely known (and sometimes laughed about) that MINI likes the term ‘go-kart’ when referring to the way in which the car handles – it even pops up on the car’s infotainment screen when switching between modes, with ‘Maximum go-kart feel’ lighting up for the most aggressive Sport mode (where fitted).

Speaking of driving modes, this is where my first moan comes in. The Cooper S doesn’t come with a choice of driving modes as standard. I didn’t realise this when speccing the car, so I was more than a little disappointed to discover it’s a £200 option after I spotted the lack of toggle switch. It’s only standard-fit on John Cooper Works (JCW) models.

I’ll be brutally honest, it left a bit of a sour taste because I’ve previously driven MINIs with them fitted and I think it really adds to the fun factor, especially as it adds rev-matching into the mix on top of the usual tweaks to the throttle response and steering weight. I think I’m just missing the feature more because I know how fun it is, but also because it’s quite easy to make jerky gear changes in the Cooper S. I should have checked the spec.

What’s the engine like?

2019 MINI Cooper S engine

It’s a 192hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol which, in any car, is a decent amount of shove, let alone in something barely bigger than a shoe. On start up it sound suitably aggressive with a good amount of noise coming from the exhaust, while on the move it feels eager as you work through the slick (if slightly notchy) six-speed manual gearbox. Put your foot down and it’s keen to build speed (0-62mph is dealt with in 6.8 seconds), but doesn’t feel quite as rapid as you might expect at higher revs. It can feel like it runs out of puff and isn’t as relentlessly urgent as a Ford Fiesta ST.

On the flipside, 300Nm of torque means you can put your foot down in sixth gear and it’ll pull strongly from low revs. It’s what’s surprised me most about the way the Cooper S performs in fact, and has made long journeys a breeze in this sense, but also means there’s a lot less gear changing than you might expect. However, because the engine is so eager and rev-happy, it’s very easy to drive it enthusiastically for the majority of the time. It’s a good thing it sounds good then, but is probably to the detriment of the overall mpg figure…

And the handling?  

2019 MINI Cooper S Exclusive

So, does it handle like a go-kart? No, it doesn’t. That’s a bit of an exaggeration on MINI’s part, but it does feel agile and fun on a tight and twisty road.

The steering is quite heavily weighted – even without any other driving modes, so you have to put the effort in to getting around a corner (and when manoeuvring), but it’s lacking in feel a bit so isn’t as engaging as a Fiesta ST. See it as more of a halfway between the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Ford Fiesta ST in terms of engagement and you’d be about right. Still, it’s quick to respond when you want it to change direction, and the lack of body roll helps keep things in check.

It can be prone to a bit of understeer when you push it a little too far in the wet, but on most roads in most situations, you really can just fling it into a bend knowing it’ll send you out the other side keen to find the next corner. It’s put a smile on my face on several occasions, so that says something.

What about the ride?

2019 MINI Cooper S British Racing Green

That taut handling comes at a small cost – the MINI is a firm-riding hatchback. It’s known for being like this, which is why I stuck to the standard 17-inch alloys rather than upgrading them to 18-inchers. It also comes with runflat tyres which can add to the firmness. It’s a firmer ride than many, but it’s never uncomfortable or crashy, which is good.

Mileage: 1,905 miles

Fuel economy: 36.4mpg


Update 3: Interior and equipment

Many may think that because of the MINI’s dinky dimensions, it could be difficult for some to get comfy behind the wheel, but that’s just not the case. The seat goes a long way back (easily turning it into a two-seater), and a long way down, and the steering wheel adjusts quite a bit too. The seat base also extends for a bit of extra under-thigh support.

I don’t have the issue of needing to have the seat all the way back, and find that the pedals are actually quite far away, with the need to be quite close to the steering wheel. Thankfully, wherever you position the steering wheel, the speedo sits in a pod attached to the steering column, meaning you can always see it, whereas in many others the steering wheel could block parts of the instruments. A subtle yet very useful difference compared with many.

No matter the driving position, it takes a while to get used to the cabin – the roof seems further forwards than in many cars because of the upright windscreen, and the rear-view mirror looks miles away, plus it’s quite small. 

Visibility is good though, and all of the main controls fall largely easily to hand. The fussy interior design may look interesting, but with a lot of small buttons it can be fiddly to operate simpler controls, and the armrest gets in the way of operating the iDrive controller nestled between the seats. Thankfully you can use the touchscreen as an alternative - and BMW's infotainment system is very slick to use, especially if you upgrade to the Navigation Plus Pack like we did. The screen is larger and it offers greater connectivity options.

Boosting comfort levels are the seats. Wrapped in soft leather on this Exclusive model, they’re comfortable yet supportive. I hadn’t noticed just how well they seem to fit me until I’d spent a while driving something else. I jumped back in the MINI and it was like putting on a pair of old trainers you’ve had for years. It just felt right.

This was proven after a long journey to visit family in the West Country. I had a choice of the MINI or an Audi TT S and I chose the MINI for its far superior seats. No back ache. No complaints.

Refinement is pretty good as well. There’s some road and wind noise kicked up at speed, but the engine/exhaust calm down to a muted hum at motorway cruising speeds. The good news is the MINI’s standard-fit stereo is pretty impressive if you want to drown out any outside noises - you probably don't need to upgrade to the Harman Kardon system.

Mileage: 3,097 miles

Fuel economy: 37.0mpg


Update 4: Happy birthday, MINI

MINI 60 Years and Cooper S 2019

In 1959, the original Mini debuted with what would become an iconic look that ensured its popularity for years to come – along with a simple design and revolutionary approach to car packaging.

Six decades on, MINI has added the 60 Years Edition to celebrate the car’s anniversary, and I thought it was a perfect excuse for a back-to-back test.

What’s special about this special edition?

MINI 60 Years interior 2019

Debuting on this version is a new British Racing Green – which will become available on the rest of the range at a later date – eventually replacing the green of ‘my’ Cooper S. In addition, all the chrome bits from our car are replaced with piano black exterior trim, while unique 17-inch alloys sit at each corner. To finish off the exterior, bonnet stripes and side scuttles with 60 Years badging are present, with matching LED logo projection. There’s also spot lamps sitting at the front of the car.

Inside, the seats are the same design as in our Exclusive model, but finished in Dark Cacao and bright green piping, with piano black interior trim with green elements.

In terms of kit, it’s fully loaded with the Navigation Plus Pack and Comfort Plus Pack, the latter of which adds a rear-view camera, front sensors and electric folding mirrors to the rear sensors of our car. We’re not sure you need this stuff day to day, if we’re thinking with our practical heads on.

MINI 60 Years badge 2019

Auto-only

This model only comes with an automatic gearbox in the UK, and it saps some of the fun out of the way our car drives. It can be a little delayed in responding when you put your foot down, and isn’t always the smoothest with its changes. Take over yourself and this can be remedied though.

It’s more relaxing than YK68 CSB though. And that’s because of that gearbox. Where the combination of notchy gearbox and heavy clutch can make traffic jams tiring and tedious, the auto gets rid of this problem, but like I said, it can just take a bit of getting used to with the way the auto works in terms of responsiveness.

Should I buy one?

2019 MINI 60 Years exterior

If you can stomach the £29,990 list price, then you’ll be getting an exclusive model that celebrates the car’s heritage – especially as there are only 500 available in the UK. However, you can almost spec one to look similar to this anyway if you miss the boat – so you’re not completely missing out.

Mileage: 5,487 miles

Fuel economy: 38.7mpg


Update 5: Practicality 

MINI Cooper S boot 2019

You don’t buy a three-door MINI Hatch for its practicality credentials – there’s a five-door, a Clubman or even Countryman for that – but is the miniest of MINIs really that difficult to live with?

I’ve discovered, over time, that it really isn’t as bad as you might think. Granted, I don’t need a huge boot and I don’t regularly carry more than one passenger, but I’ve been surprised over the last six months how flexible it can be.

You’re not going to fit four grown adults in the car in comfort, but I’ve had a few occasions where a passenger has been able to fit behind me very easily. They’ve reported the rear seats are comfortable and the big windows brighten things up. It’s just getting there that’s the tricky bit as the car is low and it only has three doors.

There’s an excellent cupholder to passenger ratio (five cupholders to four seats) and space in the front is very generous. The boot, while small, is well-shaped and comes with a split level. So you can either have a deeper loadspace or a shallow one level with the loading lip with a hidden area underneath.

2019 MINI Cooper S boot space

Folding the rear seats is very easy and they lay flat with no lip from the boot floor. Being able to do this has allowed me easy trips to the tip, and the odd visit to the large blue furniture shop without too much hesitation - I just have to make sure I go alone.

I’ve even managed to squeeze in my sister, my nephew in a baby seat and all of his paraphernalia – including bulky pushchair. Who needs an estate?

Mileage: 8,707 miles

Fuel economy: 38.3mpg


Update 6: Verdict 

2019 MINI Cooper S at Plant Oxford

Six months with the MINI have flown by, and I’m certainly sad to see it drive off into the distance (out of the car park and onto a lorry), its Union Flag taillights illuminated with patriotic pride. But before that, I nipped over to the MINI factory at Plant Oxford to mingle with some owners who gathered to celebrate 60 years of the little car ahead of the 2019 International MINI Meeting in Bristol, just after the 10 millionth car rolled off the line. Quite a selection of milestones, then.

One model from every year of the car’s life were brought together before they all headed off on a trip down to Bristol from Oxford, and I crashed the party with YK68 CSB to see what the Mini/MINI community thinks of the latest model, and what it is about the car that has such a resonance with owners.

But first, has the little MINI lived up to my expectations? Has it been a joy to drive but a practicality pain?

The drive didn’t disappoint

The Cooper S isn’t as lairy a supermini hot hatch as a Ford Fiesta ST, nor is it quite mature enough in its ride and comfort to be like a baby Golf GTI, but that hasn’t stopped me enjoying it. While the ride is fidgety, it never feels unbearably firm and like it’ll fall apart over some bumps. It darts between corners, aided by its torquey and powerful engine and slick gearbox. It’s not the easiest to drive smoothly all the time, but it’s nimble and agile both in town and out of it, plus I love the sound of its growly engine and exhaust combo.

2019 MINI Cooper S handling

Solid, interesting and luxurious interior

BMW has managed to shoehorn plenty of its advanced tech into a characterful interior. Few driving positions are like the MINI’s, and while it takes some getting used to at first with the upright windscreen, the quality is fantastic, the soft leather seats are excellent for a long journey and everything just worked. It’s not the most ergonomic of interiors, but it’s one of the highest quality of a car so dinky.

Do you need a special edition?

No. Only if you want something exclusive. The good news is you can still spec all kinds of colours and pieces of kit to make your own feel individual.

Was it a practicality nightmare?

Not for me. I used the back seats a handful of times, and most of the time the boot was big enough for a few weekend bags. I did still manage a couple of tip runs thanks to seats that fold flat easily and the square body. Don’t write it off just because it’s got a MINI badge on the front.

The biggest niggles were the lack of storage – the door bins are tiny and the area ahead of the cupholders in the front was just a dumping ground with no real order.

It’s a hot hatch… was it pricey to run?

I managed a consistent 38mpg or so over six months and just over 11,000 miles. MINI claims it’ll do around 44mpg, but I took advantage of that eager engine fairly regularly, although it did into the 20s on a couple of occasions when it was loaned to some eager colleagues…

Verdict

2019 MINI 60 Years celebration at Plant Oxford

Back in Oxford, seeing such a wide range of models from the company’s 60-year history parked up together shows just how strong a place the MINI holds in owners’ hearts. Very few are the same, some have names, some are plastered in stickers, decals, sound systems and modifications and some are as original as when they left the production line. But they all have one thing in common – the owners love and adore them and have been charmed by the car’s iconic character.

And after six months and 11,000 miles, so have I.

Overall mileage: 11,313 miles

Overall fuel economy: 38.3mpg

For a more detailed look at the rest of the MINI Hatch range, read our full review 

If you're looking for a first car, check out our list of the best options