MINI Cooper S – First Impressions
The MINI comes with a large amount of emotional baggage. The world seems to have split into two camps, those who like the modern interpretation of the classic Issignois design, and those who consider it a bloated mockery of a much-loved classic. One of those camps is significantly more vocal than the other, but that doesn’t mean their view is right.
Much was made of the continued increase in size of this third generation of ‘new’ MINI. The critics hadn’t had the chance to get close to the the new car but that didn’t stop their teeth from grinding when they saw the first press photos. Yes, it is wider and longer than before and yes, the rear lights do seem to have swelled considerably, but it’s always best to reserve judgment on a car’s appearance until you’ve seen it in the flesh.
So it was with a little trepidation that I headed down to MINI HQ to drive the new Cooper and Cooper S. According to the pre-launch hysteria there was a bloated monstrosity waiting for me in the car park and yet, when I saw it, I was pleasantly surprised.
For a start the new model sits lower than before. Combine this with the extra width and you have a Cooper with a slightly better stance. It might be physically bigger but it doesn’t look it. Even the rear lights look good when you get a close look at them.
Comparing the Cooper and Cooper S side-by-side I can’t help but think that less is more. The complicated arrangement of grilles and lights at the front of the S look excessively fussy next to the relative simplicity of the Cooper’s nose. It’s the same story at the rear where the S’s twin exhaust, double fog lights and diffuser-styled bumper are bettered by the single pipe and fog light of the Cooper.
The interiors of the two are largely the same, and that’s a good thing. The MINI’s interior has always been a funky place to be and the new car takes that a step further.
The useless central speedo that dominated the centre console has finally been replaced by a crisp, colourful, widescreen LED display that houses the multimedia and navigation functions. It’s not a touchscreen though, requiring some fiddling around with a little dial down between the front seats, but this is made easier by the logical arrangement of the various functions.
Surrounding the new display is a ring of lights that changes colour depending on what you or the car is doing . For example, change the climate control’s temperature and the colour toggles between red and blue. If the sat-nav is on the circle turns yellow and shrinks as you approach the next turn. Toggle the drive selection between Sport and Eco and the ring turns red or green. The cynical will see it as style over substance but I think it’s all part of the MINI’s fun image.
The speed is shown as a digital display in the driver’s instrument cluster but another first for the MINI sees an optional HUD for the windscreen. This projects the speed and navigation instructions onto the windscreen and works very well indeed.
Standard equipment on the Cooper includes 17-inch wheels, fog lights, air-con, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB.
Blip Of The Throttle
The test route around the urban sprawl of Bracknell wasn’t the greatest but there were a few short sections where I could stretch the Cooper’s legs. The new 1.5-litre engine is good if you prefer mid-range torque to screaming top-end histrionics and it produces a characterful three-cylinder burble.
The smaller engine reduces weight over the nose and helps to keep the Cooper feeling alert and lively. The drive profile selection’s claim of ‘maximum go-kart feel’ may be a little short of the mark but the Cooper is good fun to chuck around. Turn-in is keen and there’s an almost neutral balance, just pushing into oversteer.
As you might expect the Cooper S is much the same but with the performance turned up a couple of notches. The 2.0-litre has much more grunt and you can feel it troubling the front wheels on loose surfaces but on dry tarmac it pulls cleanly out of sharp bends and really goes for it down the straights.
If you’re a fan of automatics then you’ll appreciate the MINI’s new 6-speed transmission. It shifts smoothly and takes the strain out of city driving but, as ever with auto ‘boxes, there’s a slightly frustrating delay when you want it to kick down a cog or two for an overtake.
If you prefer the greater engagement of a manual and haven’t yet mastered heel-and-toe changes then you’ll love the new 6-speed manual thanks to a perfectly executed blip of the throttle on every down-shift. It’s great fun and adds to the Cooper’s grin factor, it’s just a shame the movement between ratios is a bit vague (you can’t rush 3rd to 4th).
Cheaper To Run
Despite the bigger capacity the turbocharged 2.0-litre in the Cooper S is more economical than the 1.6-litre it replaces. 49.6mpg and 133g/km are excellent for a car this potent.
The 1.5-litre is even more impressive. Headline figures are 62.8mpg and 105g/km for the manual, placing the Cooper in Band B on the tax scale. That’s not far off the diesel Cooper.
Look on the MINI website and you’ll find there is a MINI One for sale from £13,750 but you should really step up to the Cooper for maximum fun (£15,300). Don’t waste your money on the automatic gearbox and add a few choice extras instead.
The Cooper S is worth considering at £18,655 if performance is top of your priority list but personally I’d take the smaller and more characterful engine. The Cooper might not have the outright pace of the S but it seems to offer a better balance of power and grip.
I’m never going to convince the old-school MINI haters that they should give the new version a try, but if you’re one of the many people who’ve warmed to the modern MINI then you’ll love this new version. This is just the start, too – we’ve already got a 5-door version and soon we’ll see the rest of the spin-offs using this all-new chassis.
MINI are onto another winner and it’s going to sell by the bucketload.
MINI Cooper & Cooper S Specifications
|Performance & Economy||MINI Cooper||MINI Cooper S|
|Engine||1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, front-engined, front-wheel drive||6-speed manual, front-engined, front-wheel drive|
|Power (PS / bhp)||136 / 134||192 / 190|
|Torque (Nm / lb.ft)||220 / 162||280 / 206|
|0 – 62 mph (seconds)||7.9||6.8|
|Top Speed (mph)||130||146|
|CO2 Emissions (g/km)||105||133|
|Combined Economy (mpg)||62.8||49.6|
|Kerb Weight (kg)||1,085||1,160|