MINI Cooper S review
Hardcore fan shouldn't dismiss the Cooper S as a town car. It is a superb entertainer and a great investment.
At first glance, the Cooper S's 1.6-litre engine looks pretty plain. But aside from the fact the 175bhp unit appears weak on paper compared to many hot hatch rivals (and arguably doesn't sound that thrilling), it's a very impressive performer. The turbocharger spools up almost instantly, and with 260Nm to shift only 1,205kg, we weren't at all surprised that, at the track, the MINI proved rapid flat-out, and deeply impressive in our in-gear tests. 0-60mph took 6.7 seconds, and 50-70mph in 5th gear just 5.8 seconds. With pulling power peaking at only 1,700rpm, the Cooper S is never caught out on the road - not even a 2.5-litre turbo Ford Focus ST responds as quickly and eagerly. What's more, no rival can catch the British baby around town. Compact, nippy, responsive, easy to see out of and with a tight turning circle, it ran rings around the opposition. This ability to engage the driver in all situations is the MINI's key strength. The Cooper S wears its heart on its sleeve, so even though its chassis isn't as pure and sharp as, say, a Honda Civic Type R, the car is just as much fun over fast cross-country roads.
Is the MINI a victim of its own success? Ask most drivers to choose a hardcore hot hatch and the Cooper S would be the last car they would point at. Cute retro bodywork, a trendy urban image and perky all-round appeal mean it has become a massive worldwide sales smash, so people tent to overlook the fact that it's also one of the most gifted driver's cars in its class. If you want your MINI to look truly sporting, though, you must specify the optional Chili pack - 17-inch wheels, lowered suspension and bi-xenon headlamps. They add such a sense of purpose, we think they're essential. Rivals include the usual hot hatches - Renaultsport Clio 197, Ford Focus ST, Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf GTI. Despite many models being bigger motors, the MINI remains talented enough to compete with them head-on.
The MINI has such a unique ambience; the upright windscreen and A-pillars are a long way forward, you sit surprisingly low and we love the whole design strategy - the toggle switches, giant speedometer and round key are great. But this individuality can't disguise the faults. Our test model had more than £4,000 of options, yet was still sparsely equipped inside, the air-con controls are cheap and nasty and the CD player sticks out obtrusively. The centre console isn't particularly attractive. The cabin is small too. Although the rear chairs have Isofix mountings, even child seats will struggle to fit, and you can forget about slotting a buggy in the boot. The small supermini frame does hamper cruising ability at speed too, through noise levels are reasonably well contained and the ride is undoubtedly better damped than on the previous machine. MINI hasn't improved its pricing policy, though. A standard Cooper S has a miserly kit tally. But impressive fuel economy of well over 30mpg offsets this (and CO2 emissions are also just 164g/km), while retained values are superb.