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New MINI Cooper S 2024 review: desirable and full of charm

The new MINI Cooper S has excellent build quality and is brilliant to drive, even with its impracticalities.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

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Verdict

The new petrol MINI has the same charm and idiosyncrasies as its predecessors – which should make it as popular as ever. It’s impractical, true, and it looks expensive on paper. But rock-solid residuals are likely to mean competitive monthly payments and, truth is, there’s nothing of this size and price that can match the MINI’s mix of keen driving dynamics and stellar cabin finish. It’s flawed, yes, but oh so desirable with it.

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MINI is pushing relentlessly towards electrification – with two zero-emissions versions of its latest, all-new generation of three-door hatchback a case in point. 

But the BMW-owned brand knows that plenty of customers aren’t ready to leave combustion power just yet – so it is launching petrol editions of the same model, and we’ve now had our first chance to try one of them.

Model-code aficionados should note that the electric MINI, which sits on bespoke all-electric components, is referred to as J01. The petrol version of the same car, based on an updated version of the previous generation’s UKL1 architecture, is called F66. In theory, the idea is that the same ‘top hat’ gets fitted over very different underpinnings – but the EV and petrol cars aren’t quite identical; the ICE models are very slightly longer, a little narrower and, as you might expect without a battery in the floor, a few millimetres lower overall. 

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The general look is the same, though, with the classic MINI shape shorn of adornments and the panel surfacing smoothed out to the point where some may call it cool and sophisticated, and others might think it a bit (whisper it) dull.

Petrol power remains a significantly cheaper way into MINI ownership, of course. The basic MINI Cooper starts at £23,135, the thick end of seven grand less than the cheapest electric model.

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The petrol MINI is available with two different engines. The MINI Cooper features a 1.5-litre three-cylinder motor producing 154bhp and 230Nm – enough for a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds. But here we’re driving the Cooper S, which packs a four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine with 201bhp and 300Nm of torque, and slashes 1.1 seconds off the Cooper’s 0-62mph figure. This, in turn, makes it 0.1 seconds faster to 62mph than the all-electric Cooper SE.

Controversially, there’s no manual gearbox option this time; both versions use the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and most editions don’t even get steering-wheel paddles that would allow you to override what the transmission thinks is the best course of action.

Still, in the meantime there is far more good news to report here than negative, because on the road, the Cooper S feels every bit a modern MINI. The engine has excellent punch from low down, making the car feel really nippy as you squirt it through traffic. Yet there’s a real duality to its character; if you’re pushing along, it delivers an artificially enhanced roar and the occasional pop from the exhaust. If you’re pootling around town, the auto gearbox short shifts before you know it; the engine’s so quiet that it’s hard to even know it’s running at all.

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The handling is bang on message for a MINI. The steering is fast and wonderfully direct, and the body control and lateral grip are beyond pretty much anything else of this size and price; this really feels like a small car that you can throw about (more so than the heavier Cooper E and SE, which are themselves pretty fleet-footed by EV standards).

The trade-off for that agility and cornering prowess is a firm ride, especially on 18-inch wheels (standard on Sport trim, but fitted to our Exclusive-spec model as an option). It’s sharp road imperfections that do the damage; they’re enough to unsettle the MINI completely if you’re cruising along, and result in some front-end squirming if you happen to be accelerating hard at the time. We’d suggest the smaller 17s are big enough.

Inside, the petrol MINI gets all of the beautiful fit and finish of the electric version, and is closely linked to the larger Countryman. The ‘knitted’ dashboard fabric might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s such a cool way of lifting an otherwise dull-grey fascia. And all of the control surfaces feel exceptionally well made; more than at any point in its modern history, the MINI is a genuine premium product. 

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The dashboard is dominated, of course, by the same 9.4-inch circular OLED display as on the electric three-door and Countryman. It’s a fabulous piece of hardware, with a crisp resolution matched only by what is clearly prodigious processing power. Inputs are dealt with snappily and while the interface probably has a few too many small graphics, the speed with which they’re thrown around the display is deeply impressive.

There’s a line-up of physical switches beneath the display; none, sadly, controls heating or ventilation (you still need to prod the OLED panel for that) but there is a central, physical ‘false key’ for turning the engine on and off, and a toggle switch the cycles through the MINI’s ‘Experience Modes’. These have much the same sense of fun as they do on the electric versions although of course, there’s less scope for the engineers to play around with the different sounds piped through to the cabin as you accelerate. The MINI does without fancy adjustable dampers, too, so you’re limited to variations in steering weight and throttle response - plus, of course, the theme and colour scheme running on the central dash display.

Further back in the cabin, the three-door MINI remains a vehicle that you’re not going to choose for practicality, regardless of whether it’s powered by petrol or electricity. The Cooper and Cooper S have just 210 litres of boot capacity, expandable to 725 litres if you fold down the split rear seats. Those capacities are trumped by most mainstream city cars, frankly.

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The rear accommodation isn’t much to write home about either; there’s a fair amount of headroom, but it’s achieved through a low hip point so you’ll find your knees pitched higher than normal. And it’s tricky for anyone over five feet tall to get there in the first place, thanks to the relatively small aperture that opens up between the folded front seat and the B-pillar. Five-door versions of the MINI Cooper and Cooper S are incoming, for those who want to use the back seats for more than just additional storage.

There are the same three trim levels in the petrol line-up as in the electric one, so the range starts with Classic. Available on both engines, it brings 16-inch wheels on the Cooper but 17-inchers on the Cooper S, along with dual-zone air conditioning, the OLED infotainment screen, a heated steering wheel, metallic paint and LED head and tail-lights.

Exclusive models sit on 17-inch wheels, regardless of engine choice, and also bring upgraded dashboard and interior fabrics, while Sport versions get the aforementioned gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel, along with 18-inch wheels, more aggressive front and rear bumpers, and upgraded brakes.

Beyond you might term the traditional trim-level structure, the petrol MINIs, like their electric stablemates, also come with a choice of ‘Levels’ - in effect, MINI-speak for bundles of extra kit. Level One is standard on all 2.0 models but a £2,000 option on 1.5-litre Coopers; it includes heated seats, folding and auto-dimming side mirrors, adaptive LED headlights, and a head-up display. 

Level Two builds on this line-up by adding a beefier Harman Kardon sound system, a panoramic glass sunroof and heat-reflective glass. It costs £4,000 on Coopers and £2,000 on Cooper S versions.

Model:MINI Cooper S Exclusive
Price:£29,750
Engine:

2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol

Power/torque:201bhp/300Nm
Transmission:Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:6.6 seconds
Top speed:150mph
Fuel economy/CO2:

45.6mpg/141g/km

Dimensions (l/w/h):

3,876/1,744/1,432mm

On sale:Now
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Editor-at-large

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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