MINI Cooper S – Review
By Liam Bird
The new MINI Cooper S and I didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts. It arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, resplendent in its Volcanic Orange paintwork and contrasting black roof, plus matching black wheels and mirrors. After it was unloaded from the transporter I was told where the starter switch was – it’s the big red one in the centre of the dash by the way; Minis these days are keyless start – and left to my own devices. Feeling pretty sure I knew enough about modern MINIs already, I went back to my work, leaving my ‘proper’ first encounter with the S until later.
From my window I could see that what is now the third incarnation of BMW’s MINI looks more or less just like the ones it supercedes. It is bigger. Fans of the brand will notice that it’s been stretched in all directions; 99mm in length, 7mm in height, and 44mm in width to be precise, and the wheelbase is longer too. What they probably won’t know is those dimensional changes are as result of the Mini now sitting on an all-new modular platform that will go on to underpin a whole new range of front wheel drive future BMWs as well.
A quick look around before climbing in revealed larger rear lamps, new headlamps, and also a slighter longer, stretched if you will, bonnet. The biggest change of appearance however seems to be to the MINI’s familiar ‘face’, these days it looks a little less happy and content than it once was. Still, it is 13-years older than it once was; a little ageing and gaining of girth takes its toll on all of us.
Pull on the familiar chrome handle and swing open the pillar-less door and you soon realise the Mini now feels much more mature inside too. It’s roomier for a start. Well, up to a point, the rear seats are still close to hopeless and somewhere you’d rather not spend longer than is absolutely necessary. But both driver and passenger do now get to appreciate more elbow room as a result of those chassis changes, and the retro-looking sports seats should keep then held firmly, but that’s not to say uncomfortably, in place.
Time then, to press that switch.
These days the Cooper S is powered by a two litre turbo-charged four cylinder engine coupled to a rather pleasingly snickety six-speed ‘box. Drive, needless to say goes to the front wheels, as per the Issigonis original. With 192bhp on tap it’s not slow by any means; 0-62 takes 6.8 seconds, but it’s the torque that really makes the difference.
Available from just 1250 rpm all the way up to 4750 rpm it provides the Cooper S with a sense of urgency and makes it a hoot to drive. The ride is firm, but then it is a MINI, what did you expect? It is more refined that it once was though and, quieter too, and thankfully, no-less fun. Honestly, it’s so grippy I’d swear it’s possible almost to think this car around a corner, and because it’s possible to make the centre-exit exhaust pop and bang on the over-run the more you drive it the broader your grin becomes.
“Resort to the owner’s manual”
What isn’t quite so much fun, and what marred my initial drive, was the amount of extra kit that BMW saw fit to festoon ‘my’ particular Cooper S with. The sat-nav now takes the place of the trademark central speedo. It’s clear, don’t get me wrong, but it, and nearly everything else, including the blasted electronic voice that seemed hell-bent on directing me back to BMW HQ in Bracknell are all controlled by what is essentially BMW’s I-drive system.
Sub-menu follows sub-menu. Screen follows screen. Unless you’re 14 and part of the Playstation generation it’s almost unfathomable. Then there’s the head-up display, and a digital radio that some joker had insisted on tuning to Talk Sport – whatever that is. Oh, and I almost forgot, that same joker had switched the traffic announcements on too. Sports news, (for me at least) is tedious enough; it’s even worse when it’s interrupted every three minutes by Tin-Pot-Local FM telling you the High Street is shut.
Rarely do I have to resort to owners manuals these days in order to rectify such situations so you can imagine my horror, once I’d found the near bible-thick book in the Cooper’s glove box, only to be told that a second more extensive owners’ manual containing the information I really needed could only be accessed via the same I-drive system that had already diverted my eyes off the road for far too long.
I know that BMW’s new MINI spawned a whole host of other super-minis that could be infinitely personalised, and that without it we wouldn’t have the Fiat 500, the MG3, the Vauxhall Adam… to name but a few. And yet neither would we have a MINI with a starting price of £18,0650 that in this instance alone will actually set you back £24,895 as a result of superfluous options. That head-up display is £375. Trust me, you don’t need it, the steering wheel blocks your view of it most of the time anyway.
What made the original MINI so innovative was its engineering, it’s handling, and above all it’s simplicity. These days a little of that simplicity would make the Cooper S even more appealing.
The new MINI Cooper S is still a great little car, but keep it simple BMW – please!
MINI Cooper S
Engine: 1998 cc 16V 4Cyl turbo
Transmission: 6 speed manual, front wheel drive
Power: 192 bhp @ 4700- 6000rpm
Torque: 107 lb ft @1250- 4750rpm
0-62MPH: 6.8 Sec
Max Speed: 146 mph
MPG: 49.6 Combined
Price: £18,065 (car driven £24,895)