£22,575 - £29,370 Price range
4 - 5 Seats
47 - 68 MPG
The Mini Cooper S is a compact performance hatchback that is now in it’s third generation and has improved dynamics and comfort over the previous model. It’s rivals are the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS and the Peugeot 208 GTi.
Where the old Cooper S struggled the most was its confusing dashboard layout and little interior space and they have been addressed in this new version. BMW has re-arranged some of the controls like the window switches and climate control dials to more convenient locations and the large speedometer in the middle of the dash is gone and replaced by an infotainment system. Passenger space is also increased, but not by much – the Cooper S is still a small car inside, especially in the back. Boot space is poor, but that has never been a selling point of the Mini.
A good part of buyers get the Mini Cooper S for the “go-kart” way older models drove and this new one has kept that characteristic, but feels more mature and less fidgety when you aren’t in a hurry. The steering reacts to driver inputs and road conditions in a way very few cars nowadays do and this brings another level of engagement and involvement. There is a clever traction control system that maximises grip by using the brakes, but after a few laps on a race track or a few minutes of spirited driving, the brakes start loosing power and begin to fade. Opt for the optional adaptive dampers, which in Comfort mode, make the Cooper S not only bearable over long distances, but quite refined and comfortable.
When all manufacturers are downsizing to smaller engines, the Cooper S gets a 2.0-litre petrol engine or a diesel of the same capacity in the Cooper SD. That is a significant increase over the old car’s 1.6-litre. The result of the larger capacity engine is almost instantaneous throttle response and loads of pulling power from very low speeds. In a straight line, the Cooper S can out-accelerate most of it’s rivals, but stick it in Eco mode and you can average a fuel consumption of 50mpg.
All Cooper S models come with some nice equipment such as air-conditioning, sport seats, digital DAB radio with smartphone Bluetooth connection and an on-board computer. Anything more interesting is in the extensive optional extra list or in some of the numerous packs that Mini offers.
With impending maturity, some of the twee touches of the previous models have been done away with, thankfully. The irksome speedometer in the middle of the car has been moved to a more conventional location in the binnacle and though that huge central disc still exists, it now houses the sat nav.
Mini Cooper S passenger space
Materials quality and interior space have been improved, but this is still a car for two people, with two occasional people who are quite close and don’t have any luggage. Door and window switches are now on the door, rather than deep in the centre console, but the armrest will still get in your way.
Mini Cooper S boot space
The 211 litre boot is not only dreadful in this class but just plain dreadful – it’s easier to list the cars with a smaller boot (Mazda MX-5, Ariel Atom) than the cars from the class below with a bigger one.
One thing all Minis have been characterised by since the relaunch and rebrand is great handling and the Cooper S is the same, but more. Critics fall over themselves not to use the phrase “go kart handling” but it’s descriptive enough. The body control is great, the steering is perfect and everything feels as it should, with feedback through every control. The short wheelbase makes it very agile but also quite sweet in towns.
But with the go kart handling comes a go kart ride. It’s still fidgety and tiring on motorway hacks and it’s still crashy and uncouth on the rutted streets that make up or town centres and B-roads – both places the Mini Cooper S ought to be at home.
To ameliorate this somewhat, you can specify Variable Damper Control (at £500). With the driving mode set to Comfort the Cooper S becomes less quarrelsome on pocked tarmac – though you’ll have to put up with a cheery “maximum go kart feel!” message every time you select Sport mode…
While the Cooper S totes a turbocharged 192hp 2.0-litre petrol, there’s also a diesel option dubbed the Cooper SD, with a 170hp 2.0-litre turbo diesel.
In terms of pace, the diesel Cooper SD is only a half second behind the Cooper S to 60mph at 7.3 seconds compared to 6.8, while both cars top 140mph if you find a long enough stretch of Autobahn. The diesel predictably bests the petrol for fuel economy – there’s a clear 40% between them, though this narrows slightly if you choose the automatic diesel option. A fuel consumption of 68.9mpg combined is impressive and equates to a VED (road tax) bill of £30 a year but the petrol Cooper S’s 49.6mpg is nothing to turn your nose up at.
Reviews of the petrol are positive, but as part of the push to grow up a bit, some of the fizz of the old car has been lost. The automatic option improves the petrol’s fuel economy, acceleration and VED band (by one bracket – E to D), but the snicky manual seems to suit the car better.
Thanks to the recent tweaks made to the 1.6 turbo motor, this is now the fastest ‘normal’ Cooper S that MINI has ever made – with 182bhp on tap and a wider toque band than before, 0-60 is dealt with in 7 seconds dead, and the claimed top speed is 142mph.
However, the revisions haven’t just helped make the car faster, as the Cooper S is also more efficient than before as well. MINI claims that up to 48 mpg is possible on the combined cycle, and the impressively low CO2 output means it costs £110 a year.
However, the Cooper S is still one of the more ‘hard-core’ hat hatches on the market, and even though the asking price is reasonable, it’s very vast array of options and personalisation pieces means it’s very easy to raise the price to £20K+ levels. That said, it’s still a great little car, and is certainly one of the best cars in its class.
Though not quite as powerful as the petrol cars, the 2.0 turbocharged diesel motor is the torquiest motor that MINI has ever built, with a substantial 225lb/ft of torque available from lower revs, and thus is a fairly brisk car. The engine also sounds fairly rorty when you work it, especially if you press the ‘Sport’ button, and is incredibly frugal when you factor in the performance on tap – MINI claims 65mpg is possible, and the low CO2 emissions means it only costs £30 a year to tax.
However, those expecting it to be identical to the Cooper S will be disappointed – though quick, the SD isn’t as fast as the petrol powered Cooper, and a few testers thought it wasn’t sharp enough to warrant being called an ‘S’. It’s also noticeably more expensive to buy in the first place.
If you’re a keen driver who can live with paying extra in fuel and road tax bills, then you may be better off with the petrol powered cars, as they’re undoubtedly better to drive. However, the SD shouldn’t be discounted entirely – it offers an acceptable compromise of fun yet frugal motoring, and is worthy of a closer look if you’re interested in the hot MINI models.
The JCW is, with 211bhp on tap, the most powerful MINI ever made, so it’s no surprise that it’s also one of the fastest – 0-60 is dealt with in an impressive 6.5 seconds, and the top speed is a whisker under 150mph. However, it’s not just good in a straight line – quite a few critics were satisfied with the car’s corning abilities, which when coupled with the engine’s meaty mid-range punch, makes the Cooper Works a great point-to-point pocket rocket.
However, there are some compromises to be made. The power on tap does mean that torque steer is apparent, especially on less than ideal road surfaces, and the stiff suspension does compromise the ride slightly. It’s also quite a pricey car, especially as the stock car isn’t exactly full to the brim with goodies and gadgets.
Overall, if you prefer your hot hatch to be raw and raucous, then the MINI JCW will appeal to you, and there’s no denying that the halo model is certainly a very well sorted car. However, we’d also recommend having a look at the standard Cooper S, as it does most of what the Works model can do for significantly less money.
The Mini hatch’s 2014 EuroNCAP test is a little disappointing as it rates just four stars – one of very few cars to worsen from its previous generation. A middling adult occupant score contributes to this performance, and a particularly poor showing in the side impact test resulted in a penalty.
There’s a big bundle of electronic aids though. Traction control and stability control are both standard, while there’s adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation and ABS with electronic brake force distribution.
An advanced reward was given for BMW Pedestrian Warning with City Brake Activation, which alerts the driver to potential impacts with pedestrians between 6mph and 37mph and intervenes if a collision is determined to be imminent.
Three ISOFIX child-seat mounts and six airbags too all add up to what ought to be a safe supermini.
The Cooper S starts at around £18k with the manual gearbox, and the Cooper SD is around £1000 more. That’s quite a wedge, but it undercuts hot hatch rivals such as the Renault Clio RS 200 and the Peugeot 208 GTI. The Fiesta ST is cheaper, though doesn’t carry the same badge chic. Fuel economy is about the same across the cars, though the Cooper SD holds something of a card there.
What’s likely to hurt the Mini though is the silly nature of its BMW options lists. The Chilli Pack with its leather sport seats and multifunction steering wheel likely to be popular and worth the money for the specification boost, while the Variable Damper Control mentioned earlier is probably a should-buy feature, but now you have a £21,000 car and it’s not looking so attractive. Go mad with the options and you could top £30k!
The push for maturity has seen the Cooper S fall away a little bit in ultimate driving experience as some competitors have taken the lead, but make no mistake it’s a great hot hatch that’s good to drive with good engines and it still has that Mini brand cachet. It’s a far better car to live with thanks to the more sensible and less deliberately twee interior and, though you’d be hard-pressed to tell, it has more generous interior space for rear seat passengers and luggage.
It’s disappointing that the relative kit levels to competitors are so meagre, but it covers the minimum standards and you’re not paying for anything you don’t want. That said, if there’s something else you do want, be prepared to pay heavily for it.
The Cooper S remains though one of the cars that should appear at the top of any hot hatch shopping list.