The humble British Mini was the poster boy for the Swinging Sixties. In 2000 the brand was bought by BMW, who added their engineering know-how to offer up some great engines and fantastic connectivity. As consumer tastes changed, the original Mini’s dimensions ballooned into baby SUV and estate versions, but that cheeky, chic vibe continued. We’ve tested the hot version, the Cooper S, although there’s still the John Cooper Works (JCW) above that if you’re after serious dynamics.
What’s the spec?
Ignoring, for the purposes of this review, the Mini Clubman (estate) and Countryman (SUV), the Mini comes as a three-door or five-door hatch, or convertible. You can choose between petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and pure electric powertrains, and manual or automatic gearboxes.
Prices range from £16,195 for the three-door base model and rise to £25,950 for the Mini JCW. The Mini Electric starts at £24,400, which includes the Government grant. The Mini Cooper S in five-door form with an automatic gearbox, which we’ve tested, costs £24,485.
We had wireless charging and Apple CarPlay, as well as a head-up display, which are all extra. But the price will surely rise again as you look at the multiple options available via Mini Yours.
Tell me about the exterior and interior
Mini is pretty much all about the design, baby (you can’t talk Mini without sounding like Austin Powers). While the exterior offers its own bountiful supply of patterns and colours for the roof, wing mirrors and wheels, and all manner of decals for the bodywork, plus awesome Union Flag-designed rear lights, it’s the inside which is a true box of delights. In a brilliant stroke of design genius, BMW Group kept the big central dial in the car. It contains the infotainment screen which uses BMW’s iDrive rotary knob to provide the company’s clear satnav and audio systems. The best bit is the LED strip circling the dial, which changes colour as the revs rise or the volume goes up or down for the audio. You can order embossed headrests, Union Flag leather tags, coloured piping for the seats, checks and stripes everywhere… it’s an endless smorgasbord of styling tweaks.
How does the Mini Hatch drive?
It’s fun, as a Mini should be. That short little wheelbase means the car still jiggles and wiggles its way round town, but thankfully the hard jolts of the original Mini are all eliminated, replaced by a modern smooth suspension. The Cooper S is towards the firm side of the spectrum, as you’d expect from a hot hatch, but it’s still a comfortable ride.
The steering is a little heavy for urban use, which normally involves lots of parking manoeuvres, but there is good visibility and you can specify parking sensors.
The Cooper S has a 2.0-litre petrol engine with a turbocharger putting out 189 brake horsepower which feels pretty punchy: the same amount in an original Mini would have sent it to the moon and back: these days the car is a little heavier, which soaks up some of the energy.
The brakes are fantastic, and you can’t fault the smooth automatic gearbox, but we’d rather have a manual in a Mini: it just feels more fitting.
In a nutshell:
The Cooper S is the Mini for us: no other body shape feels quite true to the brand, and while we love the extra oomph of the “S”, the even more powerful JCW version is a little too much of a boy racer for our comfort. But we tested it in five-door form and, while that’s better for practicality, such as getting small children in and out the whole time, the three-door styling suits the sporty nature of this car better.
When BMW bought Mini and added some of its DNA to the range, some purists were rather put out, but the result is a fantastic, and very popular, blend of British quirkiness and fun, mixed with German build quality and engineering precision.