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New Mini Cooper S review 2018 - has a mid-life update improved the package?

Will Beaumont
27 Mar 2018
Verdict:

The new Cooper S has all the trademark attributes we’ve come to love from modern Minis

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
£19,555
For 
Competent and fun chassis, more serious than it looks
Against 
Forgettable engine and gearbox
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The staple of the Mini range, the three-door hatch, has been subjected to a mid-life facelift. Most of the changes are subtle; mechanically the Cooper S’s 2-litre turbocharged engine has been revised to make it more economical, power remains the same, however.

Externally there’s some black trim that would have been chrome before, a few new Mini logos and the ability to personalise the side repeaters with your chosen words. What you won’t miss, though, are the new LED rear lights that feature a bold Union Jack pattern behind the lenses.

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

Under the bonnet of the new Mini Cooper S is a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 189bhp and 221lb ft of torque. Just as before. As a result, the 0-62mph time of 6.8sec for the manual car is exactly the same as the pre-facelift car.

But Mini has changed the engine in pursuit of better fuel economy; the turbo has been fashioned from a new material and the injection system now delivers fuel at a higher pressure. These changes have contributed to the whole car’s weight increasing by 35kg, it now weighs in at 1195kg. 

> Click here for our review of the Mazda MX-5

As standard the Mini comes with a six-speed manual gearbox but an optional seven speed dual-clutch automatic is available. The swift changes from the auto reduce the Cooper S’s 0-62mph time by 0.1sec.

Machinerynical highlights?

With such minor changes to the engine, and no changes to the car’s performance, the rest of the facelifted Mini has remained much the same. The chassis has been retuned slightly, but only to compensate for added weight from the updated engine.

What’s it like to drive?

Before, Mini hatchbacks, whether it was the basic One or the John Cooper Works model, were full of vigor and life. This latest third-generation three-door Mini hasn’t had the same spirit, the same zest. Even the John Cooper Works hatch left us cold. 

This new Cooper S, however, feels like it’s closer to Minis of old. The ride is firm and tense, like it’s always ready to react but it’s far from being uncomfortable; the 17-inch wheels and 205/45 tyres do a great job of filtering out the worst of the bumps. We only drove the car in Mallorca, not on craggy UK roads, so until we get the Cooper S on British tarmac we won’t know if it’s quite as comfortable as it felt on the Spanish island, though.

The engine is strong, capable of propelling the Cooper S at a decent rate even from low revs, and responds promptly to throttle inputs. However, even with the new revisions, the motor still lacks character.

The gearboxes are similarly forgettable. Good, but nothing to write home about. The manual’s shift is long and a little awkward, but there’s nothing actually obstructing or stopping you from making quick clean shifts. The dual-clutch auto is fast enough, but will change up itself when you hit the limiter even if you have it in manual mode. It won’t, however, change up twice if you manually select a higher gear close to its own upshift point, which is nice.

The chassis comes good on its promise of being alert when you point it towards a corner. Initial roll is minimal and the nose darts towards the apex with that typical Mini energy.

When you switch it on, the Cooper S is in its default driving mode called Mid. There is a Green mode geared towards more economical driving and Sport, which is self-explanatory. With no adaptive dampers only the throttle map, the engine noise and the steering weight changes. It’s only the steering that is noticeably different as you toggle through settings, though. It gets unnecessarily heavy and looses the smooth linearity of Mid. The lighter steering also seems to suit the Cooper S’s chuckability, too.

The brake pedal is the only one of the controls that doesn’t offer the same immediate effect, as initial bite seems dull. However, the action is very progressive with each millimetre of travel offering incrementally more brake pressure.

Such fantastic control over the brakes allows you be on the middle pedal right up to the apex of a corner, increasing the strong front-end grip, even on the road. The Cooper S stays stable and secure, even as you push it hard. There’s a hint that the back-end might become unstuck as you shift from the brakes to the throttle and the car is momentarily not under load, but it never materialises as anything that needs correcting.

There are friskier, more adjustable and more focussed hot hatches on the market, but the Mini Cooper S isn’t meant to be the most extreme car, instead it’s very competent while still being fun and exciting. 

Even removing the roof doesn’t diminish the Cooper S’s attributes too much. Yes, the Convertible feels a little slower and delayed in its reaction compared to the hatch, there’s significant wind noise over 60mph, and you can feel the body flex over bumps. But over a twisty road it doesn’t come unraveled as you pitch it into corners, even the wobbly body is less noticeable when you put load into the chassis.

Price and rivals

At £20,630 the Cooper S lacks power and looks slow when compared to cars of a similar price. But then, the Mini feels more sophisticated than many other small hatchbacks, only Audi’s A1 has the same levels of refinement and solidity.

Peugeot’s 208 GTi is a little more expensive at £21,820, but it has 205bhp hits 62mph in 6.5sec and is a livelier car to pedal down a road. If you want excitement though, you’ll have to go for the Peugeot Sport version. That costs even more at £23,550, but is so focussed and fun that we declared it our supermini of the year 2017. 

On the same platform as the Peugeots, and with the same engine, is the DS 3 Performance. It apes the Mini with bold styling, a more luxurious interior than a small hatch really needs and levels of personalisation that no human needs. Still, it’s not as solid and as the Mini, it doesn’t feel as high quality inside, it’s £785 more expensive and the DS’s chassis is also slightly less involving than the Cooper S. At least the DS is more powerful with 205bhp and quicker to 62mph at 6.5sec.

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