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

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

The staple of the Mini range, the three-door hatch, underwent a mid-life facelift last year, but should the Cooper S still be on your shopping list if you’re after a £20k hot hatch? Most of the changes were subtle; mechanically the Cooper S’s 2-litre turbocharged engine was revised to make it more economical although power remains the same as before.

Externally there’s now 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.

Subscribe to evo magazine

If you're passionate about the world's greatest performance cars, experience the thrill of driving with evo magazine. Try your first 5 issues for £5.

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

Under the bonnet of the revised Mini Cooper S is a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 189bhp and 207lb 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 40kg, it now weighs in at 1200kg. 

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

> 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.

Technical 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?

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

This facelifted 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 standard 16-inch wheels on the Cooper S Classic do a great job of filtering out the worst of the bumps and even the larger 17-inch wheels and 205/45 tyres don’t upset it too much. Initially we drove the car in Mallorca on its launch and the smooth Tarmac on the test route left questions as to how it would perform on craggy UK roads, but further experience in its homeland suggests it’s as comfortable here as it felt on the Spanish island.

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 some of the character of previous genertions.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The gearboxes aren’t anything desperately special, but we’d recommend the manual unless you’re really watching the pennies and fancy the better economy and lower CO2 emissions offered by the seven-speed auto. The manual’s shift is pretty quick and accurate although not desperately inspiring although 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 loses 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. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

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

With prices starting at £20,925 the Cooper S isn’t the most powerful car in its class and perhaps doesn’t have the on-paper performance figures offered by cars of a similar price. But then, the Mini feels more sophisticated and entertaining than many other small hatchbacks, only Audi’s A1 has the same levels of refinement and solidity but the 40 TFSI model is only a smidgen quicker, can only be had with an automatic gearbox and isn’t as much fun to drive.

Up until recently we’d have included the Peugeot’s 208 GTi and the DS 3 Performance as potential Cooper S rivals but with both of those models having been discontinued it’s left to the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI as the most obvious competition for the Mini. The Fiesta is priced at a similar level with the range starting at £20,700 for the ST-2 and rising to £22,450 for the ST-3 and it’s well equipped, too. It perhaps lacks the badge cachet of the Mini but it’s more entertaining to drive and while it might only pack a three-cylinder engine it’s eager and tuneful.

The Volkswagen Polo GTI is a little more expensive than the Cooper S with prices starting at £21,660 and rising to £23,160 for the GTI Plus model but it offers the same quality feel that’s offered by the Mini. However, like the Audi A1 it’s only offered with the DSG transmission and while it’s relatively entertaining it’s a little more one dimensional than the Cooper S and is ultimately not as rewarding to drive for those looking for some hot hatch thrills.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/toyota/yaris/201858/all-new-toyota-yaris-revealed-and-hot-gazoo-models-arent-far-behind
Toyota Yaris

All-new Toyota Yaris revealed – and hot Gazoo models aren’t far behind

17 Oct 2019
Visit/hyundai/201854/updated-2020-hyundai-i30-n-spied-before-reveal-early-next-year
Hyundai i30 N

Updated 2020 Hyundai i30 N spied before reveal early next year

16 Oct 2019
Visit/toyota/201837/next-generation-toyota-mirai-revealed-as-hydrogen-flagship
Toyota

Next generation Toyota Mirai revealed as hydrogen flagship

11 Oct 2019
Visit/bmw/201823/bmw-m8-competition-gran-coupe-joins-the-flagship-m-range
BMW 8 Series

BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupe joins the flagship M range

8 Oct 2019
Advertisement

More on Cooper S

Visit/mini/cooper-s/21807/mini-cooper-s-gt-edition-a-modern-day-mini-1275gt
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S GT Edition – a modern-day Mini 1275GT?

Mini’s latest retro limited-edition car will only be available in France
5 Oct 2018
Visit/mini/cooper-s/7351/mini-cooper-s-review-more-dynamic-than-the-fiesta-st
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S review - more dynamic than the Fiesta ST?

The third-gen Mini Cooper S is now in the UK. Can it compete with the best small hot hatchbacks?
28 Sep 2015
Visit/mini/cooper-s/15944/mini-challenge-210-review-prices-specs-and-0-60-time
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Challenge 210 review, prices, specs and 0-60 time

Limited-edition model offers JCW-level thrills, but the price is hard to stomach
9 May 2015
Visit/mini/cooper-s/14973/2015-mini-cooper-s-v-john-cooper-works-what-s-the-difference
Mini Cooper S hatchback

2015 Mini Cooper S v John Cooper Works – what’s the difference?

evo spoke to the new Mini JCW's project director to see what separates the hottest Mini from its lesser brethren
22 Jan 2015
Advertisement
Visit/mini/cooper-s/9476/mini-cooper-s-cabrio
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S Cabrio

Convertible Mini finally brought in line with other Mk2 models
23 Oct 2008
Visit/mini/cooper-s/6583/ac-schnitzer-mini-cooper-s
Mini Cooper S hatchback

AC Schnitzer Mini Cooper S

The Cooper S is under attack from the new breed of superminis. AC Schnitzer has the answer
11 Mar 2008
Visit/mini/cooper-s/8853/mini-cooper-s
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S

The Mini's a mighty little car and its chassis and engine a perfect marriage
28 Feb 2008
Visit/mini/cooper-s/8754/mini-cooper-s
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S

We take the Cooper S to the Bedford Autodrome for a comparison with Renault's Clio R27
2 Jan 2008
Visit/mini/cooper-s/8720/mini-cooper-s
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S

Is the 189bhp works kit worth the outlay? We find out
6 Dec 2007
Visit/mini/cooper-s/8664/mini-cooper-s
Mini Cooper S hatchback

Mini Cooper S

The new-car love affair with our Cooper S is wearing off on Jethro
8 Nov 2007
Advertisement
Visit/mini/cooper-s/8206/mini-cooper-s-v-clio-renaultsport-197
Mini Cooper S hatchback

MINI Cooper S v Clio Renaultsport 197

MINI Cooper S and Clio Renaultsport 197 in a head-to-head
16 Oct 2006
Visit/mini/cooper-s/14203/mini-cooper-s-bbr-mini-cooper-s-300t
Mini Cooper S hatchback

MINI Cooper S: BBR MINI Cooper S 300T

BBR says its turbocharged 307bhp Cooper S is the fastest ever built. We find out
18 Jul 2005
Advertisement
Visit/mini/cooper-s/7462/mini-cooper-s-works
Mini Cooper S hatchback

MINI Cooper S Works

We're serial Mini owners here at evo, having bought and subsequently failed to sell our early Cooper Works (42,528 miles and counting) and our Hartge-…
7 Mar 2005
Visit/mini/cooper-s/7421/mini-cooper-s-works
Mini Cooper S hatchback

MINI Cooper S Works

I've been wearing a groove in the A14, M11, M25 and M23 this month, with four trips to Gatwick. My heart always sinks when a launch invite mentions th…
5 Nov 2004