Other hot hatchbacks come and go, but since BMW relaunched the Mini two decades ago, the retro hatch has been a constant fixture on the market. Only occasionally has it topped the table in group tests, but the Cooper S in particular has long been a fun, accessible and desirable alternative to the mainstream.
Now in its third generation and past its mid-life facelift, the current Cooper S is quite a different beast from those early, supercharged cars. The market too has moved on, with less competition these days, so the fact the Cooper S exists at all is worthy of celebration.
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The current car might be large by Mini standards but it’s among the more compact superminis, while its retro styling hides technology, such as LED headlights and a comprehensive infotainment system, that make it feel surprisingly grown-up.
And naturally, there’s a good chassis too. Mini’s particular brand of tack-sharp steering and waspish agility are no longer unique these days, but they do mean the Mini DNA remains intact. We’d still take a Ford Fiesta ST for driving thrills, but to live with day to day, the Mini still has the edge.
Mini Cooper S: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical specs – 2-litre four-cylinder engines are larger than the class norm, but deliver good power and torque through six-speed manual and seven-speed DCT gearboxes
- Performance and 0-60 time – A 0-62mph time under seven seconds is perfectly respectable. It’s a shame the engine isn’t more engaging to use, though
- Ride and handling – Sharp steering and a nimble chassis make the Cooper S fun to chuck around, but it’s not as finely tuned as some alternatives
- MPG and running costs – Despite a large engine for the class, the Mini’s not a big drinker, and is able to match its on-paper mpg in the real world
- Interior and tech – Retro touches can be cloying in places and there’s not much space in three-door models, but it’s well built and the tech is up to date
- Design – Nothing else looks like a Mini, for better or worse. Huge range of personalisation means few Minis are ever alike
Prices, specs and rivals
A basic three-door Mini Cooper S in entry-level ‘Classic’ specification comes in at £20,925. Upgrading to ‘Sport’ trim bumps this to £22,675, and the more luxurious ‘Exclusive’ models are the same price as their Sport counterparts.
To this you can then add £700 if you want an extra pair of doors, £3520 if you want the roof to fold back, and £1360 for the dual-clutch auto transmission. This does make a car that initially seems like quite good value, quite expensive – a Cooper S Convertible in Sport trim with the auto transmission is a £27,575 car, and that kind of money starts to conflict with some of the more serious hot hatches from the class above.
As far as comparably sized rivals go, the obvious alternative is a Ford Fiesta ST. It might only displace 1.5 litres and three cylinders, but with 197bhp on tap it’s more muscular than the Mini, and its slightly boosty power delivery and offbeat soundtrack make its power plant more exciting too. It’s also sharper on the road, though you have to spend £26,495 for the Performance Edition before you get a ride quality as well-tuned as the handling. Basic STs start at £19,495, though with desirable options most roll out of the showroom at something north of £23,000.
Beyond the Fiesta, true alternatives are thin on the ground. The Suzuki Swift Sport is similarly sized and similarly priced (though a current £2000 customer saving allows it to undercut the Mini at £17,249), and its lower weight offsets its lower output, but for most people it’ll struggle to touch the Mini’s image. The same goes for Abarth’s wide range of 595s and 695s, which are rowdy fun but less practical and less well-built than the Mini.