In-depth reviews

Mini Cooper S review

The F56-generation Cooper S doesn't quite live up to its billing as a truly involving hot hatch, but there's still plenty to like

Evo rating
Price
from £26,490
  • Well built; torquey engine; efficient
  • Feels like a caricature of what a hot hatch should be

Other hot hatchbacks come and go, but since BMW relaunched the Mini over two decades ago, the Cooper S has been a constant fixture on the market. With the fourth-gen Mini going on sale next year – offered with both petrol and electric powertrains – the current Cooper S is starting to feel its age, but the hot supermini still holds appeal with a decent turn of pace, excellent build quality and a unique design flair. 

Of course, today's Cooper S is quite a different beast from those early, supercharged R53-generation cars. While they were undoubtedly some of the most entertaining superminis of their time, they were also fairly rough around the edges which the modern Mini has all-but smoothed out. The market too has moved on, with less competition these days, so the fact the Cooper S exists at all is worthy of celebration.

The current car is pretty large by Mini standards, but 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, though, and rivals like Hyundai's i20N offer much more depth, adjustability and fun. 

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 of 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 its talents don't run much deeper than that
  • MPG and running costs – The Cooper S isn't 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

Used and nearly new Mini Cooper S (Mk3, F55/F56/F57)

The third generation of Cooper S is a great used buy. It’s not the cheapest of hot hatches as it depreciates more slowly than most competitors, but solid build quality ensures that even older models should be a reliable and enjoyable purchase. The Cooper S sold in significant numbers so there are plenty to choose from – look out for examples with an unblemished service history. Our choice would be a manual machine and the post-facelift Sport models offer lots of John Cooper Works goodies, making them an attractive buy.

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Launched as a three-door model in 2014 the Cooper S used a 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that developed 189bhp. It was joined by the five-door model later that year, with the Convertible making its debut in 2015. There was a facelift in 2018 (and another minor update in 2021) which saw some styling and equipment changes, and from late 2018 three new trim levels were announced – Classic, Sport and Exclusive. The current model brings an additional Resolute spec at the top of the range.

Used Mini Cooper S (Mk1, R52/R53 2001-2008; Mk2 R56/R57 2007-2013)

The first of the ‘BMW’ Minis was launched in 2001, with the Cooper S (R53) hatch being added to the line-up in 2002 as the range-topping model. It used a supercharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder which was good for 168bhp. With a six-speed manual and multi-link rear suspension it was a hoot to drive and firmly established the model as a very desirable hot hatch. A convertible was made from 2004 to 2008, but the extra weight and a less solid body meant it wasn’t as involving as the hatch.

The second-generation Mini Cooper S was launched in 2007, with the previous model’s fizzy supercharged 1.6 ditched in favour of a turbocharged unit with 181bhp. The styling wasn’t quite as convincing as that of the earlier car, with the Mini having gained a little bit of middle-aged spread. Hydraulic power steering was ditched in favour of an electric set-up and overall it wasn’t quite as focussed a machine as the original Cooper S.

Prices, specs and rivals

A basic three-door Mini Cooper S in entry-level ‘Classic’ specification now costs from £26,490, a £5k jump on prices in early 2020. Upgrading to ‘Sport’ trim bumps this to £28,390, 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, or around £3000 for a fold-away convertible roof. This does make a car that initially seems like quite good value, quite expensive – a Cooper S Convertible in Sport trim is a near £30k car, a price that it can't carry off against more talented rivals.

Speaking, the obvious alternative is a Ford Fiesta ST – that is before it went out of production in the middle of 2023. It you can find a nearly-new example, it's a cracker; 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 much lighter on its feed and sharper to drive, too.

The good news is that the new Hyundai i20 N has arrived on the scene as the quintessential small hot hatch. While it is a difficult car to get a hold of, there’s plenty of reason to pursue it as it’s just as fabulous to drive as the Ford. For something all-together more serious, the Toyota GR Yaris is also available although it’s worth considering it as more of a bespoke WRC homologation special, rather than simple supermini. That works for us, though, as the GR really is a revelation to drive, and for not much more money than a well-specced Cooper S.

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