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In-depth reviews

Mini Cooper S review – 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

Evo rating

Minis have long been towards the top of the class for agility. That remains unchanged with the current model, though it’s not without fault.

Things the Mini does well include steering response, agility, body control and a general sense of being ‘up for it’ – it’s the kind of car that, if it were to serve as your first taste of a hot hatch, would probably snare you as a hot hatch buyer for life.

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It’s fun to drive at a brisk pace, feeling responsive and engaging and offering enough performance to punch hard out of corners, and good balance that offers some rotation without feeling edgy. With a compact body and good visibility it also feels at home on Britain’s B-roads in a way some larger hatches do not.

What it lacks is the same sense of focus that you get in something such as a Hyundai i20N, which feels perhaps less accessible initially but has a higher level of ability to dig into as your confidence rises. We know the chassis is capable if given the right parts – the limited-run Mini Challenge demonstrated that – but as standard, a Cooper S doesn’t go as far as some. And while the steering is quick, it’s almost cynically darty, while it’s also a little short on off-centre feedback.

On the plus side, it’s amongst the more mature hatches, so ride and refinement are pretty good. The ride can feel a little bouncy over some surfaces, but in general it isolates you from the road surface and has enough control not to feel out of its depth on more challenging roads.

The John Cooper Works, meanwhile, has retuned springs and dampers to heighten the sense of agility. It can corner harder and there's more roll support, but this doesn't unearth an especially adjustable or engaging handling balance. Compared to the best in class, the Mini feels leaden and one-dimension once you get past the initial responsiveness of its controls. 

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