Mini Cooper S 5-door Steptronic

Our Top 12 Best Buys small hatch­back winner fea­tures here in facelifted five-door form

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

YOU can’t re­ally miss them, those Union Jack-pat­terned brake­lamps on the lat­est Mini hatch­back. They’re a small part of both a su­per cial and me­chan­i­cal facelift but de­mand all your at­ten­tion as you ap­praise BMW’S small­est car, and they leave no doubts about the ori­gins of the brand. Some mem­bers of the CAR test team loved them; oth­ers won­dered how much it would cost to swap them for pre-facelift units.

Mis­placed pa­tri­o­tism aside – at least, at the south­ern tip of Africa – the facelift nicely up­dates the four-year-old Mini pack­age, adding to the Cooper S such items as LED head­lamps (adap­tive tech is op­tional) with driv­ing lights en­cir­cling the en­tire unit, newly de­signed al­loy wheels, fresh paint colours and graphics, and a piano-black op­tion for the lamp and grille sur­rounds.

Hop in­side and the tweaks con­tinue, with the Vis­ual Boost 6,5-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment screen stan­dard across the Cooper and Cooper S mod­els (op­tional on the One). Ad­di­tion­ally, buy­ers have the op­tions of new Malt Brown trim and ex­tra light­ing in the piano-black trim strips.

On the Cooper S, in­cluded

in the R455 642 list price are cli­mate con­trol, sports seats, var­i­ous driv­ing modes, cloth/ leather-com­bi­na­tion seat trim and a stor­age pack­age.

The lat­ter can feel like a mis­nomer ap­plied to a five-door Mini, as stor­age isn’t ex­actly plen­ti­ful fore and aft. Nor is legroom, which we mea­sured at a class-av­er­age 650 mm, but head­room all-round is suf­fi­cient even with the fit­ment of a R11 700 dual-sun­roof op­tion. This lack of prac­ti­cal­ity begs the ques­tion why buy­ers wouldn’t sim­ply save them­selves some cash and get the three-door (which hap­pens to also look far more bal­anced without this vari­ant’s too-small rear doors).

Still, plenty of cus­tomers do opt for the five-door and they get the usual Mini strengths of ex­cel­lent per­ceived qual­ity be­yond any­thing else in the small-hatch seg­ment this side of an Audi A1; a driv­ing po­si­tion that’s mil­lime­tre-per­fect (the sports seats of­fer ad­justable un­der-thigh sup­port, which makes a big dif­fer­ence for taller driv­ers); and class- lead­ing idrive con­nec­tiv­ity. That scat­ter­gun con­trol lay­out does, how­ever, still de­mand some time for fa­mil­iar­ity to set in.

Un­like the One mod­els, which now boast a three-cylin­der 1,5-litre en­gine in place of the de­funct 1,2-litre, the 2,0-litre unit in the Cooper S re­mains un­fet­tled. What is dif­fer­ent is Mini has slot­ted in a new seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion in place of the old six-speeder. The car­maker claims shorter shift times than the torque-con­verter.

In prac­tice, it’s an alert trans­mis­sion, dis­play­ing lit­tle of the low-speed lethargy that of­ten plagues such units. Up the speed and the shifts are in­deed quick and smooth.

Which is just as well be­cause, with 141 kw on tap to pro­pel all of 1 340 kg, per­for­mance is sprightly rather than elec­tric. The 2,0-litre en­gine is but­tery smooth and even sounds good – with de­li­cious cracks and pops on the over­run with the drive mode set to sport – but it never feels es­pe­cially po­tent and lags be­hind the VW Polo GTI

in most per­for­mance-test pa­ram­e­ters (read our test of the German in last month’s is­sue).

On the road where such gures mat­ter less, the Cooper S is an en­gag­ing drive. The en­gine feels stronger than its per­for­mance gures sug­gest, and the trans­mis­sion hooks the right gear without re­sort­ing to histri­on­ics when the throt­tle is planted. The steer­ing, how­ever, is the main draw. Nicely hefty but quick, it makes the Cooper S feel alert whether tack­ling the drag of com­mut­ing, or travers­ing a favourite moun­tain pass.

That’s al­lied with close sus­pen­sion con­trol (so close, in fact, that it some­times feels as if it’ll run out of travel on a bumpy road; skil­fully, it never does) and strong brakes – record­ing an av­er­age stop­ping time of 2,98 sec­onds – ren­der­ing the Cooper S a fun point-and-shoot ma­chine.

The ride com­fort does suf­fer some­what from the res­o­lute sus­pen­sion tun­ing but it’s en­tirely live­able day to day and gets caught out only by abrupt scars.

As you’d ex­pect from a BMW prod­uct, fuel con­sump­tion is ex­cel­lent. We reg­is­tered 7,80 L/ 100 km on our stan­dard­ised fuel route, and even less on a re­laxed week­end that took in lots of high­way driv­ing at 120 km/h.


It’s a re­lief every time we get into a Mini and dis­cover BMW hasn’t ddled too much with a win­ning recipe, the main in­gre­di­ent of which is fun driv­ing dy­nam­ics.

In at­ten­dance, too, are il­log­i­cal cabin con­trol place­ment – although we sus­pect the quirky lay­out forms part of the ap­peal for many buy­ers – and com­pro­mised prac­ti­cal­ity, es­pe­cially in ve-door form, where tight door aper­tures and lit­tle room in the rear or boot sug­gest the big­ger, R30 000 pricier Cooper S Club­man is the bet­ter buy if space is on the list of pri­or­i­ties.

The CAR team, how­ever, would hap­pily junk the need for big­ger rear seats and opt for the Cooper S three-door, which looks bet­ter than this some­what dumpy ve-door and is cheaper to boot. How­ever, with the new­est Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI prov­ing an im­pres­sive pack­age, will the Mini re­tain its Top 12 Best Buys crown Jan­uary 2019 when we vote for the win­ners? Based on this test and the im­prove­ments made to the Mini range, there might be a few drawn-out de­bates among CAR’S staffers ...

A quirky, some­what com­pro­mised pack­age that nev­er­the­less charms Ian Mclaren

Minis just feelright and this Cooper S is no ex­cep­tion Ter­ence Steenkamp

A sub­tle up­date to the most char­ac­ter­ful mem­ber in its class Gareth Dean

clock­wise from above Per­ceived build qual­ity is first-rate and the new shifter is a tac­tile plea­sure; ac­cess to the rear re­quires bod­ily origami through the small aper­tures; boot is well shaped but small; 2,0-litre is smooth and re­fined.

New Union Jack light sig­na­tures are love-or-loathe items but crys­tal clear at night.

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