Mini Cooper S review: ‘go-kart feel’ provides endless driving fun

Not everyone will care for new Union Jack brake lights, but revised Mini is a true gem

Mini Cooper S
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Year: 2018
Fuel: Petrol

Clearly, Mini didn't set up any focus groups in Cork, Clare, Cavan, nor (most pointedly) Carrickmacross, when it laid out the plan for a major update of its range.

You see, Brexit or no Brexit, Mini as a company is proud of its British heritage, and its reinvention during the hoopla of the “Cool Britannia” period of the 1990s and early 2000s. So, Mini’s stylists theorised, what would Mini customers appreciate better than fancy new LED tail lights, which have a design that mimics one half of the Union flag? Hey, if it’s good enough for Ginger Spice’s dress, then it’s good enough for Mini, right? Am I right, guys? Guys? Anyone?

Without getting into the whole 800-years thing, it's just not politic, in certain strata of Irish society, nor on specific streets (your humble correspondent does, for instance, reside in Belfast. ) to have Union flags on your car's bum.

So, BMW Ireland opted to make them an option, meaning its the standard halogen units for us, lads.


Except that means we don’t get the new LED headlights as standard, because as far as the factory is concerned, the two ends of the lighting system are inextricably linked. The result? If you want to have the LED headlights (and on the basis of performance and bulb life, you probably do) then you have to have the Brits In tail lights, and then pay extra to have them removed as an aftermarket thing.

Somewhat surprisingly, Mini Ireland reports that there has been a healthy trade in Irish customers happily ordering the politicised brake lights, which either means that there are enough people sufficiently keen on the LED headlights to forgive Cromwell, or that there’s a significant crossover in the Venn diagrams of Mini buyers and Spice Girls fans in Ireland.

The Mini range, as a whole, has been given a major update for this year. You could squint and stare for a while at the outside before realising this, because in styling terms the changes amount to nothing more than a mildly altered badge, and some new colour options (emerald grey metallic, starlight blue metallic and solaris orange metallic, since you ask).

On more significant fronts, the Mini Cooper's 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine has been made quieter (thanks to a new balancer shaft), torquier (10Nm extra), and lighter (thanks to more carbon-fibre reinforced parts). There is a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission option, a new 6.5-inch colour touchscreen as standard, with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay available as upgrades.

Our Cooper S test car sticks with the existing 2.0-litre 192hp turbocharged petrol engine, which now returns official figures of 139g/km of Co2 (up on the old model, thanks to refiguring on the new WLTP emissions system, but still just good enough to scrape a Band B rating), 0-100km/h in 6.8secs, and combined cycle fuel economy of 47mpg (53mpg, and lower emissions, if you spring for the auto box).

While it might be tempting to ladle the Cooper S up with options and extras (it has a €29,490 base price), don’t. Keep it simple. The six-speed manual gearbox is sweet (aside from an alarming tendency to slip across towards reverse when you’re going for second), you don’t need leather seats (honestly; they’re hugely supportive and comfy as they are), and if you’re driving it right, you’re not going to be spending enough time looking at the dash for any upgrades to make any sense.

And drive it right you will. While the Ford Fiesta ST is probably a better steer, overall, the Cooper S reminds you just how right BMW got the whole re-invention of the Mini brand. The “go-kart feel” catchphrase has been hammered into us over and over by the marketing types but the thing is, it’s true.

The steering, not the fullest of feel and feedback, has perfect weighting and speed, and the amount of front-end grip that the Cooper S generates is just phenomenal. Although it will understeer a little when you press too hard, you can actually steer it on the throttle. The Mini just zips along, with a sweet personality, and an appetite for fun. Recent updates have massively improved the ride quality too, so that, whereas older models are bumpy and bouncy in the extreme, this one rides the worst of Irish roads with a greater sense of calm and deportment.

So you can have a 600hp M5, or a 450hp M4, or a 378hp M2, or any other complex, ultra-high performance German rocketship you care to mention. But on a day when the whole BMW Group range came out to play, the most playful of all was the humblest Mini there.

Just don’t mention the flags.

The lowdown: Mini Cooper S three-door

Price: €35,202 as tested; Cooper S starts from €29,490.

Power: 192hp.

Torque: 280Nm.

Acceleration: 0-100km/h: 6.8sec.

Top speed: 235km/h.

Claimed economy: 47.0mpg (6.0 litres/100km).

CO2 emissions: 139g/km.

Motor tax: €280.

Verdict: Small, put perfectly fun.

Rating: 3/5

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring