MINI Cooper 2018 cooper s kensington edition

2019 Mini Cooper S review: Kensington Edition

Rating: 7.3
$32,930 $39,160 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating
With just 15 examples set for Australia, the Kensington Edition is very exclusive. Is it very good, though?
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Do you have a friend who's getting on a bit, packed on a few kilograms and become a bit... dull? You know, the sort who'll hibernate for months and then invite everyone out for 'the best night ever'.

"How much fun is this?" they ask, sipping a craft beer. "We're having fun! Right? Right!?" The problem is, you usually aren't.

The spiel about getting old? It's because the Mini Cooper S is a much more grown-up beast than its predecessors under BMW, especially in Kensington Edition guise as we are testing here.

It's longer (4005mm, +276mm), taller (1425mm, +18mm) and wider (1727mm, +24mm) than the second-generation, tipping the scales at 1190kg (+25kg).

Power comes from the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine offered in the regular Cooper S making the same 141kW and 280Nm. Although manuals are offered elsewhere in the range, the Kensington is firmly a two-pedal proposition, with power sent to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

As a special edition, the base Cooper S package has been augmented into the Kensington with a JCW spoiler, a chrome surround for the grille, Union Jack tail-lights, a panoramic glass roof, and six-speaker audio system... The list goes on.

Gone is the standard infotainment system, which is updated with an 8.8-inch screen and inbuilt navigation, traffic updates, and wireless CarPlay. The driver and passenger sit in sports seats trimmed in Mini Yours leather, and the usual array of kitschy touches accompanying a Mini special edition are all present and correct.

Personalised door sills? Check! Puddle lamps with the Mini logo? Check! Union Jack detailing on the back of the headrests? Duh. It's also finished in a unique shade of burgundy contrasting with black wheels, black mirrors and a black roof.

With that said, there are also some key omissions. Keyless entry and adaptive cruise control are both notably absent from the spec sheet.

Let's ignore the glitz for a moment, and talk about how the Cooper S drives. There's no doubt the engine is punchy, and the transmission does its job with aplomb, delivering snappy upshifts and sharp downshifts, but it doesn't have the effervescent top-end feeling we love in the best hot hatchbacks.

It doesn't necessarily crave revs, doing its best work in the midrange, and doesn't offer much beyond the norm for aural excitement. You get blips on upshifts and some subdued pops and bangs on the overrun, but it's not quite as raucous as the range-topping JCW.

With that said, folding the rear seats does seem to free up a bit more noise. Given they're only fit for very occasional use – more to come on that – maybe they should just stay folded.

If the engine is strong without feeling overwhelmingly effervescent, a theme that carries through into the handling. Flick into Sport Mode and the steering gets heavier, the transmission drops a ratio, and the throttle response sharpens. All positive signs, but the Cooper S Kensington Edition isn't a balls-out terrier on a twisty road.

The steering doesn't feel all that sharp off centre, giving the nose a slightly doughy feeling, and the car isn't particularly keen to adjust its line when you lift off the throttle. The brakes are perfect around town, but the pedal has a slightly vague initial movement, and can be wooden as you delve into its full travel.

They also got very hot and very faded on a hard drive through the Victorian hills. Yes, the weather was roasting, but another little hatchback's stoppers (let's call it the Volkswagen Polo GTI for argument's sake) fared far better in the same conditions.

Grip is plentiful up to a point, and there's plenty of power on tap, but the Cooper S doesn't inspire you to really grab it by the scruff of the neck. It's quick, but it feels more capable than outright exciting.

There's nothing wrong with that, objectively speaking. But the marketing and design teams at Mini are still so determined to push the idea of the Cooper S as a light, nimble hot hatch that the reality is disappointing. Mini's website is a prime offender claiming it "embodies the essence of low-centre-of-gravity handling and exhilarating go-kart feel" for which the Cooper is known.

Like that slightly portly friend it's trying to keep the fun alive, but that just isn't where it's at anymore. It's a bit softer around the waist, a bit keener on a nice glass of red, and a huge fan of staying in to watch Netflix. Probably. Whatever the car equivalent of that is, anyway.

With that said, the Cooper S is excellent in the city. Although it's bigger than its predecessors, the car is still tiny by modern standards, which makes it a breeze to pilot through the city. It squeezes into tiny parking spaces, darts through skinny alleyways, and generally makes life easy in the sort of conditions where many modern cars feel swollen.

Given it has a tiny wheelbase, sporty suspension and big wheels, the ride errs on the firmer side of comfortable, but the damping is excellent, and big hits don't do much to undermine the general sense of refinement. Sure, it isn't an S-Class or 7 Series, but compression and rebound damping are both excellent. We even ended up spending a bit of time on washboard gravel and the car handled it with aplomb.

Regardless of where you're driving, the Cooper S is a nice place to spend time. The front seats are excellent, with ample adjustment, bags of support, and just enough bolstering to keep you in place through quicker corners, while the steering wheel telescopes straight into the driver's chest. So far, so good.

They're also trimmed in lovely, waxy leather in the Kensington Edition. It's really nice, and there's not really much more to be said. It's a shame the slightly dour all-black colour scheme isn't more exciting, though.

As for the circles-on-circles design? Whether you love or hate it is purely subjective, but I fall firmly into the former camp. It's a bit contrived, but there's something to be said for a cabin layout that makes people smile, laugh or ask questions. Diversity is good, period.

iDrive is excellent in essentially any guise, and putting a Mini skin over the top does nothing to undermine its standout nature, while the chromed switches along the doors, console and roof are really cool little touches. They're also nice to fondle/flick/toggle, which is important in a car of this price.

But the tiny transmission tunnel and piddling armrest mean you'll be fighting tooth-and-nail with your passenger for elbow space, while the cupholders and storage 'slot' in front of the gearstick are awkwardly sized and positioned. Oh, and the sunroof blinds are inadequate for the Aussie summer, and make the cabin unbearable after a brief stint parked in the sun.

There's not really anywhere to put a big phone (as an iPhone XS Max user, that's a pain) and road trip snacks are likely to spill unless you're meticulous with your placement. While we're talking practicality, the boot is utterly tiny at 211L, and the rear seats are only of use for short trips.

We actually tested them by seating two average-sized humans behind two average-sized humans, and consensus was any longer than about 30 minutes would've been an exquisite form of torture. At least there are three cupholders back there, one-and-a-half for each passenger.

Folding the rear seats frees up enough space for two people and a long weekend's worth of food, drink and clothes, but any more – or if either of us had wanted to bring a boogie board, or a decent-sized esky, or a dog – simply wouldn't have fit.

Even the trendiest inner-city urbanites need to carry big objects occasionally. How does the average Mini owner do it?

All of that is part of the Mini package, sure, but it's hard to swallow when the Cooper S Kensington Edition is more expensive than a Golf R; a hot hatch that manages to blend face-melting performance with family-pleasing space.

I'm also curious as to how anyone could stretch to affording a Kensington Edition that, as tested, is $52,900 before on-road costs. Mini has become a real fashion statement, that's not in question, but spending that much on a two-door Cooper S is hard to understand, especially when the hotter JCW manual sneaks below the magical $50K marker.

On the ownership front, the Cooper S is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with maintenance covered under Condition Based Servicing (CBS). You can opt for a one-off payment covering basic servicing, or a 'Plus' package including consumables like brake pads.

Pricing for the packages is listed at $1295 for five years/80,000km for the Basic and $3604 for the Plus package over the same period – working out to $259 a year for the standard package, and $720.80 for the premium.

With just 15 examples bound for our shores, Mini won't struggle to sell the Cooper S Kensington Edition. If you've got the cash and like the look of the car, go buy one. It's a very nice object, pleasingly fast, and will perfectly match your immaculately coiffed hair.

But people craving a proper, old-fashioned Mini experience should look elsewhere. There's more joy elsewhere in the range, where manual transmissions and smaller engines – not to mention lower sticker prices – deliver the sort of fun, pared-back experience for which the brand has become known.

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