Guys and girls, I’ve got a favour to ask – can we forget five-door Minis? Please? Thanks. The 2019 Mini Cooper S 60 Years on test here, in three-door guise and painted British Racing Green, is exactly the way a retro Mini should be sampled. Anything else is a travesty.
Have a look at it. It’s just right. While I’ve stated before that a ‘new Mini’ should in fact be called a ‘Maxi’, such is the size increase over the original concept, this beautiful green special edition is an attractive thing when you park it up and take a look.
If you measure a car by the way you look back at it every time you walk away, this Mini is already a winner.
The pricing is attractive, too, starting from $33,900 for the Cooper with a manual gearbox. Trying to simplify it, you can get a Cooper or a Cooper S (this one) in both three- and five-door with the extra 60 Years gear. And, according to Mini, the 60 Years specification brings an extra $8500 of equipment for an approximate $4000 price hike over the non-60 Years version – not bad at all then.
On test here we have the three-door Cooper S with an automatic transmission and a starting price of $46,700 before on-road costs. While you could certainly argue the case for a manual Mini, we actually love the automatic transmission, and I really enjoyed piloting it around town for a week on test.
Still, if you prefer your retro Mini with a conventional shifter and that funny third pedal on the left side of the footwell, it’s the cheapest way to get into the range, so that’s no bad thing either.
If you’re wondering what the 60 Years refers to, you probably aren’t the target market, so let’s take a look at some of the added equipment highlights instead. Our test example has the aforementioned British Racing Green exterior, white roof and mirrors, and special-edition graphics and stripes.
It’s also wearing special-edition 17-inch wheels (perfect sizing in my opinion), dark cacao brown trim with contrasting piping, piano-black door trim and 60 Years detailing on the seats.
There are also LED headlights, heated front seats and wireless phone charging. Although, I couldn’t fit my newish iPhone XS Max into the cradle. Larger Samsungs slot in there nicely, however. Our Cooper S tester also had the optional Harman Kardon sound system and a head-up display (which is excellent).
There are other colours available, but please, if you’re buying a Cooper S, just get British Racing Green. It doesn’t matter if everyone else has the same colour either. It’s the ‘right’ thing to do in this instance.
It’s like a red Ferrari. Or a silver Porsche. I know, I know. Boring. But you see what I’m getting at? Green suits the exterior styling, though, you can't argue that.
First up, I love the interior. The trim colour specifically, but also the execution of it. It’s comfortable, the driving position is way better than any old Mini could ever hope to be, and the controls are all easy to work out.
I drove a trophy-winning ’60s Cooper S replica from Hobart to Sydney a few years ago, and I’m bang up to date on retro Mini ergonomics thanks to those few thousand kays behind the wheel. They can't match the new Mini in any way, shape or form.
The big circular central screen does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and I found wireless Apple CarPlay to work perfectly on test. As I wrote above, I couldn’t wirelessly charge my Apple phone, but the charge pad does work, and it certainly worked well for other, smaller handsets.
The touchscreen was quick and reactive as well, although I found myself defaulting to the rotary dial most of the time. Not sure why either, as I usually always favour a touchscreen when it is available. Both were intuitive, though, and easy to work out.
Once you get the hang of the rotary dial, it's genuinely easy to use, and you also have a third command system, by way of voice control, should you wish to go that way.
I tested Waze, Apple Maps and then the proprietary satellite navigation at various times, and all worked nicely through the 8.8-inch centre screen. The standard system was quick and reactive, but if you favour the app-based systems from your smartphone, they work well also.
The audio system itself is excellent, with quality tone and sound generation – not that hard to deliver in a small cabin.
In fact, the cabin is quite nicely insulated, making it easier for the system to generate decent sound quality than it otherwise might be. You will hear some tyre noise on coarse-chip bitumen at highway speeds, but it’s otherwise a well-insulated affair. Voice control worked snappily, too, when we chose to use that to input a destination, for example.
The ergonomics are generally good, except for the adjustable centre armrest that isn’t well positioned and doesn’t sit in the right spot for me. It gets in the way of the shifter, too, though not such an issue with an auto as it would be with a manual, of course. I tended to have it folded back out of the way most of the time, making access to the shifter, cup holders and the rotary control dial a lot easier.
There’s enough storage, even for larger smartphones, cupholders that are useful, and the back seats also work for adults on shorter trips, so long as you aren’t super tall up front.
Thanks to the extremely deep dash, you might feel like you are sitting a long way from the front windscreen, but that’s just the layout of the cabin, and the steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach, too.
The boot is small-hatchback spec really (211L), and it will accommodate a few onboard-size cases, but you can of course fold down the rear seats to liberate more storage space for a couple's weekend away, for example.
As a city car, the cabin and boot are pretty much perfect, though, and for me the trade-off between a small boot pays itself back with diminutive exterior dimensions.
The Cooper S gets the more potent engine (as it should, too), with 141kW and 280Nm on offer from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, and ours is backed by the aforementioned seven-speed DCT. Around town, the Mini delivers the kind of point-and-shoot driving experience you would expect from the platform, the segment and the reputation.
It’s tremendous fun to work through traffic, and hustle to and from work in what would be an otherwise hair-pullingly boring environment. Exactly as it should be, really, and very much to the Mini brief.
Those power and torque numbers aren’t huge, but the Mini only weighs 1280kg – a veritable lightweight in 2019 – and it scoots from 0–100km/h in 6.7 seconds, which is more than fast enough. The point to make here is that it almost always feels like a rapid little hatch, which for me is what I wanted to experience.
On the highway, the Mini rolls along nicely aside from the tyre noise mentioned above, but it’s when you find a quality piece of road that the Mini really gets into its stride.
The steering is beautifully weighted, the front end feels planted and precise, and the chassis is lively without being jittery. It’s a sensational little hatch to push into corners, power out, and get that turbocharged engine singing.
The power delivery is nice and linear, too, with very little lag. And if you keep it working in the chunky part of the rev range, it’s more than fast enough to satisfy the kind of buyer Mini is targeting.
Against an ADR claim of 6.0L/100km, we saw an indicated return of 8.3L/100km over our full week with the car. On the highway, we saw the live reading drop below the combined ADR claim, while traffic obviously taxes even the smallest of engines.
I need to note here, too, that I turned stop/start off every time I drove off, because I found the system to be too slow, and in a few cases dangerous as I tried to turn across traffic or negotiate the crossing of a busy thoroughfare.
Leave stop/start active in traffic and that average will drop down even further for sure. Still, low eights around town is nothing to take issue with from a fast hatch.
The most recent ANCAP rating for the Mini Cooper S has it sitting at four stars, not the full five stars as some buyers might expect. Mini's warranty covers you for three years/unlimited kilometres. Buyers can opt for the Mini Service Inclusive package, which covers the car for five years/80,000km.
The basic cover costs $1425 over that period, while the more comprehensive cover costs $3685. Check the Mini website for the full breakdown of included service items.
Being practical about cars like the Mini 60 Years is difficult. Certainly in terms of making an assessment on it anyway. It’s a lot like an Abarth in its own unique way. Yes, there are more sensible cars. Yes, there are more practical cars. Yes, there are better cars. Yes, there are cheaper cars.
But if you’re comparing a Mini to a Hyundai, for example, you’re not really a Mini buyer. And that’s not to detract from the Hyundai product at all – they are just so different.
You don’t buy a Mini – certainly not a Cooper S grade – for matters of sense. You buy one for matters of the heart. And if you want to fall in love with a retro Mini, this might just be the best of them.