I’ve spent most of my adult life wanting to be Charlize Theron in the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, so you can imagine my delight when we welcomed our latest long-termer, the Mini Cooper S, to the CarAdvice garage. And while I won’t be driving it down the stairs of my local train station, I will be putting it through its paces as an everyday car over the next few months.
The current Cooper hatchback is now in its third generation in Australia, and it has consistently proven a popular choice as an around-town second car or a treat-yourself hot hatch for many buyers.
The ‘chilli red’ Mini Cooper S we’re testing here is the smallest model in the Mini family and the mid-priced offering in the Cooper line-up, sitting between the regular Mini Cooper and the racier John Cooper Works edition.
It's front-wheel-drive and powered by a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre petrol engine producing 141kW of power and 280Nm of torque.
Typically, the Cooper S starts at $41,200 plus on-road costs, placing it up against an entry-level BMW 1 Series or Mercedes A-Class, or a top-spec Hyundai Veloster, but some way above a comparable Ford Fiesta ST.
Based on size and quirk factor alone, another worthy rival is a top-spec Abarth 595. However, the Mini Cooper S is smaller and more powerful than an equivalent 1 Series or A-Class, and pricier and quirkier than a Veloster or Fiesta ST – so it stands in a league of its own.
The car we’re testing here is a lot more expensive than your standard Cooper S. Why? First, you’ve got the nifty bonnet stripes, which add $200, and then there’s the red paint, which adds $900. It’s also been optioned with a seven-speed sports dual-clutch transmission for an extra $2800, as the base Cooper S has a six-speed manual transmission as standard.
On top of the aesthetic edits and transmission tweaks, there are three optional packages fitted. The $2300 Mini Climate package, the $2000 Multimedia Plus package and the $2400 Convenience package.
With all the options fitted, our car is $54,600 plus on-road costs as tested. That’s 35 per cent more than the list price, and could make for a fairly costly trip through the car configurator.
In fact, you may as well make the jump up to the John Cooper Works edition, which starts at $53,850 for an automatic and nabs more powerful outputs of 170kW/320Nm.
Obviously, one of the things Mini always has on its side is its visual charm. As standard, the front of the Cooper S also features bigger air intakes than the regular Cooper, a distinctive honeycomb grille, LED fog lights and headlights, an ‘S’ badge, 17-inch alloy wheels, and Union Jacks hidden in the tail-lights and headrests – just in case you forgot about the marque’s British origins.
Inside, there are distinctive pleated leather seats – a nice change from your run-of-the-mill flat leather – although they lose points in my book for being manually adjustable. The dashboard and infotainment system are cute and quirky, with playful silver control tabs and of course the bright red push-button start, which makes you feel like you’re about to launch a rocket ship.
The behind-the-wheel experience isn’t that dissimilar to a rocket ship either. The little Brit has plenty of get up and go, and there’s enough of an engine growl to satisfy wannabe race car drivers with a 0–100km/h sprint time of 6.7 seconds.
The power-assisted steering feels substantial and highly responsive, gear changes are satisfyingly swift, and the car sits low and firm to the road, leaving you confident when cornering or handling it at higher speeds. The trade-off, though, is that you’ll feel every lump and bump – something I learned when I made a brief foray onto a gravel road.
Standard infotainment and driver tech on the Cooper S includes an 8.8-inch touchscreen with in-built satellite navigation, a wireless phone charger in the armrest, wireless CarPlay (but no love for Android users yet), as well as Mini Connected services, which allow you to make emergency calls from the vehicle, ask for customer support or phone for roadside assistance.
The Mini Connected interface is linked with an app on your phone, through which you can remotely send navigation destinations to your vehicle, turn cabin ventilation on, and check the amount of petrol you’ve got left, without even leaving the house. My early experiences with this system so far suggest it’s great – when it works.
The Mini Cooper range was last tested by ANCAP in 2014, when it received a four-star rating, and since then it's been upgraded so all models receive the Driver Assistance package as standard. As such, the Mini Cooper S boasts six airbags, autonomous emergency braking with forward-collision warning, rear parking sensors, city crash mitigation and pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, speed sign recognition and an excellent reverse camera.
During our time with the Cooper S, we’ll be exploring what its diminutive footprint is like to live with. Initial investigations suggest the cramped back seat is more of a method of punishment than a viable way to transport two grown adults, but we’ll see exactly how that works on medium-to-long trips.
Additionally, is this a car for people with kids? We’ll look at whether child seats are even remotely possible (there are ISOFIX points in the back seat, after all), and whether the 211L boot is more of a token inclusion than a functional one. And tall people – how do they fare? We’ll find out.
We’ll also look at how the Mini functions as a city car in stop-start traffic, tight car parks and lacklustre suburban roads, as well as exploring how the Mini Connected interface can fit into your everyday life. Mini promises 5.5L/100km of combined fuel consumption, but we’ll put that to the test to see how it matches with real-world figures.
Finally, we’ll check out the fun factor. After all, you don’t buy a car that looks like this unless you’ve got a good sense of fun. So, can it turn me into Charlize Theron? Only time will tell.
Stay tuned to our long-termer Mini Cooper S journey, and if you have any specific questions you want answered, be sure to let us know in the comments section below.