In a world of SUVs and ever-expanding pick-ups, driving around the city in a 2020 Mini Cooper S is something of a novelty.
Sure, you might not be able to see the traffic lights over that hulking Ranger in front, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about zipping between lanes and slotting into carparks other cars couldn’t even consider.
This is easily one of the most defining features of the Mini experience and part of its allure – getting out of it and back into an SUV, or even a sedan, can make for a rude awakening.
It’s a dream to manoeuvre in constricted streets, and the combination of its lower centre of gravity, excellent visibility and direct steering makes you feel like you can tackle anything.
U-turns at lightning speed, quick overtaking sprints, sneaky three-point turns – all those nitpicky manoeuvres feel, quite frankly, like a pleasure.
In fact, I was surprised to learn the Cooper S has a somewhat broad 11.0m turning circle, because it actually feels far smaller. Perhaps it’s just that the diminutive size makes everything feel a little more manageable.
All-round visibility is great for a small car, particularly at the side and rear, but forward visibility is slightly compromised by the low-set placement of the black-framed rear-vision mirror, which can feel a little obtrusive when you’re looking ahead.
The head-up display, on the other hand, does an excellent job of blending into the space available, offering live speed-limit information and a digital speedometer, and stowing neatly into the dash when you don’t need it.
It’s really easy to get a sense of the size and dimensions of this car incredibly quickly, so while the reverse camera and rear sensors were welcome additions, I found I rarely relied on them.
Fuel economy is where you might feel the pinch in the Mini. The brand quotes 5.5L/100km for the Cooper S for combined fuel consumption, but the final real-world consumption figure according to the trip computer after our three months of driving was 9.5L/100km.
And that was even with Mini’s Green mode MINImizer – which takes the form of a sassy fish – giving me top scores for anticipation and acceleration.
Sure, I spent a fair bit of time in stop-start traffic, but that was speckled with a healthy dose of longer-haul drives at speeds of 100km/h or more for weekend or daytrips to the country – the same kind of driving schedule I’d imagine prospective owners would be doing.
I also endeavoured to keep the idle-stop system switched on throughout, but did find it could hit the occasional operational snag in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and prove laggy and jarring when asked to turn the engine on and off regularly.
Mini targets city dwellers with hectic schedules via its Mini Connected app, which pairs your phone to your car once you create an account and add your vehicle’s specific VIN details.
Anyone familiar with BMWs will recognise this app as an iteration of the BMW ConnectedDrive interface.
Once paired and verified (via a code sent to the car), you’ll be able to access key stats from your car remotely, like its remaining fuel level (and how far it will get you), its exact location, and whether it’s locked or unlocked.
If you lose your car in a multi-level carpark, the app will let you flash its headlights, or if you head out to the driveway without your keys, you can lock or unlock the car with the app alone.
You can also remotely start ventilation on hot days – or schedule it if you know you’ll need it to kick in at a later time.
The issue with this app is that while its capabilities are certainly impressive, executing them can be slow, and often you’ll get an error message saying the action could not be completed.
When it works, it works well, but you’ll have to be prepared to hover by the car waiting for the app to communicate the lock or unlock command and, in that time, you probably could have just fetched your keys.
Plus, asking it to do more than two actions at once results in the app equivalent of throwing in the towel entirely – either a frozen screen or a never-ending ‘loading’ bar.
One feature I did appreciate, however, was the ability to input a destination on the app and send the route to your car – so you can set and forget your next trip until you're behind the wheel.
Even better, if you link the app to your diary, it will remind you when you need to leave based on live traffic conditions.
But by far the best two features are the location function and the fuel economy updates – both things you'll find yourself using regularly. I loved knowing in advance whether I needed to stop by the petrol station on my way to run an errand – it really helped me map out my day.
Mini’s infotainment system strikes the perfect balance between playful and useful. It has plenty of character, but without over-complicating things, and it’s easy to use and customise to your tastes.
The inclusion of wireless Apple CarPlay is to be applauded, but on a few occasions I found myself longing for wired CarPlay – just so I could control whether or not it was activated, rather than having it automatically kick in the second I turned the car on.
Plus, Android Auto users are left pretty hard done by, without even wired connectivity available.
Every new Mini comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, as well as three years of complimentary roadside assistance and accident management.
In terms of long-term coverage, you can buy basic upfront scheduled servicing cover for five years or 80,000km, whichever comes first, from $1495.
If you opt for the extra 'plus' cover option, this will be a one-off fee of $4031 for the same five-year period, but will add front and rear brake pad and disc renewal, wiper blade rubber renewal, and clutch disc and plate renewal (for manual models).
If you use the Mini Connected app, it will keep you updated on servicing requirements, oil changes, tyre pressure and the rest.
Reliability and build quality are topics that came up a few times from readers during our time with the Mini. I can comfortably say I faced no mechanical or technical issues whatsoever over the three-month period.
However, a couple of rattles emerged from the sunroof and rear seats in the first month of my long-term loan, and proceeded to subside and return intermittently. The plastic dashboard was also easily scratched.
For me, these small complaints were admissible because the Mini made city driving so much fun. Quick, capable and able to zip in anywhere – it’s the perfect antidote to SUV-mania.