Purchased new in October 2014, the second I jumped behind the wheel of the Cooper S I knew it was the one for me. After having driven a few other 'hot hatches' (RS Clio Cup, Abarth 500, Peugeot 208 GTI) none compared to the thrilling performance the Cooper S offered. I always knew the Fiesta ST was the ultimate choice when it came to capturing the essence of the hot hatch, but having just owned a limited run Fiesta Metal (which was brilliant), I wanted to go for something outside the Ford family.
When buying one of these cars, the first thing you'll notice is the extensive (and expensive) options list. As tempting as some of the extra goodies were, I couldn't stomach the obnoxious pricing and settled on a select few extras that I thought were decent value, or simply just wanted too much:
- LED Headlights with DRLs ($1,200)
- Premium navigation system (Only $200 on the Cooper S as it already has the upgraded media interface)
- Privacy glass ($500 inc. matching tint on front two windows)
- Bonnet stripes ($400 - yikes!)
- Volcanic orange paint (no cost)
- Black 17 inch wheels (no cost)
- Black roof and mirror caps (no cost)
- Sports cloth seats (no cost)
Though most of the options I went for were cosmetic, they definitely make the car stand out on the road.
I've now covered 2,000km and the engine and gearbox are freeing up nicely. Though quite notchy and stiff for the first few hundred km, the 6 speed manual is now an absolute delight, with a nicely weighted, short shift and, for the lazier driver, a rev matching function on downshifts. At first I found it annoying as I'm perfectly capable of rev matching myself when I want to, but not being able to figure out how to switch it off meant I had to live with it and fortunately it's now become a seamless part of the driving experience. Another handy feature is the gearshift indicator that appears in the instrument display in front of the driver - very useful when wanting to shift for economy as opposed to performance.
The engine is an absolute gem too. The 2.0 turbo doesn't put out a huge amount of power for the size (141kw/280nm) but is effortless in its delivery with the whole 280nm available at just 1,250rpm. As you'd expect with the torque available, it's quite a linear engine and doesn't require a lot of revs to get moving.
The drive mode select feature really helps bring the best out of the engine though. Since I've owned it almost all the driving has been done in Sport mode, which sharpens the throttle, adds more weight to the steering and amplifies the acoustics from the engine and exhaust. And oh what a noise it makes! The exhaust bangs and pops on the overrun and the almost aftermarket-sounding blow-off valve is a constant reminder of the turbo at play under the bonnet.
From a handling point of view, it's up there with the previous Ford Fiesta Metal I owned, though falls slightly short once you push it to its limits. Also, whatever you do, when buying one of these make sure it comes with the Dunlop SP Sport tyres and not the sub-par Hankooks. From what I've heard, the Hankooks do the handling no favours, so worth specifying to the dealer you want the Dunlops in lieu if you're serious about getting the best out of it.
Ride quality is firm but more than acceptable for it's intended purpose, with big bumps being kept out of the cabin and small imperfections in the road surface masked.
Moving to the interior, the materials quality is decent with the most-used surfaces being made from soft-touch plastics. The sports seats are great and come with extra under-thigh support which is helpful on long drives. Most of the controls fall logically to hand, with the steering wheel offering the usual cruise / media controls, and for everything else there is the central dial mounted down between the driver and passenger seats. The dial feels premium in the hand and also has a touchpad on top which allows you to write commands for things like the sat nav or address book. The media system is borrowed straight from the BMW stable, so again feels premium, and MINI have put a 'fun' twist on the graphics and interface to better suit the target demographic. The Driving Excitement display would have to be my personal favourite.
The biggest criticism of the interior is the quality of fit and finish. While most of the materials are decent in quality, how they are all put together is not. There are a number of rattles coming from various parts of the interior, especially the driver's door. The most annoying is a vibration from what sounds like the glovebox under a very particular driving condition. 3rd gear, moderate to heavy throttle when pulling from lower in the rev range and right on queue a rattle emanates from the passenger-side dash. While these are relatively minor niggles, it's still a dampener on the ownership experience and not something fitting of a supposedly premium model.
As for servicing, the 12 month or 15,000km intervals are decent enough and it is capped price. The car's on-board computer also has a handy feature to alert you if any part of the car should require servicing sooner than the prescribed interval.
So overall, the Cooper S is everything I was looking for in a hot hatch - strong performance, engaging drive, well featured and with loads of character. If you're looking for the same things, the Cooper S is well worth a look.