Car review: The attractive Mini Cooper S

The new Mini retains its classless status and appeals to young and old, writes Dr Tony Rimmer.

Ask yourself why you enjoy driving cars that are a bit special - and perhaps a bit compromised - and the answer is surprisingly simple.

They deliver a certain feel-good factor. GPs work increasingly long and hard days, so sliding into a stylish, comfortable vehicle to go home is a well-deserved reward. It is even better if the drive home is fun too.

Fast facts
Mini Cooper S
Body: Four-seat hatchback, three doors
Engine: 2L turbo petrol
Power: 192bhp
Torque: 280Nm
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 6.8 sec
Top speed: 146mph
Claimed economy: Combined 49.6mpg
On the road price: £18,650

Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s remember small, affordable cars that were the staple drive for teenagers and students.

If you enjoyed driving, one car would put a smile on your face, even on the way to the exam hall - the Mini. Alec Issigonis's groundbreaking design was in production for 40 years, but inevitably had to give way to more modern designs.

Fun factor

In 2001, the Mini brand was updated and relaunched by BMW. The plan would have fallen flat if the new Mini had lost the original's cheekiness and fun factor, but through clever engineering, it retained all the positive features of the old car.

Now, 13 years after its relaunch, we have a third generation BMW Mini. So what has changed?

The latest car has an all-new modular platform that will form the base for all new versions of the Mini and some future front-wheel drive BMWs. There are frugal engines and a six-speed gearbox in all models.

The One and the Cooper have 1.2L and 1.5L three-cylinder turbo units that are very economical and the Cooper S, which I have been testing, has a larger 2L four-cylinder turbo producing 192bhp.

The three-door hatchback is the model that is most reflective of its iconic predecessor.

The instantly recognisable shape is bigger than the outgoing model and much bigger than the classic BMC Mini. Although the styling is evolutionary, the rear light clusters have become too large and the additional styling fripperies are unnecessary.

Although 16in wheels are standard, they look too small and I expect most drivers will opt for the 17in wheels, pay the extra and put up with the slightly firmer ride.

The interior is roomier and comfortable, and supportive sports seats are standard.

The wonderful dash is now more logically laid out, using higher- quality plastics. The speedometer has left the central dial, replaced by a large touch screen that can house a version of BMW's excellent iDrive sat nav and media system.

Legroom, storage space

Rear seat passengers get more legroom, but this is still no place for adults on long journeys.

The boot, tiny in the previous model, is now just small and has neat under-floor storage facilities. If you need more space, but want to retain the smart looks of the hatch, Mini has also released a five-door version for the first time. Definitely worth a £600 premium and avoids the awkward looks of the Countryman model.

The compromises on space melt into insignificance when you turn the key and head onto the road. You don't have to be on A roads to enjoy the driving; the Mini's compact size makes it ideal for nipping in and out of city traffic too. The steering remains sharp and the gearbox is a great improvement.

The ride, a real bugbear of previous models, is hugely improved by the optional Active Damper control.

The steering and handling retain enough of the trademark go-kart qualities to entertain and please in equal amounts.

Power is smooth and plentiful, and delivered without the urgency that could be tiring in previous models. Overall, driving the new Cooper S feels more like driving a Golf GTI; swift and sophisticated.

This latest Mini is an attractive option for GPs. It is bigger, better mannered and more frugal - expect up to 50mpg in the real world. It retains its classless status and appeals to young and old alike. The personalisation potential is huge, but be warned - if you get carried away with the options list, you can spend half as much again.

But don't dismiss the Cooper S. Its three-cylinder engine is a gem and you get much the same driving experience, and 60mpg.

  • Dr Rimmer is a GP in Guildford, Surrey. Follow him on Twitter @frankaboutcars

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