We recently put the current Mini Cooper S through its paces in the English countryside, and had one hell of an adventure along the way. No longer cutesy, cramped, and compromised by retro-futuristic design tropes, the third-generation Cooper S has become a serious contender in the ever-competitive five-door hatch segment. What’s more, it’s one of the most fun-to-drive models in the bunch.
Here’s who should buy the Cooper S
The Cooper S may be all grown up, but it still stands apart from the pack. Short of making some severe compromises — something that isn’t likely to happen — BMW’s entry-level brand is always going to appeal to a more adventurous buyer, and frankly, that’s the kind of car buyer we like. These buyers keep carmakers honest, and are the reason why we can still buy a 189-horsepower, six-speed manual (a responsive six-speed auto is a no-cost option too) sporty car with room for kids in the back and enough room for a full trunk of groceries out back for around $25K. As long as this type of buyer is out there, Mini will be building them cars.
Inside, the Cooper S is quiet and upscale, and it doesn’t take long to notice some switchgear from its German parent brand. That’s fine with us; fit, finish, and quality of materials have been top-notch in every Mini we’ve tested. The seats are firm, supportive, and well-bolstered, and while the BMW i-Drive-based infotainment takes a little getting used to, it begins to feel like second nature within a few minutes.
And with that German DNA, the Cooper S gets much of what BMW has to offer (superlative driving dynamics, cutting-edge tech, plenty of usable power on tap) without paying the extra premium for it, and avoiding the negative “typical BMW driver” stereotypes. The Cooper S is the five-door hatch for people looking for a fun, practical, well-built, and decidedly premium-feeling car without having to drain their bank accounts.
Outside, the Cooper S won’t be mistaken for anything from any other automaker, which is something we like a lot. The Mini brand offers more options than any other brand short of Rolls-Royce (also a BMW company), and with over 10 million color, trim, and option combinations, it’s likely that you’ll never see another Cooper S quite like your own.
Here’s who shouldn’t buy one
There are plenty of people out there who like the Subaru Impreza because it holds its resale value, want the Ford Focus because they come from a Ford family, or will stick with a Volkswagen Golf forever because that’s all they’ve ever owned. A Cooper S isn’t for them. Plenty of car buyers don’t find anything fun about cars — they’re just appliances to get from A to B, and the Cooper S’s charm would likely be lost on them.
Like with any hatchback, there are practical concerns too. The Cooper S retains the compact exterior and big interior dimensions of the original, classic model, but its low ride height and eager, sporty demeanor may not be for older buyers looking for something unique. If their heart is set on a Mini, they should probably look at the taller, more upright Countryman crossover. Seeing how it’s one of the slowest-selling new cars on the market, the salesperson might even buy you dinner if you take one off his hands.
But all in all, the Cooper S is the antidote to the mind-numbing commute, a distraction from an afternoon’s worth of banal errands, and a reason to smile should you find yourself on a twisty road with no one else around. We’d say it’s the perfect example of a slow car that loves to be driven fast, but with its inline four — hell, even with the 134-horsepower inline-three found in the base Cooper — it’s plenty peppy, and just fun to drive. If you spend more time looking to take the scenic route than wondering where the next Starbucks drive-thru is, then the Cooper S is the five-door hatch for you.