First Drive: 2018 Mini Cooper S

29th March 2018
Nat Barnes

Personalisation has become something of a trend word of late, especially with the recent flurry of crossovers. So it’s somewhat amusing to think that Mini has been offering this since 2000 with its various option packs and is now going one step further again.


This latest generation of the three-door hatch model will enable you to fit personalised sill kick plates, named sections in moulded plastic under the front wing indicator, your own dash design ahead of the front-seat passenger and even your own design of silhouette in the puddle light hidden in the door mirror housing.

Is this all a bit OTT and, well, a bit naff? Perhaps, but (whisper it) we rather like it and the same goes for the proliferation of Union flags inside the cabin, on the headrests and, most prominently, on the rear lights. 

This latest iteration of the three-door and Convertible get all of this as well as the arrival in this Cooper S of a new twin-clutch, seven-speed automatic with steering wheel gearchange paddles for the first time (a £1660 option). That might be akin to a wooden stake and clove of garlic to driving enthusiasts but read on.

Under the bonnet, there’s the same 2.0-litre, 192bhp petrol engine as before capable of the 0 to 60mph sprint in 6.8 seconds and onto a 146mph top speed. That new auto actually improves on the car’s average fuel economy and emissions too (47.1mpg up to 54.3mpg and 138g/km down to 119g/km).

What continues with the new Cooper S is also its great sense of driver enjoyment at every level. This latest version may have grown once more, but its sharp steering, direct turn-in into corners and reasonable feel through the steering wheel and driver’s seat remain.


Yes, for keen drivers, that feel could perhaps be improved still further, but such is the Cooper S’s driveability and its still small dimensions that you’d need to be driving some serious sports cars of possibly even twice the Mini’s price to keep sight of it on a twisty country road.

Perhaps the biggest credit too to the Cooper S is that that isn’t a result of simply one factor, but its package as a whole. The ride quality on the standard 17in alloy wheels is pretty good meaning that the car’s balance isn’t upset even on rougher roads. And while there are three driving modes available – Sport, Mid and Green – the Mid setting provides a great compromise without the harshness of the Sport setting which can sometimes see the car upset too easily. 

In short, even without going for the full-on John Cooper Works model, this version of the Mini will definitely not leave you feeling short-changed when it comes to driver enjoyment. 

It might seem somewhat incongruous to go from talking about the car’s performance to that new seven-speed automatic gearbox, but it isn’t. Ok, so few drivers wanting the first are likely at this level to consider the second, but the reality is that it’s actually surprisingly good. The twin-clutch semi-automatic is very well matched to the engine with its power delivery and, while it wouldn’t be our first choice, it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as you might imagine.

It’s a similar story inside too. There’s no doubt that BMW has nailed the interior of this latest generation Mini when it comes to build quality. This is now a very pleasant place to be and it’s easy to find a good driving position. The seats are comfortable and even the retro-style toggle switches are now easier to use on the move. 


And while the infotainment system is very intuitive, it’s annoying that the top part of its rotary controller is a touch-sensitive panel meaning that you can often initiate that by mistake when only wanting to do a simple operation such as change radio station.

Practicality-wise, the rear seats are still only really suitable for anyone pre-teenage years and the boot is pretty small against supermini rivals, but then again nobody ever bought a Mini to take to Ikea. On the Convertible version meanwhile, the roof is very well insulated but when lowered, can block quite a large amount of your rearward vision. 

These latest changes to the range, from the build quality improvements to the latest automatic gearbox and the personalisation options with the 3D printing are exactly what Mini the car and Mini the brand needs, at a time when many drivers are swamped with choice. And more than that, more than ever, this is a car that can still put a smile on your face and for that alone, we love it.

The numbers 

Engine: 1998cc, petrol

Transmission: 6 speed manual/ 7-speed twin-clutch automatic

PS/Nm (bhp/ lb ft): 194PS@5000rpm/ 300Nm@1250rpm (192bhp/ 221lb ft)

0-60mph: 6.8 seconds

Top speed: 146mph

Price: £20,630

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