First Drive: Mini Cooper S

It's finally reached UK shores and we've driven the cracking Cooper S in UK specification. Matt Kimberley, Press Association Motoring Writer

What’s new? Mini’s customers have told the company they want more refinement, more space and a more grown-up feel. This all-new generation Mini pretty much dwarfs the old one when placed side by side, but while there still isn’t masses of interior space there’s a hidden compartment under the boot floor for more pacticality. This Cooper S now has 189bhp and is the only Mini hatchback (until the SD arrives) to use a four-cylinder engine. It has more punch than the old car and, thanks to different suspension tuning, feels a lot more straight-line stable. There’s a new injection of refinement, too, so the new S can sit at motoway speeds all day and be no more tiring than a day on a Majorcan beach. General comfort has seen a similar shot in the arm, and you get the sense that the Cooper S is now a better everyday car than ever. Looks and image Okay, so the front end styling might be fussier than a WAG at a L’Oreal counter, but the aggressive over-design here is actually aimed at men. In an animalistic sort of way the Cooper S does look good in your rear-view mirror, especially with black bonnet stripes. The Mini hatchback’s image has always been ox-strong. It’s found less room to breathe over recent times with competitors closing in like sharks around the Mini’s territory, but while in some ways the car now holds less sway over its target market it’s still a massively desirable model. Space and practicality Despite the new Mini body’s chunkier dimensions, interior space isn’t much improved. There’s more shoulder room in the rear, but there’s still so little legroom that for adults it’s pretty much off-limits unless the driver sits really close to the steering wheel. The boot is 51 litres larger courtesy of an under-floor compartment, but even a pair of small bags pushes the limits of the available space. For all its new-found maturity it’s still a car designed for young people with no practicality demands. There are two small gloveboxes though, which are handy for bits and pieces. Behind the wheel The ultra-3D dashboard and centre console are Marmite features but the dark plastics are really well screwed together for an overall feeling of premium loveliness. The displays are all as clear as Arizona skies and can show about a million different data readouts between them. Refinement is astonishing. This is the quietest Mini hatch there’s ever been by a country(man) mile. The softer suspension is a relative revelation, too: it’s just so much less demanding in normal driving. The changes, which also extend to the accurate but now anodyne steering, have dulled the full-attack driving experience if you switch into Lemming Mode and hit the twisties, but it’s still limpet-grippy and can cover winding roads with good speed. The Cooper S has simply grown up and moved on. Value for money At the list price of £18,650 the upmarket-feeling S looks like decent value, but add a few essential and desirable options and the price can approach an eye-watering £25,000. For many thousands less there are more entertaining drivers’ cars, but none that scratch that unique Mini itch that so many buyers in this corner of the market feel. Who would buy one? The Mini Cooper S is still a car to buy with the heart, so younger (or younger at heart) , more impulsive or design-led buyers will snap it up as the Mini hatchback flagship. People looking for Mini style in a quick but relaxed and refined package will love it. This car summed up in a single word: Matured If this car was a…: pudding it would be vanilla sponge cake: infinitely customisable to individual tastes and extremely easy to get on with. FACTS AT A GLANCE Mini Cooper S, from £18,650 on the road Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 189bhp and 207lb.ft Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels Performance: Top speed 146mph, 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds Economy: 49.6mpg combined Emissions: 133g/km of CO2