Hands-on: Mini Cooper S (2014) review

The Mini Cooper is one of those cars that's a timeless classic; a car that, as Brits, we have an inevitable soft spot for. BMW's re-imagining of the Cooper back in 2001 was the right balance of the German brand's know-how without it unhinging that loveable British style. In 2014 the Mini Hatch, now in its third generation and continuing to roll out from the Oxford-based production line, maintains that important style balance but this year maxes out on the tech front.

Introducing the Mini Cooper S: the sporty, 2-litre motor that, in some respects, is as close to a "mini BMW" as you'll have ever seen. And we say that in the best sense of it: this is comfortable, sporty and showy in all the right measures but delivers an injection of personality that makes it more fun than BM's other fleet.

And we should know. After maxing out the fun-o-meter around the winding mountain roads in Mallorca for six hours it became clear that, and despite its "mini" name, that the Cooper S delivers maximum roar.

Little Big Planet

We don't know if Doctor Who drives a Mini, but the Cooper S is rather like a Tardis. The 2014 model is bigger than the previous generation Cooper by 98mm in length and 44mm in width, and while the purists may think an expanding Mini waistline is against the Cooper's very own bloodline, the car is still shorter than Volkswagen Polo. So it's small then, and yet on the inside it feels rather huge for a car in this class.

Sat in the optional leather trim seats as a passenger we had the time to play around with the Cooper S's seat positions, slipping it back as far as possible and then being unable to touch the far end of the footwell. Some first class flights don't give you that much leg room.

In the back the story's not quite so grand as the 3-door configuration squeezes available space back there. It is, however, of greater volume and with a higher head height than its predecessor - so an ongoing improvement from that point of view. Sit with the seats arranged sensibly and there's around a 25cm gap to plonk your legs which can just about accommodate. We didn't measure it with a ruler or anything, though, as we're not that organised.

Boot space is also larger than before by some 51-litres, although it's still not big. Fine for a suitcase or the week's shopping, but it's a long way shy of something like the Ford Fiesta.

Modern-day retro

But the real treat is being in the driver's seat where you couldn't care less where your shopping is going to go. The keyless start takes nothing more than a flick of a start/stop switch - that's reminiscent of the tactile retro amplifier switches - and everything gurgles into action. Very cool.

From here the Cooper S snugs you into that seat and propels you forward with pace when pressing down on the accelerator. We found the pedals somewhat long compared to what we're used to, but it all slotted into place eventually. That four-cylinder turbocharged 2-litre engine chucks out the torque by the bucketload and with the 6-speed transmission it's matched with can tug along swiftly in the mid-level gears.

Cornering in third around a steep upward bend left no sluggishness when dumping the pedal to the floor to launch down the straight road that followed. And by launch we really do mean it - that cute face is a mere distraction, as it's the S's sporty power that shines through.

Although Mini says that the 2014 line is quieter than its predecessors, we suspect that's a bit of a fib when it comes to the Cooper S. Because you want the noise, that wonderful petrol hum that, to a car head, can't help but bring a smile. Those pops and crackles from the twin exhaust and whistles from turbo kept our sporty side even happier and yet the sound was subtle enough to not grate with the ears when cruising down the motorway in 6th gear.

Mean and green

Around the gear level there's a ring that can toggle between the three driving modes: Sport, Mid and Green. Each interacts with the giant 8-inch screen to the circular centre console in different ways, illuminating the surrounding LED light to present acceleration, speed and efficiency in a fun visual form.

We keep going back to that word: fun. Because seeing a giant speedometer out the corner of your eye in Sport mode while jumping the gears and catching those rev-matched changes is the adult equivalent of revisiting your childhood and going wild on a bouncy castle.

Only the Cooper S doesn't wobble about. The supped-up model we drove came with optional variable dampeners to independently adjust the suspension in all four corners. Go Sport and it's firmer, click through to the other modes and things soften up a little, which delivered a touch of oversteer in those fast corners.

Optional is also the word when it comes to Mini. The on-the-road Cooper S price is £18,650, but add all the gadgets and gizmos to it and you'll quickly accelerate towards the £25k mark. Our particular model as shown here totalled £25,350.

Brimming with tech

Being Pocket-lint we couldn't say no to all that optional tech though. If anything this is the one area that the 2014 Mini Hatch really excels in compared to its predecessor and even if the price point is hurtling towards BMW territory, there's technology here that has clearly been ported over from its sister company with great success.

Take, for example, the iDrive-style rotational control tucked left of the driver's side, just behind the gearstick. Ok, so it's called Mini Connected in this instance, but there's plenty of that BMW feeling from within the system. That means easy control and lots of full-colour visuals on the centre screen so you can easily see what's going on and make adjustments.

Whether plugging in an iPhone to dig through your Spotify library, pinging music from your Android phone to the console via Bluetooth, adding to the 20GB internal hard drive, or making the most of the on-board satnav, the twist and press motions of the control keep everything simple. The only real thing missing here is a touchscreen interface.

At launch there will be a Mini Connected app for the iPhone too. This isn't something we played with as it's not ready just yet, but it offers cool features such as route planning in advance for set dates - simply plug the phone into the system and watch the data get extracted to set you up on the right day, at the right time.

But one of our favourite techie features - again an optional one - was the height-adjustable heads-up display (HUD) incorporated into the Cooper S. At first we thought having a small scale transparent display pop up from the dash and into the line of sight might be nothing more than a distraction, but an hour in and we were totally taken by its glance-and-know appeal. As the HUD talks to on-board cameras you'll know the current speed limit as captured from the car, while the incorporated speed and satnav instruction sections were also very handy. And it just looks totally cool - the kind of gadgety car thing you'd show to your mates.

Visual fun

We spent so much time inside the Cooper S that, at times, we forgot how much of a visual spectacle the car is from the outside. The yellow paint job and black racing stripes of this model were paired with unmistakeable bug-eye headlamps to give the 2014 Cooper S a distinct style.

It's a little more "angry" than the standard Cooper models due to a different body kit, including inlets to the front, and those optional daytime LED headlights which are a first in this car class. Every time we caught reflection of them in the panelling of cars in front it gave us a reminder of how much pizazz and personality the Cooper S has.

In Mallorca there are two things on the roads: cars and cyclists. Well, three things really: there are sheep everywhere too. And while our woollen friends didn’t bat an eyelid as we passed by in a blur of yellow, our cyclist friends certainly took an interest. While stopped and snapping some photos, a pair of British cyclists taking a break from that pain-inducing hill-climbing came to take a look at what all the fuss was about - further assurance that on an island of Porsches and BMWs that the Mini has that certain magnetising quality about it.

Custom car

But it’s the inside details that really sell the car’s future styling qualities. Mock carbon fibre panelling, light-up interior door handles which added a shade of purple to low-light proceedings, were met with mock carbon fibre and chrome elegance. And there are stacks of customisation options to choose from.

It’s this personality that makes the Cooper S what it is. It’s a little different, looks great from most angles and yet doesn’t compromise on the comfort or the drive. Dress that up with a boat load of tech and we think the sporty Cooper S gracefully continues the brand’s legacy.

The "mini BMW" of its class is, funnily enough, the Mini Cooper S. This British-born German shakes down the business seriousness sometimes associated with its parent company - and we rather love that notion. Bring on the fun.