Mini Cooper S: Test Drive (with sports suspension)
07 February 2007
|Key Rival:|| RenaultSport Clio 197|
It's rare to drive a 175PS turbocharged supermini and walk away praising its sensible business case. In fact, it's unprecedented.
BMW's remarkable building job with the Mini brand has now entered phase two, and the second-generation car has lost none of its predecessor's charm. You could say too much of it's still there - drive through London in the all-new Mini and not a head will turn. It looks just too same-again and no-one cares, or even notices.
Which is a shame, because buyers of such a fashion-conscious brand wouldn't need much prodding towards a new model if the old one looked out of date. But it doesn't, and you'd struggle to tell which is which without parking them side by side.
But your bank balance will spot the difference. Check out the cost per mile, CO2 and MPG figures of the Mini versus its rivals below. The Peugeot only comes close because it's a 150PS version; we'll see how far away the true Cooper S rival is when the 207 GTi launches this summer.
But it's not all good news. Though Mini claims to have increased both the rear space and boot space, neither is anything other than tiny. The cabin's much improved, however, with the first car's nasty cheap plastics replaced by better quality materials. Amazingly, though, a £16,000 Cooper S doesn't come with air conditioning as standard (it's an £890 option), but our car was fitted as one of the 11 elements that make up the £1875 Chili option pack. We also went for more £2000-worth of options, taking it past the £20,000 mark, but it never felt over-specced.
On the road, the first thing thrust to your attention is the atrocious ride quality. Everyone that drove the car commented on finding new bumps and potholes on their road that they never knew existed. We're not sure if it's the standard run-flat tyres, the optional sports suspension or a nasty combination of both, but it's among the worst-riding cars anyone here has ever driven.
Otherwise, the Mini's almost go-kart-like handling remains, although the steering's been dulled a little compared with the excellent first BMW Mini. It's also deceptively rapid, and although it feels quick under acceleration, you'll frequently find you're going even quicker than you thought. And when the road gets slightly greasy, prepare for what will be an almost strobe-light effect from the traction control light unless you're feather-light on the throttle.
It's both a shame and a huge blessing that the biggest advances Mini has made with the new Cooper S are financial. The multiple BusinessCar award winner is better than ever as a corporate tool, but spend some time making sure you get the right specification.