Driven: 2021 MINI Cooper S

MINI recently launched their new 3-door, 5-door and convertible models. I know this because I was there.

We were presented a lineup of three-door hatches to choose from, both regular Coopers and the more fiery S models. I quickly snatched the keys to a Rooftop Grey (oddly beige and metallic) Cooper S figuring I liked it the best. Also, that I would enjoy the 141kW from its two-litre turbo 4-cyl more than the 3-cyl on offer in the base car.

The MINI has always been a small car. It’s the Alec Issigonis creation that turned front-wheel drive into a masterclass of compact living thanks to well, turning the engine 90 degrees laterally in the engine bay. Hello legroom, and hello also to chuckable dynamics and go-kart like handling. But this is 2021 and that ship has sailed because hell, no go-kart weighed over 1.2 tons. Instead, the MINI Cooper S is a competent hot-hatch with an engaging drive, plush-enough ride and that’s just fine.

In terms of its restyle, the facelift is mild. Pleasant mind you, thanks to a cleaner aesthetic. Purer, so less chrome than before, scaled back styling and minimal clutter, fore and aft. The focus is on the hexagonal grille, new seven-spoke milled wheel designs. At the rear, further efforts have gone into the reduction of fussy lines, with a bold emphasis on the wide rear bumper and those Union Jack LED lamps, now standard. The Cooper S boasts an optional adaptive suspension now, so that’s new. Then unseen in its AI brain there’s also lane departure warning, and cruise control and more.

The cabin is distinctly MINI, dominated by a massive (lazer-engraved) circle in the centre of the dash. There’s new decor here, and fewer switches than ever before – holding true to that new minimalist buzz. Also present, a new high-gloss mirror finishing to some of the surfaces and a leather wheel comes standard, as does an 8-inch instrument screen ahead of the driver. Naturally, I sought out the Sport toggle, flipped it and plunged the gear selector into Drive. And I was off like a tiny bat out of hell.

I’ve already mentioned the 141kW spewing forth from its two-litre heart, but there’s a torquey 320Nm of twist that accompanies it, making its presence felt on the front wheels. It’s been mated to a 7-speed Steptronic sports transmission, complete with double-clutch and shift paddles. This is a tried and tested formula, fun and energetic but it’s not going to surprise and delight you. Not in 2021, when hot hatches often breach the 200kW mark. So, this is no GTI or GR rival. Summarily, it’s a quick, comfortable cruiser that will put a smile on your face and considering the price of admission is R100,000 less than those aforementioned whips, well. I think that’s fair.

The MINI Cooper S has a sticker price of R533,400 and there’s nothing else quite like it. For alternative retro vibes, there’s the puny Fiat 500. Performance, yeah you’ve got some options. But none as iconic as the Cooper S.

This is the Cooper SE. We also had some bonus time with it, the electric iteration, albeit just as a display in the Nirox Sculpture Park. And a great place for it – the marque possesses what is still arguably the most iconic badge. One that is close to my heart because as I’ve mentioned before, my first car was a bullnose Mini Cooper but that’s a different story. My favourite part however sits on top. Always innovating, meet the multitone roof. It features a ‘wet on wet’ paint job, so no two roofs are the same. Adorable!

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