Johannesburg - The Mini Cooper S is arguably one of the best hot hatchbacks on sale in South Africa when it comes to providing sheer driver-seat thrills. But, it does come with quirks.

Take for instance this quirk; the latest five-door model we had on test last week said Cooper S on the boot lid, but its alloy wheels said John Cooper Works on the centre caps.

Odd, right, because there’s an actual 170+kW John Cooper Works model for sale in the Mini line up.

This additional badging strikes me as the Mini marketing folk trying to cash-in, in an M-badge-on-a-320i kind of way. Nevertheless, it looks hot and odd at the same time with chiselled bumpers, deep air dams and racing stripes that add a nice flavour to the car’s look.

Inside the car, the seats are so plush you’d think the Mini design team raided the BMW 7 Series parts bin to get their hands on the seat- and door-cover materials.

Our car was even fitted with a heads-up display if you find that the centre-mount instrument cluster on the dashboard to be positioned too far left of the driver’s seat.

New Minis are ‘connected’ too, with apps like Spotify for music, a concierge service to help you with car-service queries, satellite radio capability if you like to stream overseas music channels and the ability to use your smartphone to connect the car to the internet to browse the web.

As a techno-fest, luxury-infused, premium car it certainly ticks all the boxes that a modern Mini customer (or any car buyer for that matter) would want to be ticked.

I was, however, shocked when I glanced at the spec sheet provided with our test car, which showed that it cost a shade under R600 000 (with options). And, I can tell you that the price also startled a few people in Drive360 the office (including some of my friends who drive older generation Mini hatchbacks).

But let’s not get stuck on the price of the new Mini Cooper S five-door with John Cooper Works styling pack; let’s unpack what you get for your money, first.

All new Minis come with LED headlights with Matrix function for the high beam as well as LED rear lights in a ‘Union Jack’ design. You’ll also spot a refreshed Mini logo, new body finishes and piano black treatment on particular elements around the outside of the car (like the boot lid on our test car). Our car also projected a sharp and crisp Mini logo on the floor when the car was unlocked. It’s a great way to illuminate puddles and remember what make of vehicle you drive.

There’s a refreshed range of alloy wheels available, but the 18-inch units fitted to the test car are the ones to go for when appointing your new car. It looks sporty, but because it still runs a reasonable 205-section tyre, there’s not much road noise when compared to hot hatches running 225 or 235-section rubber on the rims.

A seven-speed Steptronic transmission with a double clutch system was fitted to our test car and although I did miss a clutch pedal and manual shift selector the DCT box is simply sublime to work with. In fact, I’d consider this auto box as one of those must-have options when building your new Mini, as it gives the car genuine day-to-day capabilities considering traffic congestion. (No more burnt-clutch smell is a blessing too).

Unlike the Renault Clio R.S.18 we had on test a few weeks ago, the Mini Cooper S (in Sport mode) always finds itself in the right gear for the moment, and when you pull on a paddle behind the steering wheel or tip the gear lever between the front seats it shifts up or down without hesitation. It gives the driver the confidence to overtake safely and provides a genuine connection with the car when driving spiritedly because it does what you ask it to do.

Powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Mini Cooper S boasts one of the largest engine displacements in its class. It’s fantastic to have this ‘large’ engine with a hefty torque characteristic up front pulling you through the gears. It feels like there’s a never-ending wave of torque available, and you don’t have to rev the life out of it to go quickly.

Power is rated at 141kW and torque at 300Nm, but it feels like it has more grunt than that thanks to the way accelerates. It also helps that you sit low, with a low dashboard in front of you and with a nice heavy-weighted steering wheel in your hands. It’ll hit 100km/h from a standstill in a claimed 6.8 seconds, so it is indeed a properly fast little car too.

Mini hatchbacks are known to be rather harsh in terms of ride comfort, but this test car actually drove surprisingly comfortably on its low-profile tyres and sports suspension. Tyres are run-flat too, so you do get a decent size boot that’s large enough for a weekend getaway with a partner. And, it can work as a runaround car, thanks to the five-door layout and the ISOFIX compatibility it offers. But, again, it’s rather pricey to use as a runaround and you’ll need to consider roof racks if you cycle or carry outdoor gear on the weekends.

Priced at R459 780 in starter-pack format, if you can call it that at this price level, the Cooper S comes lavishly equipped in standard trim, but once you start adding things like the John Cooper Works pack, and a heads-up display, panoramic sunroof, etc. you can quickly get to the R598-odd thousand asking price of the model we drove.

You’ll be pleased to note, though, that if you do part with cash for a Mini Cooper S of your own, you’ll also receive a five-year/100 000km Motorplan maintenance contract that works in a similar manner to BMW’s Motorplan (covering service and particular wear-and-tear items on the car).

VERDICT

I love the ‘new’ Mini, quirks and all. In terms of premium feel in a hatch, the bar has been raised when it comes to technology and you can really feel the research and development (that honed in feeling) when driving this latest iteration.

But, it is expensive, considering that an equally fast VW Polo GTI will cost less than R400 000, maybe a shade more if you take a few (rare) options. If, however, you have a decent budget for a new car, go test drive a Cooper S before you sign any OTPs this weekend.

Drive360