ROAD TEST: Mini Cooper S five-door bursting with flavour
Style is the essence of modern Minis. Once the bastion of affordable motoring, the marque has evolved into the ultimate hipster machine.
A statement rather than pure transport, the five-door Mini was introduced for those requiring function and not just form, while the Countryman SUV is for growing families. That's a fair stretch for a brand which used to live up to its name, but Mini now sits in a premium world.
They're not for everyone. This Cooper S derivative starts from $41,150 before on-roads, and the options quickly push the price toward $50k.
Yet Minis are a premium enigma. Somehow they maintain value, and resale is impressive. They're not quite in the realm of a Toyota LandCruiser or Prado, but they bat well above the retained value average and are consistently stronger than a used Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW 1 Series or Audi A3 according to industry valuer Red Book.
Updated mid-year, the headline act was technology. It seems the target market want to be constantly connected, and latest variants come with a concierge service that enables constant support for just about anything. You can request directions from the operator, get restaurant advice or ask about shopping centre opening hours all from the confines of your Mini.
Other standard equipment includes industry leading wireless Apple CarPlay (sorry, nothing for Andorid users), 6.5-inch colour touchscreen, six-speaker sound system with digital radio, full Bluetooth connectivity, keyless start, 17-inch alloys and combination cloth-leather seat trim.
Among the new additions in this model are LED lights and Union Jack-design tail-lights.
Optional extra packs are required for the sought-after inclusions, like keyless entry, parking assist, panoramic sunroof and radar cruise control.
There is currently a limited edition 'Kensington' available wearing a burgundy metallic, leather interior trim and bigger infotainment screen and a lot of cool stuff for $54,150 drive-away.
Like vehicles from parent company BMW, all Minis have condition-based servicing requirements. So essentially, the more and harder you drive, the more frequent maintenance is required.
Servicing packs are available, with 'basic' coverage costing $1295 for five years with an annual check up. The 'plus' pack is $3650 and covers more items, like brake pads and discs as well as the clutch disc and plate.
This is the Mini sweet-spot.
Sitting below the wild John Cooper Works derivatives, the Cooper S still packs some zesty punch with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine beneath the quintessential skin.
Feeling like you're hovering just above the bitumen, there is excitement when you squeeze the throttle trigger. Mini trumpets its go-kart-like dynamics for good reason, with the heavy steering (by luxury standards) responsive and sharp.
Gripping wonderfully to the bitumen, it loves bends more than Donald Trump embraces orange.
The trade-off is a firm ride. Corrugations and sharp bumps like railway tracks will cause gritted teeth.
Various internal hues are available to suit your mood, and the cabin really comes alive at night with matching ambient lighting in the footwells, around the central display as well as across the dash and doors.
Interior space is tight, and while it's a five door, leg room is limited in the back.
With a four-star rating, the Mini comes with the basics like stability control, anti-lock brakes, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
At this price the Driver Assist Package should be standard, which features city collision mitigation, forward collision warning, high-beam assistant and speed sign recognition.
It's not the most practical of buys, but it fills the fun factor brief nicely and it shouts style. Every time I look at you I smile.
Stuff the outlay. I look good in this, it matches my personality and wardrobe.
MERCEDES-BENZ A250 SPORT FROM $55,200
A ripping little hatch with ample fun and some refined external bling. Brilliant internal set-up with dual digital screens.
VW POLO GTI FROM $30,990
Serious little weapon which doesn't match the Cooper S for style or premium appeal, but has its measure in bang for buck performance.
Remaining an acquired taste, Mini fans will love the Cooper S. Technology improvements offer a slick set-up, and the cordless Apple CarPlay is brilliant, while the British flag tail-lights offer extra flair. Brimming with personality, it'll be too loud and proud for many, but the fashion-savvy will find it utterly loveable.
AT A GLANCE
MINI COOPER S 5-DOOR
PRICE $41,150 plus on-roads (add more for options)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3-year/unlimited km, service pack $1295 for 5 years (OK)
ENGINE 2.0L 4-cyl 141kW/280Nm, 6sp manual or auto (lively)
SAFETY 4 stars, 6 airbags, reversing camera, rear parking sensors (below average, option packs add more)
THIRST 6.4 litres/100km (pretty good)
SPARE None; run-flats (not great but common)
BOOT 278 litres, rear seats do fold (small)