As a child, the first car I can remember was a Mini Cooper S. It was my mother’s car. She also rode a 500cc Matchless motorbike. She wasn’t your average mother.
The interior door handle was a piece of string – a standard fitment. You yanked it to release the catch. The heater was an optional extra. Seat belts hadn’t been thought about yet. It drank engine oil as fast as petrol. Activation of the main beam headlights was by pressing a button on the floor with left your foot.
To aid starting, you had to pull a spring-loaded knob and then twist it to hold it in place. It was called a choke (remember those?). Unfortunately the twisting mechanism used to wear out so, to prevent it from springing back, she used a splinter of wood to jam it into position. Driving required a fair amount of juggling.
Within three years, it was covered in rust. It was, like most British cars of the time, hopelessly unreliable.
I’m glad to report that our family still has a MINI Cooper S (capital letters now) and, as it celebrates its tenth birthday, it burns no oil, never misses a beat, hasn’t got a speck of rust on it and still has its original exhaust and battery.
The MINI is still British built but the company’s owners are now BMW which, if you want a reliable, well-built MINI has been a terrific move.
The Cooper S is still the one to go for if you want grin-a-minute motoring
Last year, the MINI celebrated its 60th year in production and the Cooper S is still the one to go for if you want grin-a-minute motoring. It’s a hoot to drive, largely thanks to the fact that the latest MINI has stuck to the original’s tried-and-tested formula first penned by Sir Alec Issigonis. Stick the wheels as far as possible into each corner of the car, give it a low centre of gravity and make sure there’s plenty of power. You also need loads of ‘feel’ through the steering wheel and a snicky gearbox that allows for quick changes.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre 192hp four-cylinder engine, which allows a zero-60mph time of a shade over 6 seconds. Go easily (unlikely) and you’ll manage around 43 mpg. You can opt for an automatic gearbox but we prefer the six-speed manual for no other reason that it suits the car’s sporty nature.
Prices for the MINI Cooper S start at £20,925. You get all of the modern-day essentials like air con, decent audio system, electric windows and a stack of safety kit, but it’s very easy to bump-up the price considerably by dipping into the extensive options list. Want some stripes on the bonnet? That’ll be £150 thank you. Sat nav package? £900. We would recommend the adaptive suspension pack (£600) which gives you the option of softening the ride. The standard ride is fine for those of you who like a firm-ish ride, but there are times on a long journey when it’s nice to enjoy smoother progress. When I compare the ride on the latest Cooper S with our ten-year old model, the ride is outstanding.
If you need to make things easier for rear-seat passengers, try the five-door Cooper S. If you need additional space, then go for the Clubman or Countryman (although, they ain’t exactly lookers). There’s also the very smart convertible for those who like to be seen and, if you want full-fat thrills, go for the 306hp John Cooper Works version which gives you a 4.9-second sprint to 60mph.
The driving sensation is wonderful: compact dimensions, comfy yet supportive seats, and a real point-and-squirt power delivery, mean that the MINI in standard form is huge fun, but chuck into the mix a lump of power and tuned suspension, and you have a car that really does make you want to climb out of bed on a Sunday morning and go for a drive, just for the hell of it. Few cars provide that level of driver enjoyment for such an approachable price.
OK, the three-door hatchback is tight in the back and there’s not a lot of baggage or cabin storage space, but if you need more room and carrying capacity there are other options in the range which don’t really dilute the fun factor.
If you want to buy a car that provides serious driver thrills, then the MINI Cooper S has to be on your list. It’s a hoot.
See more at mini.co.uk