As far as describing what this car is about, there is only one word to say: FUN. Everything about the car’s character will put a constant smile on your face, and that is something many, much faster, cars will fail to do.
As a car, the Cooper drives like a go-kart. It is very light and nimble when maneuvering, and that means it’s quite easy to place in traffic or any parking spot in town. Front wheel drive, a determent to many cars, is perfect for the Cooper because it’s so small. It is one of the few cars where I can actually say that I prefer front wheel drive. Through corners the Mini handles as you may imagine–extremely well. Speed-wise, it’s not what I would call really fast, but it certainly isn’t slow. It’s quick enough to have fun and get in trouble to be sure, and when you do wind it out the whining sound from that supercharger is just addictive. In the “fun to drive” department, the Mini Cooper S gets a 10/10 in my book.
All performance and driving excitement is great, but what really makes the Mini appealing is how practical and economical it is. In my opinion, the Cooper S may be the best hot hatch you can buy in the States (Europe has more options). It will see high 20s to mid 30s in the fuel mileage department, and has plenty of space for people and things despite its size. I can attest personally that the back seat is not useless as many might think.
Anyone who has seen The Italian Job remake knows how awesome these cars can be when modified. The aftermarket for the Cooper is solid with parts available from many manufacturers, including Mini’s tuner, John Cooper Works (JCW). Parts aren’t the cheapest due to the fact that it’s a European car, but I would say it would be similar to a VW GTI in costs. The stock 163bhp does move the car well, but with a bit more under the hood the Mini will really come alive. From what I have heard, internal parts on the motor need to be replaced in the low 200whp range, however given the car’s low weight you shouldn’t really need more than that in order to have plenty of fun. This is not the car to by if you are power-hungry. Basic modifications to the intake, exhaust, supercharger, etc should yield enough fun for most, especially when mixed with some solid suspension upgrades.
All in all the Mini Cooper S is a fantastic buy for anyone who needs both practicality and fun in their life. It is available in both automatic and manual, but in my opinion it is a sin to forgo the clutch pedal in any Cooper. Prices range from around $7500 for one with many miles to the low $20k range. I personally would look for a solid deal and not go over $15k even for a perfect car because there is just too many for far less money. If you are looking for a Mini and are deciding if you want the “S” or the standard version, I will tell you it is silly to not buy the S if you have the money for it, and prices are overlapped at this point. That supercharger only adds a great deal to the experience of the car, and what a blast the Cooper S is. You cannot go wrong with this car at all, it is fantastic at all levels.