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Mini Cooper S facelift: Driven

A mild mid-life spruce up for the third generation Mini, and it's more than just those rear lights!

By Matt Bird / Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Like them or loathe them, there's no escaping the fact that Minis are big business for BMW. Last year was a record for Plant Oxford, with 223,817 cars being produced there. At the current rate a new Mini is completed every 67 seconds, which is the same frequency with which another forum post is made about those rear lights.

With this being a fairly modest visual update, those half Union Jacks on the Mini's rump do rather dominate discussion. For what it's worth opinion was split on the launch event between those who like the look and those less convinced; they're certainly a talking point, which for some Mini customer may well be enough on its own.

The important facelift news has been covered before, but a brief refresh in case you only noticed the back: the larger infotainment display is now standard on all models, the range of remote and concierge services has been extended, all Minis get LED headlights and the customisation possibilities have been pushed yet further. This goes beyond some fresh trim and new colours - the Solaris Orange you see here being one of them - to now include 3D printed body parts known as Mini Yours Customised. There's more info in this video and the website, but essentially Yours Customised should allow Mini buyers to add truly individual parts to their car while retaining originality (because they can be swapped, apparently simply, for the standard bits). It's innovative and it's different, and at €150 for a dash insert Mini Yours Customised looks like being a good money maker too.

Argh, there already. Why is it Minis still attract more cynicism from enthusiasts than seemingly any other? Perhaps it is the focus on extras like Yours Customised for this facelift rather than any significant mechanical changes. That being said, this F56-generation Cooper S was described as a "great little car" on PH at launch, and it still boasts competitive numbers for the segment. Indeed the Mini has another 500cc on the new Fiesta ST, plus more torque. So could it be simply that the cars around the Mini needed to catch up?

Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, no - not really. The 2.0-litre turbo remains a fairly plain engine, notable for its outright performance and mid-range guts and not, sadly, anything more emotive. While clearly a rather rudimentary solution, the PH long term Mini Works 210 childishly circumvents the problem with a fantastically naughty exhaust. It's a minor change but a significant one, because the theatre provided by the pipes distracts attention from the fact it ain't much of a revver.

Speaking of minor changes, driving this facelifted car back to back with 'our' 210 shows the importance of wheels and tyres to a Mini. (Yes, this discussion again.) Because to get the snazzier 18-inch wheel option, you must still take a run-flat Pirelli Cinturato P7 - the 210 on 17s runs a P Zero. And even before driving, comparing the tyres on Pirelli's website makes for interesting reading. The Cinturato is a "green performance tyre", designed to "guarantee savings, respect for the environment, comfort and safety on all road surfaces." Hmm. The P Zero, on the other hand, is described by its maker as "a milestone in the development of the Pirelli range." Work has gone into the structural integrity of the tyre to improve steering response - "essential in sports driving", says Pirelli, and we would agree - and the asymmetric tread pattern aims to enhance handling and control.

With the same 205-section width on both the 17- and 18-inch wheel, the reality of the two Minis is as you might predict from the adverts. The incisiveness and directness of the 210 is mushier and fuzzier on the changed tyre, accompanied by a lumpier ride that we'd blame in equal parts on the additional wheel mass and the stiffer sidewall. It isn't catastrophic, but it is noticeable. If you care about how your Mini looks, then it's easy to see how the new design of 18s might appeal. If you are concerned about driving the Mini however, then we implore you to get the 17-inch wheel.

It's particularly frustrating because there's an especially good chassis under the Mini's aloofness. Having a multi-link rear axle - still not commonplace in the class - gives it composure and stability, the damping is assured and there's still just enough agility, even in this spec, to make it feel tangibly Mini-like.

Of course the pay off for this perhaps tame back road behaviour is a more mature Mini than ever on every other highway and byway. It still does the shrink wrapped luxury car thing better than any other, which probably explains the popularity and most certainly justifies the facelift focus on materials, colours and options. That torque and a light gearbox makes overtaking easier (the new DCT wasn't yet available to test), the new displays are sharper than ever and it still feels like a stylish cabin, even four years on.

By and large, therefore, it's as you were for the Mini Mk3 then because, well, the numbers show it's most certainly working. If it ain't broke then just add some new options, right? There's that cynicism once more. Considerately specced - i.e. with as much concern for your driving enjoyment as looks and resale - then there remains a classy, entertaining and fast hot hatch here, one that appeals on an everyday level more than ever thanks to the equipment refresh. There's a suspicion, however, that those of a more PH mindset may have their needs better catered for by something like a Polo GTI.


Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 192@4,700-6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 206@1,250-4,500rpm (221lb ft on overboost)
0-62mph: 6.8 sec
Top speed: 146mph
Weight: 1,235kg (DIN)
MPG: 47.1
CO2: 138g/km
Price: £20,630





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