The result is that the Cooper S is one of the most tossable sport compacts that we've tested. Throw the little hatchback's steering wheel back and forth and it'll quite simply go where you point it. Steering is involved and communicative, but not twitchy. Toss in a little trail braking while rounding a bend and the S will corner like a "Tron" light cycle, rotating eagerly and controllably within its short wheelbase. However, get on the power too soon and the Cooper will respond with understeer like a good FWD car.
Interestingly, Mini offers a sport suspension package and a limited slip differential for $500 each, which should further enhance the Cooper S' darty handling.
At 9/10ths, the Mini somehow manages to feel planted and dynamic at the same time, but what's really odd is that the Cooper S feels like a much better car when driven like a maniac. It's much easier to forgive the hard shifts and a rough ride when you're zipping around mountain pass with a huge grin on your face, but those same traits make the Cooper S tiring during trips to the grocers.
In S trim with the automatic transmission, the Cooper's EPA estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. After a week spent nearly entirely in Sport mode, being flogged around every bend and away from every stoplight, our fuel economy settled around 26 to 27 mpg.
Mayfair 50th anniversary edition
Our 2010 Mini Cooper S is equipped with the Mayfair package, one of two special editions celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mini nameplate. The Mayfair package adds special Hot Chocolate Metallic paint, a Toffee-colored interior with brown pinstriped trim on the dashboard and wing mirrors, chrome interior and exterior trim, and Mayfair and Mini 50th badges and livery. The package also adds driving lamps, fog lights, and xenon headlights to brighten your path in any driving condition.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels and the dynamic traction control (DTC) system are the only performance upgrades for this package.
Also available is a more tech-focused Camden package, which rolls in the Bluetooth and iPod adapter, Satellite Radio, Harman Kardon premium audio, 17-inch wheels, and DTC system. The Camden also includes its own exclusive interior and exterior color combos, xenon headlamps (but no driving lamps), and Camden/Mini 50th badges.
The Camden edition also includes an odd exclusive feature called Mission Control, which is an audible feedback system that replaces the Mini's various beeps and chimes with spoken alerts from three characters: Coach, Engine, and Safety. For example, if you forget to put on your seatbelt, Safety will say, "Hey, don't forget to buckle up." If you carry a lot of speed around a bend, Engine may shout, "Whoopee!" or something to that effect. We've seen the system in action and quite frankly it seems rather annoying. Fortunately, Mission Control is defeatable.
Mini prices the Mayfair and Camden packages at $4,500, but that price doesn't include the $500 charge for the special metallic paint that is part of each package, bringing the total for either edition to $5,000.
Our experiences with the diminutive Mini Cooper S varied wildly over our testing period.
One moment we'd be experiencing sheer joy as we rocketed through turn after turn of a winding mountain road, and in the next moment we'd be raging against Mini's interior designers over the oddball placement of the cabin controls. We'd praise the Cooper S' power and tossability in one setting, and criticize its harsh suspension and laggy turbo in another. We loved the Cooper's small footprint and easy parkability, but its $30,000 price tag ($25,000 without the special Mayfair package) about the same similarly sized VW GTI, which offers more interior volume and better cabin technology than the Mini.
This is the nature of the Mini Cooper S. It's not a vehicle that is all things to all people. You either love the Cooper S or hate it, often in the same breath, but there's nothing boring about it.
The 2010 Mini Cooper S starts at $23,000 (including a $700 destination charge), but that price rapidly inflates with the myriad options Mini offers. Tack on $5,000 for our tester's Mayfair package, $1,250 for the automatic transmission, and $500 each for keyless entry and Bluetooth/USB, and you'll come to our as-tested price of $30,250. That's a pretty penny for a car that's smaller than the Honda Fit.
Given the run of Mini's options list, we'd skip the $4,500 special edition packaging, as it's mostly just appearance upgrades, and add on the $1,250 sport package and the $2,000 navigation system, nabbing the performance and the tech we like for between $28,250 and $29,500--depending on whether you want to shift your own gears.