In the Santa Cruz mountains south of San Francisco, I switch the the 2015 Mini Cooper S' drive mode to Sport and the car exclaims, "Excellent." What follows is a torture test of four squealing tires on tight twisties, ostensibly the Mini's favorite arena, the 2-liter engine sending ready power to the front wheels. BMW's British marque has equipped this model with an automatic transmission, so it isn't quite as fun as the manual, but I do find second gear is too low for the speeds I can carry through most turns.
That bit about the car saying "Excellent" wasn't just in my head. I'm running the Mission Control feature of the Mini Connected app while I drive, which serves as an Artificial Intelligence-like companion. Less "2001," more like the movie "," Mission Control is a committee made up of a female voice for the car and male voices for engine and climate control, all with British accents.
While Mission Control merely delivers some randomized responses to specific car events, I can imagine it evolving to be an active racing coach, or a means of keeping drivers attentive on long road trips.
And this Cooper S really does come with a 2-liter engine, rather than the. Mini fits these new Cooper Ses with a dual-stage turbocharged direct injection 2-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. That represents a more substantial torque increase than horsepower, but fuel economy sits at a respectable 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway for the automatic transmission-equipped model, about the same as the previous generation.
There is yet another wrinkle to stun the Minirati -- this Mini Cooper S comes with four doors and does not include the term "" in its name.
In the US, where we call this model the 2015 Mini Cooper S 4-door, the starting price is $25,100, but the example I tested came with navigation, a head-up display and panoramic moonroof, bringing the total to a pricey $35,900. That's a good chunk higher than the base $20,450 for the.
In the UK, where this model is more properly called the Mini Cooper S 5-door Hatch, the base version goes for £19,405. For a little more money, lucky Brits can opt for a diesel version, the Cooper SD. And in a land down under, Australian buyers will have to come up with AU$38,050 for the Cooper S 5-door Hatch, and a couple thousand more for all the add-on fees.
Bigger, but not better
This generation of Mini Cooper S has grown up a bit, and its extra set of doors means the whole thing is about a foot longer than the previous two-door Cooper S and weighs 200 pounds (90 kilograms) more. That larger size and weight certainly affects handling, as the Mini Cooper S is now less go-kart and more hot hatch. Even with Sport mode engaged, the steering didn't feel quite as responsive as I would have liked, showing a bit too much play as I aimed into the turns. Likewise, it felt like there was more car around me than I would expect from a Mini, insulating me from the road.
At the same time, it was ridiculously easy to get the tires squealing, amping up the excitement. I felt the extra weight in the way the car responded to initial turn-in and subsequent inputs throughout a turn. Trying out a bit of trail-braking leading into a turn, the Mini Cooper S got all out of sorts, showing no desire to kick the tail out, none of the sense of play for which the brand is known. The Mini Cooper S has become a more mature car with a comfortable everyday road character, which will likely endear it even more to the people who buy it for style, but for handling acumen I would lean towards the latest.
Switching between Sport, Green or Mid drive modes had little effect on the handling, but changed engine response considerably. In Sport, the engine sent a whole lot of grunt to the front wheels at even a quarter throttle, while in Green or Mid modes, I could modulate the power through the entire travel of the accelerator pedal.
As a further fuel-saving measure, the Mini Cooper S comes with idle stop, shutting down the engine at traffic stops. I generally like this feature because who would want to burn gasoline while sitting at a long red light? I did have to switch it off when going up one of San Francisco's notorious hills, as traffic and stop signs would have had the engine frequently restarting while also negotiating a 25 percent grade.
Mini's dual-stage turbo helps maintain fairly smooth acceleration, as it lets the engine more steadily ramp up power than a typical single-stage turbo engine. The 189 horsepower output seems like plenty for the Mini Cooper S, even if you take advantage of the rear doors to load the car with your friends. The rear seat includes lightly molded buckets, discouraging you from cramming three passengers in back, so helping performance.