We see it multiple times a day. A TV or online ad, an advertorial designed to look like a review while scrolling through social media on our phone or tablet, a full page spread in a lifestyle magazine or likewise for those who still read newspapers, a big screen while waiting for the train or a smaller one inside an elevator. However it gets fed to us, it’s the same basic promotion by some brand saying whatever we buy will make our lives better, improve our state of health and wellbeing, enhance our status, and just generally make us happier.
In my experience, most of these claims simply aren’t true, but when it comes to anything wearing the winged MINI badge, there just might be a case for truth in advertising.
Of course, we’d all need to buy into the belief that whatever makes us smile also improves our mental and physical condition; that a fast, fun, cool, environmentally hip car could actually make us sexier; and that feeling really good at least a couple of times a day will inevitably help us shake the blues. Call it MINI therapy, but after 14 years of covering the British brand, including 19 personal reviews and many more acting as an engaged editor, plus yet another weeklong drive in a new 2016 model, this one pumped up with Cooper S performance and made more livable thanks to five doors instead of three, I’ve done more than just drink the Kool-Aid.
As if I didn’t already have a stupid grin of anticipation on my face when first eyeing my Deep Blue and white-striped tester, learning MINI had increased its fun factor with a 6-speed manual gearbox pushed me over the top.
This DIY mixer transforms the MINI Cooper S 5 door from a fun-loving sporty hatch into a more serious performance model, with takeoffs feeling quicker and overall engine response more enthusiastic, the clutch take-up light yet providing ample push back, and the shifter absolutely wonderful, with flickable short-throw feel and positive, notchy engagement combined with all the control that comes by modulating the three pedals below.
At the opposite end of the go-fast spectrum, the larger S brakes are superb with nominal fade even when overused to the point of abuse. Handling is beyond brilliant, my loaner’s 195/55R16 tires amply grippy for heroic feats of lateral acceleration, although I’d love to try this car with a set of summer performance tires. Either way, its stiffer new UKL1 front-wheel drive platform architecture, which underpins all new and upcoming MINI cars as well as a number of BMWs, does a better job of combining legendary MINI cornering prowess with ride comfort. The longer wheelbase also provides better high-speed stability with less dive and squat.
The heart of any new MINI Cooper S is the recently updated twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder, which sends out 189 horsepower (+8) and 207 lb-ft of torque (+30) to the front wheels. I likely don’t need to remind you this subcompact hatchback is hardly a heavyweight at 1,313 kilos as tested (1,329 kg with the 6-speed autobox).
There’s no hit on fuel economy between the 3- and 5-door models, both MINI Cooper S cars achieving the same 10.0L/100km city and 7.0L/100km highway ratings when fitted with the manual transmission (9.8 and 7.0 with the automatic). These are impressive numbers when taking into account the available performance. Credit goes to MINI’s standard engine start/stop system, although I had it in Sport mode so much that I wouldn't have realized it was there if it didn’t default to its more efficient programming each time I started it up.
MINI includes a toggle switch to shut auto start/stop off if you’d rather keep it in Green mode to save fuel while still enjoying the percolating exhaust at idle ― a switch that’s situated amid an entire row of chromed toggles for everything from turning the traction control off to starting the car, the “push-button” ignition system transitioned to a much cooler bright red toggle.
You see, it’s not only MINI Cooper S performance that’ll make you smile. It’s the artful touches, thoughtful conveniences, and refined quality of the entire package. MINI likes to consider itself a premium brand, which makes sense considering it’s wholly owned by BMW. Yet it makes more sense after taking a seat inside and having a look and feel around. All MINIs house phenomenal interiors with fabric-wrapped roof pillars. What’s more, the A-pillars in my tester were interrupted by embedded tweeters that come as part of a stellar-sounding Harman Kardon audio system (optional).
The front sport seats in the 2016 MINI Cooper S 5 door are expectedly supportive and wonderfully comfortable, albeit firm. That’s how I happen to like it, while I especially appreciated how they hugged my backside in place during hard cornering. Extendable cushions offer additional support for longer-legged drivers.
Standard MINI Cooper S 5 door features not yet mentioned include 16” Loop Spoke silver alloys, 294mm front brake discs, heated power side mirrors, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic sport steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, MINI’s multi-coloured “Excitement Lights”, air conditioning, MINI Driving Modes, Performance Control (which counteracts understeer before reaching threshold cornering levels for more neutral, balanced responsiveness), and much more for just $26,990 plus freight and fees.
My tester also featured multiple packages and standalone items such as a sport-tuned suspension, active dampers, adaptive cornering, auto on/off LED headlights, LED fog lamps, proximity access, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic HVAC, a head-up display unit, upgraded infotainment with a rear-view camera, navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, MINI Connected apps, heated seats, a panoramic sunroof, a rear parking sonar, full self-parking, and more. Talk about a luxurious hot hatch!
I like the 5-door body style a lot, the slightly abbreviated rear doors giving the car a funky look along with easier access to a roomier bench with three seatbelts. The Cooper S incorporates a beefier front valance than the base model with a large lower centre vent plus big brake ducts on each side. The hood scoop adds yet more aggression, while the rear bumper gets a black mesh insert with twin chrome-tipped tailpipes at centre. Nothing new here, but it’s all nicely done.
With respect to cargo space, the 2016 MINI Cooper S 5 door’s extra length allows 32 more litres behind its 60/40-split rear seatbacks compared to the Cooper S 3 door, for a total of 278 litres. Drop them down and you’ll gain an even greater advantage of 210 litres for a maximum of 941. That’s a big difference in life-hauling space.
Yes, MINI is an evolving brand for a changing world, the vast majority of its new owners having very little in common with those who bought into Sir Alec Issigonis’ initial vision in the early 1960s. Then again, while new MINIs are much larger than the tiny original, the fun-loving brand manages to add a modicum of joy to the mundanities of life.
So, the next time you see an ad for one of MINI’s new models, smile and appreciate that there really is some honesty left in advertising. A little money well spent truly can buy moments of happiness, to be enjoyed at least a couple of times per day.