Driven - Mini Cooper S 2009

Here's the conundrum that the new Mini designers must have had: how do you update a retro design? While it looks virtually the same as the previous model "new" Mini, the latest Mini is completely new inside and out. Various factors have dictated the need for this including pedestrian crash safety requirements and manufacturing costs. Many people will never know it's a completely new car.

The latest version of the Cooper S has a new motor with a turbocharger instead of a supercharger as fitted to its predecessor.

The hot Cooper S version is all about fun. Which it has by the bucketload. The ride is quite hard, but it corners beautifully flat. Big 17-inch wheels with low-profile tyres help - and look the part. The engine is punchy and the 6-speed box is a pleasure to use. The only criticism is that there's ample torque-steer…

The engineers have come up with something to tackle this, which gives more turbo boost in second gear and upwards. Dubbed 'Overboost' it is really to mask the torque steer which in first gear would be problematic.

There are all the luxury goodies you'd expect plus a truly huge options list. Standard fittings include hill-hold facility, six airbags, stability and traction control. Our test car had the twin glass sunroof which opens up the interior very nicely.

The cockpit design is even more extreme in its 'circley' theme than in earlier models. To my mind, it's a it over the top, and something of a novelty I'd tire of quickly. It's spacious enough though, and with the windscreen set so far forward of the driver, it feels even more spacious.

The boot, not surprisingly, is quite small - but with the rear seat flipped down, there's a useful load lugging space.

I've since tested the diesel engine version, which aside from its very impressive economy, is hard to pin down. Why would buyers in Australia want it? Sure, it looks and handles as well as any Mini, performance isn't bad and it's record-breakingly frugal, but I'm not sure many people in Australia buy the new Mini for reasons of economy.

Buy a Mini Cooper S because it's so much fun to drive, not for the changeable colour mood lighting inside…

Engine Type: 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 128kW
Torque: 240Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual (automatic optional)
Performance: Top speed 225 km/h, 0-100 km/h 5.7 seconds
Price: $46,750 at time of review
Photos & text - Paul Blank (copyright)

Above: Unique Mini circley interior                                         I drove this Mini Cooper S in the Classic Adelaide Rally