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[NEWS] Mini Cooper S 3-door hatch 2021 UK review

Mini Cooper S 3-door hatch 2021 UK review

1 Mini Cooper S 2021 UK FD hero front

Latest generation of the three-door hot hatch has been refreshed but retains all of its familiar character

This is the latest version of the Mini, making its debut almost exactly 20 years to the day since the first BMW-engineered version of the car first appeared as a 21st century reinterpretation of the original Sir Alec Issigonis icon. Much ink was spent at the time pondering whether this Anglo-German creation could ever be a true ‘Mini’, but the reality is that it sparked a huge success story – one that went from a single model to a globally recognised brand whose line-up now includes crossovers, estate cars, PHEVs and EVs.Yet at the heart of the line-up has always been the standard Mini: the simple three-door hatchback that comes closest to distilling the essence of that famous original, and remains the most popular, making up around 50% of production at the Oxford factory. Now approaching six years old, this generation of the model (along with the five-door and convertible) has been treated to a mid-life refresh. Nothing major - just a nip here and a tuck there - but it comes at a poignant time, shortly after Mini revealed that it would be the first brand in the BMW Group to go all-electric. With Mini's last new internal-combustion-engined vehicle slated for launch in 2025, bosses claim the whole Mini line-up will be electrified by the early 2030s, so while this isn’t the last chance to grab an old-school Mini, this refreshed car certainly represents the beginning of the end for the firm’s four-stroke fun.As ever, there’s a wide range of engines and trims to choose from, but Minis tend to make the most sense when sticking to the keep-it-simple maxim. So that means, for our first taste, we’re sticking with that three-door body and plumping for the middle-ranking Cooper S, which historically has delivered the best blend of performance and price. So what’s new? Well, the bulk of the changes have been reserved for the exterior styling and, as is always the case today, the infotainment system. At the front is a wider and lower bumper design that aims to give the car a more aggressive stance, which it does, while a similar exercise at the rear also includes the addition (on Cooper S and JCW models) of a cartoonishly large diffuser either side of the trademark, centre-exit twin exhaust pipes. There's also a trio of new colours, including the retina-wilting Zesty Yellow on convertible models, and clearly the Mini procurement department got a good deal on gloss piano black trim because it’s everywhere on our Sport-spec test car. (There are also entry-level Classic and all-singing and all-dancing Exclusive versions.) The headlight internals and surrounds, front grille, door handles, badges, filler cap and door mirror caps are all dripping in the stuff.Inside, there’s more piano black, especially surrounding the updated infotainment screen, which is set in the familiar circular housing in the centre of the dash. It retains a similar 8.8in display as before, but the graphics have a higher resolution, while the operating system is new and faster acting. You can also customise the display and add widgets for quick access. It all works well, particularly when using the handy rotary controller, but the display is starting to look small beside the current fashion for ever-bigger tablet-style interfaces.Particularly welcome is the new three-spoke steering wheel, which is great to hold and covered in soft leather that feels like it’s been sourced from BMW’s supplier, while the gloss black (natch) multifunction controls are larger and easier to use. Sitting behind the wheel is the same digital dial pack that was first seen last year on the Mini Electric - although in reality it's a hybrid display. The rev counter is actually analogue masquerading as TFT, the illusion being shattered only when direct sunlight falls on its tinted display.And, of course, there’s the expected upgrade of the driver aids, with the optional Driving Assistant Pack adding a ‘stop and go’ function to the adaptive cruise control, plus lane departure warning. Also new are the upgrades to the Mini smartphone app. Not only does it feature the usual location and status services (such as fuel level or, on the Electric version, range), but you can now share access to the car with up to 10 people. Give them permission and they can unlock, start and drive the car as and when you don’t need it.Mechanically, the only real change is the adoption of a new damper design. Called Intelligent Adaptive Suspension (standard on Sport-spec cars like ours and £400 on others), it’s arguably less sophisticated than the electronically controlled selectable set-up on the outgoing car. Essentially, it’s a similar system to that already seen on the Ford Fiesta ST, with a passive frequency-selective set-up that can open a valve in the damper in as little as 50 milliseconds to reduce damping forces by up to 50% during the fastest and most violent wheel impacts with the road.

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