MINI introduces new technology, new entry-level engines and new interior visuals to three of its core ranges - namely, the 3-Door, 5-Door and Convertible models - as part of the trio's traditional midlife facelift programme, and then the company also throws in the infinite possibilities of MINI Yours Customised to further heighten the showroom appeal of its modern classic. But, not much has changed for the Cooper S hatchback... so does it still rank highly in the B-segment hot hatch marketplace?
In the Metal:
Simple stuff for the update of the 2018 MINI 3-Door, 5-Door and Convertible variants. Visually, we've got new LED daytime running lights that form complete circles in the front clusters (previously, they didn't quite meet at the bottom) and the option to have 75-point Matrix LED headlights as an option, with their fancy part-of-the-illumination-field-dipping patterns and automatic high beam. All cars now wear the new, flatter, 2D corporate 'MINI' logo (hard to spot, even when you're forewarned about it) and there are some very attractive new designs of 17-inch alloy wheel - this Cooper S 3-Door sitting on the particularly delicious Rail Spoke two-tone rims - while three new metallic body colours are brought into force. Solaris Orange is the one you can see here, while there's also Starlight Blue and Emerald Grey.
Further details include an optional Piano Black package, which renders the surrounds of the front and rear light clusters and the radiator grille in, yup, black. This can help to tone down the rather visually busy front end of the Mk3 MINI, especially in Cooper S guise, this model having a variety of scoops, bars, vents and features that can look weird in chrome. But, in essence, while we're not exactly the biggest fans of the current MINI's aesthetics (it's hardly a pretty car, now is it?), the ethos here is clearly 'if it ain't broke'. MINI sells these three body styles of vehicle by the proverbial bucket load and so mild tweaking, instead of drastic surgery, was the order of the day.
Inside, it's much the same story. There's a new design of three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, the graphics for the (optional) head-up display and the colour display in the centre console have been sharpened and the MINI Driving Modes selector is no longer that flimsy rotary collar thing at the bottom of the gear lever. Instead, it's now on a toggle switch in the array on the lower stack and when you click the car into 'Sport' mode, it no longer projects an image of a MINI with thought bubbles of rockets and go-karts rising from it. Instead, the digital MINI adopts bonnet stripes, door mirror caps and a roof, all in white. We much prefer this.
However, some of the kitsch is loaded back in, courtesy of the MINI Yours Customised line. It basically means you can have practically anything moulded or etched into various surfaces of the car, inside and out. So if you name's Monica, you can have side scuttles near the indicators on the wings that bear your moniker, if you get our drift. Fancy having your signature beamed onto the road surface near the car by puddle lights in the door mirrors? Fine, you can have that too. You can order up sill plates that read whatever you want and graphics of your favourite city skyline on the passenger-side dashpad and all manner of gewgaws that will delight and astound onlookers equally. Although perhaps steer clear of the illuminated Union Jack dash and Union Jack rear taillights of our test car, eh...?
Beyond the mind-boggling possibilities of Yours Customised, there are a few more updates. There's a new colour line for the interior, enhanced MINI Connected digital services and apps, a larger 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine for the MINI One entry-level car (replacing the old PSA-sourced 1.2 and raising torque by 10Nm to 190Nm, without affecting the power output of 102hp) and the adoption of an optional seven-speed twin-clutch automatic on the One, Cooper, Cooper S and Cooper D variants. This is called the Steptronic gearbox and that's confusing because there's an eight-speed torque-converter automatic that's standard fit on the Cooper SD, which is also called Steptronic. If, where applicable, you opt to stick with three pedals in the MINI's cabin, though, you get a six-speed manual across the board. Other than that, mechanically, the same range of turbocharged three- and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines are offered on all three MINI models, with this Cooper S remaining unchanged at 192hp and 280Nm.
And thus, with the concluding sentence of the previous section writ large in your mind, what we have to report for the MINI Cooper S hatchback's driving characteristics is... there's no difference to before. Well, how could there be? Aside from its natty Solaris Orange paintwork and the location-themed interior knickknacks that MINI's German press team had fitted to the vehicle for its launch (the sill plates read 'Welcome to Mallorca'...), this is a Mk3 Cooper S as we know it. The acceleration, top speed, economy and emissions are all broadly the same. The chassis is the same. So is the drivetrain.
However, last time out - be it because of lots of sand strewn across glassy tarmac surfaces or for other reasons of suspension set-up - the Cooper S felt a bit ill-resolved front-to-rear, with no feeling of meaningful organisation between the two axles. For the facelifted machine, we're please to tell you it's a more cohesive car. There's less push-on understeer and snap-oversteer as you try to correct the former, although the first thing the Cooper S will do when it reaches the limits of grip is wash its nose wide. However, the balance feels sweeter now and the body control is still truly excellent, the MINI demonstrating little in the way of pitch, dive or roll. The steering remains lovely (although it's lovelier in Mid mode than it is in Sport, where it becomes almost needlessly hefty in your hands), the brakes are strong and the 2.0-litre engine is strong and brawny, whether you ask it to be flexible with low-revs in-gear acceleration or you're caning it to the 6,500rpm redline through each and every ratio.
The thing is... the Cooper S feels a bit too urbane, a bit too grown-up nowadays. Oh, we truly applaud MINI for making the car much more civilised than it was in its early 2000s incarnation, with its whining power steering pump, its raucous and uncouth supercharged engine and its ride quality that appeared to have been modelled on the mannerisms of a pogo stick, but we're now at a stage where the Cooper S always feels a touch reserved at the limit. As good a handling car as it is, there's never a moment where the 192hp MINI lights the dynamic fire in the belly of its driver. It's less raw than it once was, no doubt about it, but that also means it's also a bit less thrilling when you've got the perfect road swirling away in front of the car and the devil inside you.
Undoubtedly, the improved civility of this hatchback makes the MINI Cooper S a far more appealing day-to-day prospect than its forebears, because trudging up and down a dank motorway it will be almost infinitely preferable to bouncing along in an R53 Cooper S of 15 years ago, yet at the same time, you can't help wanting a little more sparkle in the handling department. Of course, the John Cooper Works variant rectifies this excitement issue, but it's considerably costlier than the Cooper S - which, dynamically, is more of the ilk of a Volkswagen Polo GTI, rather than a Ford Fiesta ST.
What you get for your Money:
The MINI One 3-Door starts from €21,860 which is just over a €1,000an increase on the outgoing pre-facelifted Mk3 models. There are more options now, but not much in the way of extra standard kit, so in essence you get what you were always paying for - the particular sense of brio that owning a MINI brings. That does mean, especially in the 3-Door and Convertible models, that you have to sacrifice plenty in the way of rear passenger space or boot capacity in order to project such style when driving around in your MINI, but that lack of practicality has never put buyers off before.
The revised MINI Mk3 is a fine car and one which now offers even more personalisation than it ever did before, which is bound to delight aficionados of the brand no end. The Cooper S is also a very fine B-segment hot hatchback, but it's not exactly cheap, it remains a poor piece of packaging in terms of its interior space and it won't ever thrill the very keenest of drivers. However, its cultured demeanour and powerful, refined drivetrain mean there's plenty of reason to check out the revised third-generation MINI Cooper S 3-Door. As long as you tone down the chirpy cheerfulness, which some of its personalisation options teamed together would bring to the point of overload.