The secret diary of a motoring journalist aged 39¾'ish


3rd December 2018

There’s always plenty of discussion about the modern Mini size, looks and shape, but the one talking point everyone brings up with the facelifted model are the rear lights. That Union Jack design divides opinion as sharply as Brexit and it’s as personal a choice too. They don’t bother me and I can’t see them from the driver’s seat, but I have noticed in the rear-view mirror a couple of other drivers pointing. Still, gets them talking, if nothing else.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 8
There’s a new seven-speed DCT twin-clutch available for the facelifted Cooper S, but I’m very glad this car arrived with the manual six-speeder. It’s a peach and crackles through the cogs with quick, precise movements. There’s also rev-matching as you change down a gear, so it balances engine and road speed to perfection and makes cross-country blasts every inch the fun ride it should be in a Mini bearing this name.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 10
The Cooper S is quick enough with 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds, which is Fiesta ST pace. It feels brisker, though, on many of the bendy A-roads in my neck of the woods as the Mini delivers peak torque of 221lb ft from just 1250rpm so that it just pulls and pulls. This means you can be as lazy or focused as you like: either way you cover ground at a quick lick thanks to secure, vice-free handling.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 7
A zip around Edinburgh today shows up the one element of the Mini Cooper S that I’m not wholly satisfied with and that’s the steering. Compared to the crispness of a Ford Fiesta ST, the Cooper S’s just misses that last degree of accuracy for placing the car into and through a bend. For many, it’s a compromise worth it for the car’s super all-round abilities, but keen drivers will notice it.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 9
A jaunt over the scenic Duke’s Pass today to try some Hondas and among the new models are a few heritage models. I walked straight past the NSXs and made for this 1975 Civic in all its vivid yellow glory. The 1.2-litre engine and four-speed manual gearbox are still up to the job of modern traffic and it feels surprisingly modern. Little wonder this Japanese machine did so much to make the original Mini look very dated in period.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 1
A new touchscreen is part of the latest Mini and this one has the £2000 optional Navigation Plus Pack. Worth the outlay? Just for nav, no, but you do also get lots of other extras included and it’s an easy system to use. Part of that is a wider 8.8-inch screen that makes it easier to see on-screen directions, while the outer ring glows in different colours to let you know how efficiently or otherwise your driving is.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 11
A day of mixed driving to take in rugby with my son, the supermarket sweep where the Mini boot copes just fine, and a back road run to see a friend. It’s the ideal chance to try out the Driving Modes button that’s part of the £2000 Chili Pack. Most buyers will choose this and you can feel the difference in throttle response and engine note when the Sport setting is engaged. Just makes me wonder if it shouldn’t be the default choice for the Cooper S.
Secret diary - 3rd December 2018 - Mini Cooper S - image 3