Since we last road tested a three-door Mini or even a Cooper S, BMW has introduced an entire family around its famous British sub-brand and expanded its domestic operation to suit.

It has been an impressive journey, and one easily significant enough for successive British governments to fawn over.

But the Cooper S’s replacement is the harbinger of even deeper ambition, underpinned as it is by an all-new modular platform that will form the basis of not only a refreshed Mini line-up but also a new generation of front-drive BMWs - started by the third generation three-door hatch, then the five-door, before spawning the new Clubman and Convertible, as well as the BMW X1. Next on the list will be the 2017 Mini Countryman and the next generation 1 Series.

This extraordinarily expensive and complicated strategy will take years to play out, but currently the firm only needed to ensure that the hatchback – still very much the centre of its Mini universe – has been satisfactorily replaced.

The previous Cooper S was dinky, twitchy and tenacious, which was great when you were in the mood but wearisome when you weren’t. It embodied much of what the Mini stood for, so if its shortcomings – such as space, comfort and fit – have been addressed with its strengths preserved, BMW can consider the first hurdle in a bright future triumphantly cleared.

The original Mini Cooper S was developed by John Cooper alongside the motorsport version of the original car, using, most famously, a 1275cc engine. BMW seized on the concept, and the model has been a feature of the modern Mini line-up since its inception.

The first modern-day Cooper S featured a supercharged 1.6-litre Tritec engine, replaced in 2006 by a turbo unit co-developed with PSA. The Cooper S nameplate, which typically plays second fiddle to the JCW badge, has since been shared across the Mini line-up.

So is this third-generation Mini Cooper S as fun to drive as its predecessor? Our comprehensive road test will reveal all.

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