Since we last road tested a Mini 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.

This extraordinarily expensive and complicated strategy will take years to play out, but today the firm need only 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.

Top 5 Pocket rockets

  • Ford Fiesta ST
    Can the Fiesta ST be one of the great fast Fords?

    Ford Fiesta ST

    1
  • Mini Cooper S
    The new Mini Cooper S is powered by a 189bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine

    Mini Cooper S

    2
  • Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy
    Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy costs from £21,780

    Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy

    3
  • Peugeot 208 GTi 30th
    Easy to live with, easy to enjoy and quick in a straight line, the 208 is the best GTi Peugeot has built in a decade

    Peugeot 208 GTi 30th

    4
  • Audi S1
    The Audi S1 packs a transversely mounted 228bhp four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine

    Audi S1

    5

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    4 May 2016
    The new Edge SUV is looking to steal sales from BMW and Audi, but has it got enough of an edge to make that happen?
  • First Drive
    3 May 2016
    New entry-level 1.8 TFSI engine takes over from Audi's 2.0 TFSI as the cheapest way into a TT Roadster, but is it necessarily the best choice?
  • First Drive
    3 May 2016
    Audi's SQ7 is silly fast, and makes a silly noise, at a silly price – but contains tech that will prove incredibly influential
  • First Drive
    2 May 2016
    There's lots of work yet to be done, but the Aston Martin DB11's hardware has been signed-off. To experience it, we've driven a prototype
  • First Drive
    1 May 2016
    If you like Minis, going quickly and basking in the sun, then you're in luck; we've driven Mini's new John Cooper Works Convertible on foreign roads