The Mini’s new-found maturity and breadth of ability leave their mark here, too. As far as the driving experience goes, a Mini remains an eccentric and fairly committed prospect, and a Cooper S is more eccentric than most Minis.
But unlike with previous generations, the Cooper S doesn’t now feel like a car you could only keep for a year or two before your patience ran out. That’s because – assuming you choose the Variable Damper Control – you can give it a much less wearing dynamic character than you ever could before.
Being not just short in the wheelbase but also short on suspension travel, the Mini still gets sucked into bumps you wouldn’t notice in larger cars, and if they’re medium-size or large ones, it’ll inevitably pitch fore and aft harder than some. But select Comfort mode and there is compliance and absorbency in the chassis and a certain sense of pragmatic measure in the ride quality that makes the car much calmer over long distances.
We’d leave the dampers in Comfort for fast cross-country use, too, the bump absorption it provides being vastly preferable to the trolley-jack stiffness of Sport. Press on and there’s some excess weight, positivity and directness in the steering, along with some bump and torque steer to contend with – all of which makes the car seem darting and energetic when changing direction, but most of it is slightly unhelpful if all you want to do is guide the car precisely. But none of this stops you having fun.
Grip and balance are both strong, traction is much better than in older Minis and there’s never any shortage of charm or interactivity about anything the car does.
There's plenty of circuit pace, too. A bit too much for the brakes to rein in, in fact, with the car’s pedal beginning to go long and its stopping power tailing off after five laps. In something weighing only 1265kg, that surprised us.
Brake fade apart, the car coped well with MIRA’s handling circuits. In dry conditions it had abundant lateral grip and cornering power. It’s not as sweetly balanced as a Fiesta ST when that lateral grip begins to run short, but it’s better balanced than the average fast supermini.
Tucking the car’s nose in to an apex is best achieved by trail braking slightly and overcoming the chassis’ slight bias towards understeer. The challenge then is not to over-correct, given that the car has quite a high rate of yaw anyway, along with plenty of weight, speed and reactivity in the steering.