Over at Parkers.co.uk, they’re running a Mini Cooper S for six months as part of their long-term fleet and this meant it was the perfect opportunity to see how it stacked up against our small hot hatch.
You can read how they’re getting on with it here, but it was the perfect opportunity to bring it back home this weekend to see how it stacked up against our own Fiesta ST-2.
Yes, I know it’ll take a lot to convince me away from a Fiesta ST in general, but I’ve not experienced any form of Cooper S until now.
I remember reading about the this generation MINI Cooper S in a magazine back in 2014, when it was in group tested against the previous-generation Ford Fiesta ST – the latter being a car I’d just ordered at the time.
Unfortunately for me in that instance, the MINI beat the Fiesta, and even though that outcome didn’t make me rethink about where I’d put my money, I understood the reasoning for it; the Cooper S served up a decent amount of fun while being a refined product overall. Cabin space aside, this tiny block-shaped hatch was difficult to argue against as an everyday proposition.
In 2018, a new Fiesta ST arrived on the scene… and subsequently, on my driveway. With a fresh new three-cylinder engine and a more modern interior, is the Fiesta ST a more rounded car to rival the MINI? Or is it the same fun-focussed formula as before?
We’ll start with the good bits about the MINI. The first point is, you can still have it in three-door form – something you can’t have on the Renault Clio 200 and VW Polo GTI.
OK, so it’s not an essential buying point for some, but the option to have a three door hatchback has been dwindling over the recent years and, for some of us who don’t need the practicality, having rear doors are both redundant and a compromise on how simple a car can look.
Both the Ford Fiesta and MINI are great for this.
While we’re on the topic of practicality, there’s obviously less cabin space inside the MINI, for both rear passengers and luggage in the boot, but the low-slung seating position is certainly a novelty, harking back to the original version.
The rotary control on the iDrive is awkwardly inverse, so turning clockwise actually results in an upward scroll of the menu. That said, it’s better than most touchscreen applications and avoids the issue I sometimes have of pressing the incorrect button as I bounce around on the Fiesta’s firmer suspension setup.
Otherwise, the rest of the MINI’s cabin feels more solid and looks more upmarket. I love the simplicity of the steering wheel controls as well, especially compared to the Fiesta’s shotgunned button-fest on offer. Plus, the lack of vibrations transmitted through the seats and driver’s controls lend an air of tranquillity in the Cooper S the Fiesta can only dream of. In short, it feels like they spent more time engineering the MINI’s refinement.
The seats on this model brighten up the cabin and look far more luxurious than the Ford’s Recaros, too, although on longer journeys I did find myself getting a little restless – perhaps the thinner padding and lack of bolstering could be the issue here.
Elsewhere, the ambient lighting won a few fans over the weekend and there’s a greater level of customisation to make your Cooper S stand out.
The not so good:
That clutch pedal. It could be my weird body proportions and it could be my angle of attack, but I can’t seem to master smooth gearchanges with this pedal for the majority of the time; the biting point is a bit too abrupt, no matter what I try. Also, even though the throw for the manual gearbox is quite short, the gearlever itself is too tall, so it’s not quite as direct as I’ve become used to on the Fiesta.
Unlike the higher-spec models, you don’t have a switchable exhaust setting, meaning it’s not quite loud enough when the mood suits. This does make our Cooper S a grown up alternative over the JCW version and works well if you’re looking for that kind of balance.
The upright windscreen reminds me of my old Defender and it’s brutal for bugs, while the infotainment screen itself is a tad too small, with Apple Carplay struggling to scroll far down into my playlists.
Taking the rough with the smooth: which one would I have?
The MINI’s extra refinement is both good and bad depending on what you want. I can imagine the vibrations in the Fiesta being a bit tiresome when you’re knackered, but if anything, the sense of urgency wakes me up a little.
The Fiesta ST bounces around a lot of the time and is more juvenile in the way it handles and deals with each journey; attacking every corner with more drama (probably on three wheels). The MINI on the other hand, firmly keeps all wheels on the ground with its square stance and go-kart-like character. The Mini’s 192hp engine might be a touch down on power, but it’s so much smoother and its larger-capacity engine doesn’t seem so reliant on turbocharging too, feeling a little more effortless.
Overall, it’s more composed, a little less flustered, less exciting, but it’s also just a nice place to spend time in. This not-so-MINI hatch still serves its purpose well since I first read about it all those years back.
For me, I’ll continue to stick with the Fiesta ST. Purely for kicks. The Ford still has its little quirks but for the smile it puts on my face, I’ll be heading for that one. Call me childish, but you’ve probably realised I’m willing to trade a little comfort in return for lunacy. Hopefully that’s not my life motto.