There is no denying the current-generation Mini Cooper has grown in stature and morphed into a C-segment-sized car, and that’s before the towering Countryman is brought into the picture.
It is an inevitable evolution that most cars’ successors will be larger than their predecessors and laden with more technology than before.
Even with the swell in size, the three-door and five-door variants of the Mini Cooper still offer those corner-hugging antics of their predecessors should you push the performance envelope, but it is in refinement that the model has truly moved upstream.
We recently travelled to the Western Cape to take a closer look at the updated Mini Cooper models, which include new engine and transmission combinations, an extended range of standard features, newly designed headlights and rear lights, additional body finishes and the latest connectivity technology for convenience and infotainment.
Styling wise, the new optional LED headlights include more distinctive full circular LED daytime running lights.
It is the rear that cuts the most distinct departure, with the LED tail lights innards resembling the Union Jack.
New sets of alloy wheels are on offer, while customisation can include bespoke inserts for the indicators and on the cabin fascia on the passenger side that should bode well for those who want to put their own touch to the vehicle.
As before, the range kicks off with the Mini One, which now has a more powerful 1.5l three-cylinder turbocharged engine pushing out 74kW and 190Nm.
The Cooper – the sweet spot in the range in my opinion – still packs 100kW and 220Nm from its 1.5l three-cylinder turbo powerplant. The engine is now paired with a smooth-shifting seven-speed dual clutch transmission, which replaces the previous six-speed automatic.
The Cooper S has the 2.0l four-cylinder turbo engine, which still pushes out 141kW and 320Nm, although now through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
For those who still relish three pedals and changing gears themselves, the six-speed manual remains available as standard across the entire range.
We spent time at the wheel of the Mini Cooper in five-door body form and the Cooper S in three-door form. The former, without doubt, will continue to be the more practical proposition by virtue of its two extra rear doors, but interestingly it sells in similar numbers as its three-door sibling, which is about 50 units a month.
The thrumming, three-cylinder engine in the Cooper has more than sufficient poke for any application, while the new transmission feels better suited to this engine, dispatching quick and almost imperceptible gear changes.
Also thanks to its lighter engine, it feels more agile through tight corners and has an overall relatively fleeting disposition compared to the Cooper S. Granted, the Cooper S has more grunt in a straight line, but I am not convinced it is the sharper handling model.
In fact, it feels more matured to a point that it will likely appeal to someone who might consider the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but not particularly its dime-a-dozen stature.
Driving through some of the most beautiful roads in the world, it is evident the Western Cape is blessed with a series of sinewy, mostly pristine bitumen – perfect for exploiting a vehicle’s dynamic prowess, or any shortcomings.
While both models held their own through the coiling tarmac we subjected them to, the Cooper is the crisper handler, the one that delivers more of those hallmark Mini handling attributes.
No John Cooper Works (JCW) performance version is available with new updates yet, but you can order a Cooper S with the JCW sports kit, which includes 18-inch alloy wheels, door sill lettering and firmer suspension.
A word of advice, though, is not to order this package if you dread an overly firm suspension, as the model I drove at the launch jarred over speed bumps and road dips. I might be getting a bit old, but the firmness of that suspension was rather prominent.
The updates to the new Mini Cooper and Cooper S are enough to keep the range not only fresh, but also able to drum up more interest for potential buyers to have a second look.
Pricing for the updated Mini Cooper range starts at R302,300 for the Mini One three-door, going up to R511,600 for the three-door JCW.