It’s been discussed, to an exhausting length, that American’s don’t like hatchbacks or wagons. No one really has an answer as to why, but we ‘Mericans just don’t like them. It’s because of this hatred for hatchback vehicles, we don’t get the lovely BMW M135i hatchback, or any of the 1 Series hatches. Many enthusiasts are deeply upset by this, as the aforementioned hatches are considered to be some of the most entertaining BMWs currently on sale. If you’re one of those enthusiasts, don’t fret because BMW actually does sell a hot hatch in America. It just doesn’t have a BMW logo on it — The MINI Cooper S.
Owned by BMW, MINI now sells its Cooper S with a B48 BMW engine under its hood. It’s the very same engine, in fact, that will be in the upcoming BMW 330i LCI. Having sampled this engine recently, in the Cooper S 4-Door, I can vouch for its broad powerband and BMW-like refinement. It has more than enough power to entertain and can motivate the Cooper S to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. That’s plenty quick enough for a hot hatch. The sound it makes is also throaty and aggressive. So the Cooper S is definitely exciting to drive.
What surprises most about the Cooper S is how BMW-like it feels. The interior is massively upgraded from previous MINIs and has a very upscale feel. It really does feel like a BMW on the inside. The materials are excellent, the seats are supportive and comfortable and the build quality is top-notch, something that’s plagued MINIs in the past. The design is also miles ahead of previous attempts by MINI. The whole interior looks better, feels better and has vastly improved ergonomics, all thanks to the expertise of parent company BMW.
Something else that stands out about the Cooper S, especially when compared to previous MINIs, is how it feels far more upscale than its price would suggest. With a starting price of $24,000, you would think that the Cooper S’ drive and overall feel would befit that of a car in the same price range as a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. However, it feels positively upscale. During my week with the Cooper S 4-Door, I truly had to remind myself that it only costs in the mid $20k range. It easily feels like it costs $5,000 – $10,000 more. Everything, from interior switches to the ‘thump’ of the doors closing feels like a BMW 3 Series, not a hatchback that costs as much as an Accord Coupe. Even the steering felt lovely, with the perfect weighting and decent feedback.
Which brings me to my next point — the way the car handles. The Cooper S is genuinely fun to drive. It can put a smile on your face with the smallest prod of the throttle or quick turn of the steering wheel. The steering is meaty and turn-in is aggressive. Front end grip is surprisingly good for a front-wheel drive car and very seldom does it understeer. Torque steer was only an issue under pedal-to-floor acceleration from a dead stop. Otherwise, the front end remained stable and the front wheels rarely tugged the car out of line. Though the 2015 Cooper and Cooper S are quite a bit bigger than previous MINIs, with the 4-Door not really being very mini, they’re still small enough to toss around like a go-kart. But the added size means room in the back for smallish adults and kids and that the trunk is quite large. So it’s more practical without losing any of the fun.
The point is, BMW fans want very badly for BMW to come out with a hot hatch for the American market. But as it turns out, there’s already a hot hatch with similar performance, handling, comfort, practicality and quality that comes from BMW and even uses a BMW engine. It just wears a MINI badge instead of a blue and white roundel.