MF Review: The MINI Mayfair Cooper S

With the 2011 MINI almost upon us we thought it was time for a last look at the best of the R56 Cooper S. Four years ago we pronounced it the best MINI yet and I promptly sold my own R53 Cooper S to buy one. Since then we’ve seen the JCW introduced, cold start issues, and all sorts of new options and packages added to the car. But what remains is a package that has aged well in most ways. Nevermind the pedantic R53 vs R56 debate, the 2010 MINI Cooper S is a compelling product that is selling as well as ever.

This was also a chance for me to step back into a stock MINI for the first time in over a year. It would give me a chance to give a fresh take on the car that inspired me to create this site.

MINI Mayfair

Our test car came equipped with the Mayfair package and was finished in Hot Chocolate on the outside and Toffee leather on the inside. Looking at the options sheet there weren’t many things it didn’t have except the two most important luxury items in my mind; the navigation and sunroof. Unfortunately that also means it had the dreaded Aisin 6 speed automatic transmission. Automatic debate aside, there is no question that the R56 Cooper S has a different (and decidedly more laid back) character with the torque converter box. We’ve detailed why we don’t like the idea of an automatic in a MINI for over seven years on MotoringFile and we won’t go through it all again here. Suffice to say sucks a little bit of the soul out of an incredibly fun car.

One area that has garnered a fair share of criticism is the stock suspension on the R56 (which came on our test car). But what some fail to mention is that it’s unquestionably more forgiving livable than the R53’s old set-up but it’s also clearly more aggressive than any other $23K sporty car I’ve ever driven. In fact it felt easily more sharp and rewarding than the X5 M I had just tested for BimmerFile. Yes apples to oranges but sometimes it’s worth remembering just how good a stock MCS feels.

MINI Mayfair

Come to think of it I’d likely opt for either the stock suspension or the JCW suspension if I was ordering a new MINI. To me the Sport suspension doesn’t do the comfort or the sport as well as either and I’d prefer to embrace one of the two directions rather than having a solution great and neither.

Ah the handling. This is where the MINI shines more than any mass market car I’ve ever driven under $50,000. It’s astonishing how much fun 30 mph is in a MINI. It’s equivalent to 90 mph in an M3 and 120 mph in something like a BMW X5 M. It’s honest in its simplicity and the thing that so many of us love but can’t quite express in words. The word go-kart comes to mind but in reality there’s much more to it. It’s the package or good brakes, acceleration and a small package. It’s an attitude and nothing expresses it better than what you feel at the apex of a 90 degree corner.

MINI Mayfair

Key to this is feel. It’s also the one let-down in the entire performance equation for the R56. With the sport button engaged the car gives a appropriate level of feedback and in turn gave me tons of confidence. Nevermind that the weight was a little light for me, it generally felt great. You’d expect that turning on the sport buttons would add more of everything we enthusiasts love. Yes it sharpens the throttle (a well executed touch) and adds needed weight to the steering. However along with those improvements it also adds an unnecessary filter that dulls the steering and the feedback. It’s interesting to note that is bothers me more now than it did on my own R56. Some of that could be down to my car having the JCW suspension and 18″ OZ wheels and ultra high performance tires. However I couldn’t help but feel let down by a button that promises everything I would expect to love.

Sport button aside the 2010 MCS we tested was flawless. No rattles, good build quality and the attractive Mayfair package made my week with it fantastic. I’m not sure if I’d personally opt for the Mayfair options package (I’d spend my money on something more sporting like the JCW engine kit and suspension or just the JCW itself) but it’s nothing if not smartly appointed and attractive. That said the Camden feels a bit superior in look and technology.

MINI Mayfair

Speaking of technology the radio interface continues to annoy and frankly confuse. I’ve driven countless examples of the R56 and anyone without the Nav has an interface that is a confusing mess of buttons and knobs that (no matter how many times I use) befuddles me. 2011 can’t come soon enough.

So this review is meant to close out the first chapter of the R56. It was a car introduced to take MINI to new heights in sales and customer satisfaction. While it may lack a few character points so loved from the previous generation, it has introduced an entire new group of consumer to the MINI in a way that BMW could never have dreamed of doing with the previous generation. In fact with its efficiency and weight loss (yes it’s lighter than the R53) it has lived up to the Mini brand exceptionally well.

When we look back on 2010 I believe it’ll be easy to identify this year as a turning point for MINI. The brand is on the cusp of introducing three new models (the R60 crossover, R58 Coupe and R59 Roadster) in the next two years and about to embark on an aggressive strategy that will see many new variants and a complete maturation of the brand. And that makes this 2010 Cooper S pretty special. It’s the car that launched the brand into this new realm of a real car company. Hard to argue that the R56 and in turn this Cooper S isn’t a complete success.

As long as they fix these damn radio controls.

Full Gallery

  • Great review Gabe. Couldn’t agree more. Especially that the radio interface sucks. I have an 02 S and an 08 Clubbie. The stereo interface on the 2nd gen cars is really bad, and the base response of the stock stereo is pretty bad as well.

    Anyway, well balanced review.


  • that.guy
    While it may lack a few character points so loved from the previous generation, it has introduced an entire new group of consumer to the MINI in a way that BMW could never have dreamed of doing with the previous generation.

    Whachu talkin bout Willis? Pleez splain. Which group of consumers could BMW have never dreamed of introducing to the MINI with the first generation car and why?

  • that.guy
    We’ve detailed why we don’t like the idea of an automatic in a MINI for over seven years.

    Word. Me too. Remember when the S was only available with a 6-speed Getrag? That was awesome. Adding a slushbox to the S rang the death knell.

  • that.guy
    …in the next two years and about to embark on an aggressive strategy that will see many new variants and a complete maturation of the brand.

    I think you meant to write: “a complete dilution of the brand.”

  • Jas

    2010 was good, 2011 will be so wow…i cant wait for that. This review was well put, and why MINI is just so MINI!

  • Bill in Iowa

    It’s not a dilution of the brand because if Mini doesn’t expand, it will die the death that it died in the USA in the 70’s. One car doesn’t make it in this economy. Plus, the new coupe and roadster will definately have a niche. They will be lighter, and with even the power available today, much quicker. As for the Countryman, we still have to see about that one, but with the Countryman, Mini can get back into competition with the all wheel drive. Anyway, I still like the basic Mini the best and that’s what I’ll get in November.

  • Really great photos Gabe…well done

  • GABE…”While it may lack a few character points so loved from the previous generation, it has introduced an entire new group of consumer to the MINI in a way that BMW could never have dreamed of doing with the previous generation.” THATGUY….”Whachu talkin bout Willis? Pleez splain. Which group of consumers could BMW have never dreamed of introducing to the MINI with the first generation car and why?”

    @THATGUY… Seems quite clear to me the point he made. The early MINI were a bit rough around the edges whereas the next gens smoothed those edges for the general population and BMW had more than a “cult” hit on it’s hands.

    I still love my ’04 MCS but having driven a next gen Clubby I see the differences but find the next gen MINI’s leave me a bit wondering if I’ll buy a Fiat 500 Abarth as my next car, if and when they ever arrive in the USA.

    I recently drove a friends GP from Florida to California now that’s a MINI a guy could lust over! Thanks Ian it was a thrill, all 2,700 miles of it.

  • goat

    Good review as always Gabe and agree it is good to step back and take another look at the MINI “as currently sold” once in a while. My own recent R56 impressions match this review: In helping a friend shop for a car recently, none of the cars in this price range (or above it within several thousand) come close to the same “natural handling ability + feel” or even highway refinement.

    Having said that, the R56 does not compare as well to a clean low-km 2006 R53 (not referring to my JCW, but to a very low km S that a friend just purchased a few months ago). The lack of steering feel, tippier handling, “boring” power delivery, no-longer-crisp looks, and low-rent interior all make the R53 feel the superior machine from a driving and even appearance perspective. Comfort on highway trips is greater in the R56 but it comes at a cost. (FAIR DISCLOSURE: Brakes and shifter feel are notably better on the R56.)

    But toss on dealer-installed JCW suspension and the R56 becomes a much better MINI… HUGELY BETTER… and sort the interior materials, crisp up the exterior styling, firm up the steering / reduce the torque steer, add some “good” exhaust sounds, etc. and you have a compelling MINI that can finally be sold as an improvement on the R53 without too many caveats. What I just described is the 2011 LCI… looking forward to test driving it this fall.

  • James Irmiger

    I agree whole heartedly with your summary. I actually waited for the R56 to get the added refinement, ride quality, brakes,, however, being an early adopter has had it’s downsides, as you duly noted.

    It does seem though that with these changes came a strong change in the average buyer. The automatic, sunroof and stock wheels have, at least around these parts, become fairly standard builds. More and more of the “enthusiast” buyers seem to have moved away to other brands, while what’s left over are apparently middle-aged women with no interest in sportiness where cuteness will suffice.

    As much as I do love my ’07 R56S, I hate to admit that we performance types are a dying breed among MINI owners and that we have nothing but said refinement to blame. I remain hopeful though that the new Coupe will change things back in the right direction.

  • Brian

    The issue with that is one once a car is associated with “middle-aged women with no interest in sportiness where cuteness will suffice” it doesn’t matter what comes out later.. that sticks like gum to a shoe. I consider myself as the enthusiast type. I’m selfishly wanting a car company to build a car for “Car guys” like me; obviously that’s not happening. But it does suck that now my friends say, your MINI is a girl car, when 3 years ago it was “bad-ass”.

  • Brian

    PS. How do I space the paragraphs?! There preview looks good but not the post!

  • Ouch. I’m trying to remind myself that you really do like these cars. I understand you’re not a fan of the automatic transmission – most of the people that read this website are in the same boat. But I think the trans in the S Automatic is one of the better automatics out there. (understanding that it’s not a manual) Some people are actually looking for a fun car that isn’t a stick shift (I’ve learned this in my 8+ years of being a MINI motoring advisor) I think the MCS auto delivers a perfect package for them. Radio and all!

  • Evan

    Great review. The interior updates for 2011 are long overdue and will do a lot to keep the troops happy for the next couple of years. I also hope the previously written about driving fixes for the 2011 LCI will put a little feel back in the MINI. Yes, it handles very well, just without the instant feedback of the R50/53. Driving my R50 back to back with dad’s 2009 R56 Cooper makes it obvious. Along with how many more rattles he has in his… That being said, if I could get my hands on a 2011 or 2012 Clubman S, I’d be very happy.

    MINI’s offerings will be really great in the next few years. The Countryman appears great, even better after sitting in it at the NY Autoshow and the early drives are good (waiting for the Motoringfile drive though…), then you add in the Coupe and Roadster. Good line-up.

    I just pray that BMW/MINI remembers that steering feel is what makes an Ultimate Driving Machine and a car that makes you say “Let’s Motor.” They diluted the R56 with full-electric power steering and have ruinied the 5er with it. Please improve it a lot or at least spare the 3er BMW!

    No more griping for now.

    Plus, I really do like those rims on this Mayfair.

  • (waiting for the Motoringfile drive though…

    We drove and reviewed it last May.

  • Bill W.

    This was good for those of us who own R56s now and are sitting around thinking about what we’ll be missing on the LCI. Well, and maybe some of us won’t actually be missing it for long. I’m still thinking I’ll be relatively happy with my 08 MCS with perhaps some additions to make it “new” again, like the JCW engine kit or the JCW suspension. Interesting observation Gabe about picking either stock or JCW if you bought another — I have never driven on the JCW and I have the sport suspension now, and have driven loaners with the stock. I found the stock very forgiving and almost ideal for highway cruising but it kinda drove me nuts on corners. Here in DC where the streets suck, the sport suspension echoes every pothole on the way to work. I thought going JCW would then be jaw-rattling, but I should drive one with it to see.

    What I’m bummed we’ll miss on the LCI most is the standard HD and Sirius radio and the “burble” in the sport button. Bummer! But thanks as always for the great write-up.

  • Joel

    Nice review. But if you want to talk about benchmarks let us not forget the GP. I use it as my daily driver and I can’t imagine going back to a Bimmer or any other Mini. Even the stereo being front speakers only is amazing let alone eveything else about the car. Now if I could only remember to slow down for those steep inclined driveways.

  • Very nice write-up.

    However, as a middle-aged woman w/an auto ’06 MCS, I love my newly pulleyed R53 for its handling, style, sound (LOOOVE the sound!), AND the cuteness factor. I have the option to use my paddle shifters, and have recently done so more often now than I have in the four years I’ve had her. When I first purchased her, I lived in DC. Too many lights, stop signs, and pedestrians made my decision to go auto the right one for me. Luckily I missed the CVT era, and haven’t had any issues w/my Aisin. It’s a joy 2 drive her, no matter what any1 says about the fun factor being lost on an auto MINI–utter rubbish!

  • Bill in Iowa

    I realize that all you 1st Generation Mini guys, and gals love your r53, but this article was, or is about the ending of the first part of the 2nd Generation. The 2nd Generation REFRESH is upon us, and Gabe has done a nice job of doing a summarization. He picked an automatic, but he could have just as well done it with a manual. This was the last edition of the R56 early and he hit the car well. The guy talking about the GP, well, that was a 1st Generation top end car. Nice car, I wish that Mini/BMW would have done something like that with the end of the early R56, but they didn’t. Maybe we will in 2013 before the 3rd Generation comes. It sounds like that generation will be a 2014 anyway. So, just my thoughts and I still like the tail end of the r56 REFRESH. Go aftermarket on the springs, add a aftermarket intake, maybe eliminate the turbo muffler, and we have our handling and engine power increase. That’s what I intend to do.

  • Thank You Gabe.

  • Yes Bill, it was mainly about the R56, but it was prefaced with “Nevermind the pedantic R53 vs R56 debate”, then direct comparisons to the R53 followed in the article, which is slightly disengenous…

    So you can expect some comments about the R53. And while I know Gabe loves the R56, I’d disagree with the “new heights” statement–I think the MINI brand hit it’s peak with the GP (and I don’t own one, so I’m not “defending” my own car).

    There have been some hits and misses with the R56, but on the whole, and while I don’t agree with everything BMW has done with the MINI, I think BMW is going in the right direction with the MINI brand.

  • Dave

    I hope Mini ditches the aisin automatic for the new 2012 Mini and borrows a bmw double clutch style gearbox for those wanting an automatic.

  • Hey Chris I don’t understand your logic. On the one hand you say “the Mini brand peaked with the R56 GP” but then go on to say you “think BMW is going in the right direction with the MINI brand”. What direction is that? Down?

  • @Dylan:

    Actually it’s the R53 GP… 🙂

    It’s not contradictory at all–I still believe, to date atleast, the GP captured MINI at it’s best. The functional aeropackage, increase in power over it’s R53 bretheren, decent brakes, lighter weight, dialed in suspension speaks for itself.

    I think BMW missed the mark on several things with the R56, which I’m not going to rehash, as it’s already been done to death (and believe it or not I’m not trying to pick a fight). But the burble is coming back, the JCW is getting better (but still has a long way to go), the coupe, which may be the new “height” of MINIdom is on it’s way, the beachcomber concept, which is kind of like a clubman moke type of vehicle, may see the light of day, the countryman, which I initially didn’t like, may find it’s way as a WRC rally car (how cool would THAT be), and the next generation has some really funky stuff in the works–three cylinder engines, etc.

    So while this generation may not have done it for me personally (and I fully recognize that it’s my opinion, and many feel exactly the opposite), I think the brand is going in the right direction, and the future should be interesting. But, IMHO, I believe the R53 will maintain an iconic status the following generations will not……

  • goat

    Agreed… Gabe’s article reads as both a review of the MINI Mayfair Cooper S and as a basic “taking stock” of MINI models’ development to date. I think that is what makes it a good read and why there are so many interesting and positive comments on offer by everyone.

    For what I look for in MINI (driving joy, overachieving underdog performance, uncontrived style), I see the “peak points” of the MINI’s development as two:

    1. R53 GP (and full factory JCW cars coming very close to that level of performance whilst being very well-rounded cars thanks to the options they offer).
    2. upcoming R58 Coupe, particularly in JCW trim. (yes, it’s not out yet… no, I’m no prophet… yet I have a persistently good feeling about what this car will be… I’m emboldened by the 2011 LCI’s genuine improvements to the R56 and R55 and by the R60 announced as the gateway to factory-sponsored motorsports involvement in WRC).

    Blue skies ahead I’d say! 🙂

  • Chris – I think I agree with everything you said with the exception of the GP being the ultimate MINI. The ultimate MINI needs four seat 🙂

  • Bill in Iowa

    This doesn’t have anything to do with this Mayfair article, but Gabe: Do you have any more photos of the refreshed JCW other than what has been shown? It’d be interesting to see the Silver White, or BRG ll with the Red roof?

    Also, i’m still trying to find out if the multif function steering is standard this year, or an option? The way things have been written, it appears that it is an option this next year.

  • All the photos that have been released by MINI our on the site.

  • Wait, “CVT era”? Does this mean that the CVT Mini is a thing of the past? I haven’t been keeping up, because I’m so happy with my 2003 (CVT era) Mini. I can’t imagine opting for a traditional automatic now that I’ve grown used to something better. Why would they abandon the technology? Or did I misunderstand?

  • Bill in Iowa

    Gabe, thanks. But do you have an answer to the multi function steering wheel yet? As I stated before, it appears in their wording about the USA notice, that it is an option. Do you have any more information on that? Also, more on the JCW?

    Also, does anyone know what the timeline is from ordering till delivery? I’ve heard everything from two months ( I can’t really believe that) to 122 days. What did some of those that ordered in August last year have for delivery dates. I’m in the Midwest.

  • Jas

    I have heard production starts Aug 15th, and prob late Sept to Oct for delivery for east coast-midwest. But the bummer to me and i hope im wrong, but it seems you cant have the adaptive headlights with the black headlight casings…at least on configureator.

  • Bill in Iowa

    Jas, I know what you mean. I wonder if after introduction, that you could just get the black headlight inner casings and put them on? But, if they are set as to only be useable with the HID, but not the adaptives, then we’re back to the same thing.

    But, what’s a bummer to me, is that the JCW will not be able to have the black headlight inner casings, PERIOD. They even emphisised that. And I am thinking that the multi function steering wheel is a $250 option, again, this next year. Read the MiniUSA Takes the Wraps off of USA, what they say, and the way it is worded, it looks like that’s in for more dollars again, like it was in 2009. Of course they’ll just say, “Hey guys, look, we’re giving you the Sirius and HD radio, what more do you want?” Words, similar to that effect, I’m sure.

    I wonder if Mini ever looks at their competition and see what is offered, “standard”, but then that’s the Cash Cow for Mini/USA. Whatever, just venting again.

  • Jas

    I think its standard, its listed under 100% options on the order sheet for JCW, and the other things listed under are the year for sirus, and sport button, and foglights..and those are standard, so yeah.

  • rkw

    Jas, where do you see black headlights in the configurator (what are they called)? I don’t even see the option listed at all in the configurator.

  • Minipuma

    Black headlights in the German configurator is “schwarze scheinwerfer”, listed under “Optik innen/außen” under the Sonderausstattungen tab.

  • Dave

    Cheeky interior accents, car talks to ya ?, soft suspension, wheel gap ala 4×4, turbo…..they ruined the coupe by trying to improve on a product which was perfect to begin with.

    Now they seem hell bent on travelling down a similar path taken by FoMoCo over the years with the Mustang….

  • Bill in Iowa

    Jave to disagree with you Dave. The r53 vs r56 issue has been beaten to death before on this forum and others. One of the reasons for the change in 07 was Euroean laws. Part of the exterior bumper change this year is for the same reason, Europe seems to think that in congested areas cars are suppose to be gentle on pedistrians. Whatever.

    Also, evolution will happen with cars. Personally, I like the changes. Sure the suspension is smoother, and it still out handles all of its competition, eeven with the stock suspension. And, most of the r53’s with the great handling you referred to, probably have some sort of after market improvements. Ride height. Right, I totally agree, it should be one to two inches lower, but also remember that we have to drive these cars on city streets that in most case, are much less than desireable.

    Speaking about Mustang and Ford. Well, the Mustange of today, other than being about 250 lbs too heavy and a few inches both in length and width, a pretty darn goo car. 412 hp and still gets 26 mpg, not bad. Plus, now our wonder administration thinks that Ford should be punished now, for the profit that Ford is making now. Remember, they didn’t take a bail out, they had Fusion.

    Sorry for the long post.

  • Dave

    Changing to a taller hood line has not much to do with cheeky interior and soft commuter suspensions. It has been changed from BMW like to more like a MINI Jaguar.

    Even sporting a JCW Sport Suspension I have no issues with city driving, so I dont see the need for the 4×4 ride height other than to provide a more cushy ride….again, a different market demographics of a buyer there.

    Cafe standards are pure BS. If a Mustang was on my radar, what it got for MPG would not be a factor…period. They came back with a great retro styling Stang and now they are turning it into an Acura to draw the Asian market…History for FoMoCo repeating itself. They did it in the early 90’s, and they are doing it now. RIP Pony Car.

    IMO – Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke………….

  • Changing to a taller hood line has not much to do with cheeky interior and soft commuter suspensions. It has been changed from BMW like to more like a MINI Jaguar.

    The taller hood was mandated by various European pedestrian impact laws that demand that the hood have so much empty volume between it and the hard points of the engine. This has been noted here various times for the past give years.

    Even sporting a JCW Sport Suspension I have no issues with city driving, so I dont see the need for the 4×4 ride height other than to provide a more cushy ride….again, a different market demographics of a buyer there.

    The higher ride height is there due to the current generation of taller vehicles and the crash standards that pit those vehicles against the MINI. Side impact specifically.

  • Dave

    I was merely stating that the cheeky jaguar style interior is the issue. Not the mandated face lift.

    And as far as ride height goes….What you are saying is that NHTSA had accumulative data on American SUV’s VS MINI’s and thus BMW/MINI was forced to manufacture their coupes to look like a crossover SUV ?

    I find that very odd considering they are not manufactured here and are largely sold else where…..