MotoringFile Review: 2012 MINI Cooper S

Sometimes it’s just nice to be back where you feel most comfortable. Those were my thoughts as I slipped begin the wheel of a lightly spec’d 2012 MINI Cooper S hatch. No this isn’t some chopped coupe or puffed up crossover. This is the car (or at least the shape) that owes more to the original Mini than any other. So much so that BMW simply refers to it as “the MINI” internally.

Our tester came smartly equipped with:

  • the Cold Weather pack
  • black Conical spoke 17” wheels
  • Dual Pane sunroof, black stripes
  • black headlight housing
  • auto dimming rear view mirror with compass
  • armrest, rain sensing wipers
  • auto headlights
  • Xenons
  • Bluetooth
  • USB adapter and white turn signals.

Then there’s the MINI Yours items; off-white steering wheel, interior trim, Soda mirror caps and side scuttles. But most crucially our tester came equipped with the sport suspension. The result of all of this was that we had a $29.550 that both felt loaded and like a bit of a stripper given the seat material and lack of Navigation or MINI Connected. Sure going a la carte made for less value for the money but we couldn’t complain with a few of the sport oriented options.

At first glance the interior felt lightly spec’d until I realized the amount of MINI Yours included. The interior prominently featured MINI Yours mirrors, dash and steering wheel. If any of it was worth the money, it would be the wheel. Trimmed in black and white leather that closely resembles the feeling and texture of butter, this was softest most enjoyable wheel I can remember touching in a MINI. As we’ve said in the past, if there’s one place to spend money inside, it might as well be on the primary contact item in the cabin.

Buttery leather aside this is the best a Cooper S has ever felt to me. Revised electronics have fully eliminated the torque steer and the updated engine with Valvetronic makes this car feel as rapid as the original 197 hp JCW kit. You can thank the mountain of torque available low in the rev range, and rapid throttle delivery for that. In all, it makes the car less of a wind up experience (as in the R53) and more of a point and shoot.

Handling of course hasn’t changed. While it lacks that last 10% of feel the R53 had, the 2012 Cooper S makes up for it with a firmer weight and feel in the rest of the control points. The shifter, clutch and accelerator better correspond with the actions of driving the car and feel more in tune with the character of the engine and suspension.

Underneath it all our test car had the optional “sports” suspension which is a must have addition to any MINI as far as we’re concerned. While the ride is slightly more firm, it gives the car better control and less body roll. It’s also particularly helpful under acceleration, as it helps to reduce the backwards rock that reduces front grip when you go hard on the throttle.

This Cooper S wasn’t perfect though. Inside our test car, the leatherette felt oddly out of place given the expensive steering wheel. Then there’s the manual climate control that still, after last year’s revision, still looks dreadfully cheap in a $30,000 car. But elsewhere the 2011 refresh that all MINI’s recieved has done a lot to bring the look up market.

Despite those missed details, our test car reminded us why the R56 hatch is the heart and soul of the MINI. It has utility, performance and a price-point that is the most attractive of any model in the line-up. No surprise then that it’s the best selling MINI model month after month.

Most of all, our 2012 MINI Cooper S test car reminded us why we do what we do, why we love MINIs and why we love seeing more on the road every day. Small, efficient, athletic and endlessly fun, they are still best way to bring a smile to one’s face.

  • Anonymous

    Nice post!  2012 is a great year for MINI.  I couldn’t agree more with most of the comments you made!

    I simply adore my 2012 Cooper S Coupe.  I didn’t know what to think when I ordered it almost 2 months ago.  I was excited for the look, didn’t know how I would like the feel and function since they are so new.  I am now head over heels in love with this car!  The 2012 changes are much appreciated over earlier second gens and the Valvetronic feels faster in my Cooper S Coupe than my previous 2009 JCW felt.  Regarding leatherette: I had leatherette on my R53, sprung for Lounge Leather on my JCW and now am back to leatherette.  As cheap as it may feel to some, I prefer not having to worry about the leather seats.  Perhaps ray cloth/leather would be ideal, but I didn’t get a chance to add that option….  And I have automatic climate control (which I never ever use, but I do like how it improves the look of the centre stack…).  Speaking of which: the double buttons on the stereo take some getting used to.  I am used to the volume knob being randomly above the A/C controls and now it is the same size as the tuning knob.  Kudos to the designer at MINI that added a power logo to one of the knobs 😉  I have sports suspension and LOVE it.  Gives the Coupe such a sexy stiffness and the way it handles bumps on the road is unreal.  Feels really tight and “together”.

    That “last 10%” regarding the R53 made the R53 an incredible car.  As much as I love and sometimes miss STELLA, my R53…  I feel the 2012 Coupe I have now is a better daily driver (for me anyways).  I like how it handles bumps on the road and in Toronto there are many!  The R53 kinda shook my brain around and rattled/plastic buzzed and crackled everywhere – If I was in a hurry to get somewhere, these things really irked me.  With sport suspension on both my R53 and 2012 Coupe, I can compare that the Coupe feels more “together”.  I attribute that to being based off the stiffer convertible chassis that I didn’t know I loved so much until now 🙂  Don’t get me wrong, my ideal garage has an R53 AND Coupe in it!

    Well, I could go on and I know not everyone shares the same opinion (I used to be a staunch R53-is-the-true-MINI supporter but I have definitely softened up).  Basically, having driven: 2006 R53, 2009 factory JCW R55, and now a 2012 Cooper S Coupe – I very much appreciate and recommend a 2012 🙂

    • Getting a scorpion

      Funny but even in it’s 6th year theR56 cannot exorcise the ghost of the R53. Still a open wound in the enthusiest world. I hope Mini is listening when putting the final touches on the 2013 model.

      The R53 was not built for the “masses”. That’s why it will always be special.

      • that.guy

        I don’t think they are listening.  You can expect further dilution of that original formula.  The steering is the single biggest mistake they made with the R56.  Versus the R53, it is slow and numb.

        • Frank Granados

          My 2005 R53 S 6-spd hardtop is pushing 90K miles and the car still drives and looks great. It is aging quite well (I really take good care of it) and people still come up to me to ask me questions about the car. I feel the original Frank Stephenson R53 design is timeless and executed to perfection. The car truly embodies the spirit of the original.

          I own a R55 ’08 Clubman S and the car is lovely in many ways but holds no candle to the R53 S. I am afraid that MINI will not bring back some of the mojo that made the original launch car such a hit. The Rocketman is a good sign but it would be as good as nothing if the concept doesn’t reach production.

        • lilcoopr

          I agree with you. Going from the R53 to the R55 left such a void in my MINI soul despite my R55 being a super-awesome Factory JCW. Then again maybe the Clubman was just not for me.

    • Hoover

      This is a great post to complement this story.  Thanks for sharing your take as a long-time MINI enthusiast.  

      • lilcoopr

        Thanks 🙂 You can read more about my many years of MINI adventures on if you’d like

    • Anonymous

      The current model may be more refined but it just doesn’t look right. It just looks like a somewhat bloated version of the R50/53. That design is timeless, the current one is not.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    With all the new products MINI has to offer, it is good to see a review of the current hatch.  My 03′ S was great at the time and my current 07′ S is still fun to drive but with 120,000 miles is getting a bit tired.

    For me, after looking at all the current models, the hatch is still the car that I’m going to look hardest at when I get another car in the next couple months. No doubt that the speedster is to die for, especially in JCW trim, but the price point is kind of steep.  The Coupe is nice also but for me the hatch gives a bit more utility even with the smaller boot space.  All things (and models) considered, a JCW hatch is in my future and I couldn’t be more excited…

  • Rockinmini

    I have a 2005 S and I just ordered a 2012 hatch with that awesome looking steering wheel along with the MINI Yours Soda leather seats. I struggled with including the sports suspension, but I ended up getting it. It sounds like that was the right decision. I am really looking forward to my new toy. I worry that I will miss my old toy but after reading this, I think I’ll be okay. It’s in production as I type.



    Is that BMW/MINI’s corporate location near Schaumburg?  What in the world actually goes on there?  I have always wondered…….

  • lannymcs

    Question about Sport suspension Gabe..

    Back when you wrote the Mayfair review, you said:

    “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.” Which I think was supposed to say “great for neither”.

    Now in this review you recommend it. So my question is, did something change in the suspension packages during the refresh? Or did the tweaaked steering make the Sport suspension better?

    I’m still leaning towards JCW suspension anyway, but just curious about this….

    • I’m curious about this too. I got the sport suspension on my ’08 MCS and it is -harsh-. Have been strongly considering a ’12 and had assumed I wouldn’t go near it.

      • Anonymous

        Stephen, I’ve got the Sport suspension for my ’08 MCS as well, and while I find it a bit harsh, it just seems to go with the car. With the JCW exhaust droning on (especially with the seats down) it just ads to the whole atmosphere of being in a MINI. The other day I was in my friend’s 2011 Audi, it was a nice ride but just seem to serile. I’m looking forward to installing my JCW sport springs to add even more kidney-pounding fun to my ride 😉

        • jbkONE

          I love this line from your post: “2011 Audi, it was a nice ride but just seemed too sterile.” ME TOO!  That’s about how I feel about a lot of cars.  After driving an R50 daily for years, getting in a car where everything is in the normal place (no center speedo, no “mini-wings” AC) just doesn’t feel interesting.  They don’t even have TOGGLES for god’s sake! 🙂  I need something that’s good to look at, doesn’t irk me when I use it, and retains my interest long-term.  Most current cars don’t satisfy that.  No matter how many times I see the interior of my MINI it doesn’t get boring: I love that.

        • Anonymous

          Agreed. I went from an R50 and R53 (both modded) to a BMW 128 6-speed and fist I liked how refined, smooth and quiet the car was. Now, after 3 years, I am just bored with the civility. I was holding off until the 3rd gen Mini was announced but everything points to a car going in a mass market direction. So maybe a 500 Abarth.

        • Frank Granados

          I am thinking about going to a F30 3-series in a couple of years when I am ready to retire my 2005 R53 S, which has been my daily driver for 7 years. The MINI definitely has a “magic” if you will. Something that is not easily found in other more mundane cars.

          Unfortunately, with a couple of boys (Ages 5 and 1 1/2) that are growing by leaps and bounds, our MINIs will no longer be able to comfortable fit their legs in the back seat when they are older, hence why I am eyeing a 3 series as my next car.

          But believe it or not, the MINIs have been sensational family cars and far more entertaning than any gas guzzler SUV or poor handling Minivan will ever be.

        • Gregzito

          Join the club. My deposit is in.

        • Anonymous

          Before jumping into an Abarth, I’d do some homework regarding how Fiat fled North America back in the 80’s and left a lot of owners with rust buckets and worthless warranties.

    • Brian

      Yeah I would like a clarification on the suspension question too.

      • Chilly

        I guess at this point we’re never going to get that clarification.