When speccing our Cooper S we had originally planned to have the Sport Suspension optioned, hoping to properly compare the most hardcore factory Cooper S to all the sporting MINIs that came before it. Then last second we decided we’d be better off going with the variable dampers since that’s what many of you would likely be more curious about. However as luck would have it, an ordering snafu produced a Sport Suspension shod Cooper S just as we had originally intended. And after two weeks and 1500 miles we’re pretty pleased with the happy accident.
Let’s get a couple things straight before we speak about the various suspension options on the MINI. First, let’s call the standard suspension stiffness level “0.” According to MINI, the variable dampers default at about 10% less stiff than the standard suspension and can be electronically altered to be 10% stiffer. The optional sport suspension we got on our car (which is not electronically variable) is a full 30% stiffer than stock. This makes it by far and away the most aggressive option from the factory available to MINI owners. In fact MINI felt it was so aggressive that they made it the stock suspension on the 2015 JCW.
On our car accidentally shod with 16” wheels and tires it gives the car pleasantly aggressive dynamics without creating a ride that’s unbearable. It’s an interesting combination that gives us good body control and confidence at the limit without being unsettled by broken payment mid-corner. The downside with the small wheels however is the reduction of that knife-edge feel of precious that a set of 17” or 18” wheels and good tires can give you. There’s a sense that the entire set-up is slightly dulled by the larger sideway and narrower 195 mm width.
After a couple weeks with our car we’d recommend the sport suspension for those looking for the ultimate enthusiast choice. But it can only really pay off with 17” or 18” wheels with wider tires. The combination allows for a feel and a performance that’s more akin to the R56 and even the R53.
But why the sport suspension over the variable dampers? For us it allows a more sporting experience that feels right on a MINI. Truthfully we’d call the variable dampers the ultimate choice if they had the ability to match the sport suspension, going from -10% all the way to +30%. But they don’t quite have that range and therefore feel a bit more compromised than we’d want.