The new combustion MINI Cooper S is finally here. With a modern minimalist look and loads of new technology, the F66 feels like a great update to the MINI we all know. But not all is perfect. The manual is gone, weight is up (slightly) and shift paddles aren’t even offered in the US. Can MINI make this new F66 Cooper feel as engaging as the F56? The answer might be surprising.

Because MINI as a company has publicly proclaimed it will be a fully electric brand in the years ahead, it’s intentionally downplayed the combustion powered F66’s launch. There have been no press events, no scenic drives in Spain and no press cars have yet been delivered to journalists. So we had to take matters into our own hands. Luckily our friends at MINI of Glencoe were happy to oblige and lent us a 2025 MINI Cooper S for the day, no questions asked.

MINI Cooper S

Our $35,500 Chili Red (II) Cooper S was equipped with the “Classic” style which meant it was missing our some key options that inexplicably come free on the Favoured style (which in itself is a free choice). It was also on the standard 17” grey u-spoke wheels and the narrower 195/50 R 17 tires. All this to say this was a relatively middle of the road Cooper S that will probably form the majority are F66 MINI Coopers come in for the US market. In other words a great car to test.

The 2025 MINI Cooper S Driving Experience

There’s no manual and you can’t even get shift paddles on the Cooper S in the US market. The big question on our minds was; can MINI make this new F66 feel as engaging and interactive as the F56? Surprisingly yes but there are some caveats.

The revised suspension offers both a more compliant ride and slightly more neutral handling characteristics. On paper we knew MINI had made a series of small changes in this area. But until getting behind the wheel we didn’t know what it all meant. In our early experience it would seem MINI has done a great job of making subtle tweaks in wheel/tire sizing, track width and suspension settings to create an experience that feels decidedly more mature without feeling less fun. In fact there are moments it even feels more response than the F56. The subtly tweaked steering ratio (from 14.2 to 14.1) and the wider track give the new Cooper S a touch quicker turn-in. And the lack of runflats make the car feel lighter on its feet.

F66 MINI Cooper S

There’s still no real tactile feedback through the wheel (like the F56) but that might change with a different wheel/tire combo and a slightly more aggressive suspension that’s coming on the JCW model later this year.

MINI’s revised dual clutch transmission feels smoother than ever with quicker shifts – especially in GoKart mode. But there’s another mode that made the shifting algorithm even more aggressive. By pulling down the shifting toggle past “D” you go into “L” (low) mode. The result is a shifting experience that seems equivalent to the old “S” mode that you engaged by moving the automatic lever to the left. But this new version feels both faster and smarter.

In this mode our F66 Cooper S came alive. It held gears and predictively downshifted approaching corners. Once it even downshifted from 4th to 2nd in rapid fire succession as I was braking for a 90 degree right hander. It was as if it was reading my mind. Yes it’s a shame that the manual is gone and shift paddles are unavailable in US spec Coopers, but this is a hugely improved DCT.

Torque steer is still present but it’s mitigated by the way the revised DCT handles torque. The end result is a car that feels slightly more composed when pushing hard yet faster to transition out of corners. This combined with the extra power and predictive quality of the DCT makes the F66 MINI Cooper more of an update than we were expecting.

The F66 with the Favoured Style with the (free) upgrade to 18″ wheels

Design and Quality – Hands-on Impressions

You’ve heard our thoughts on the exterior and interior design, circular display and the confusing “styles” bundling strategy. All we’ll add is that this particular F66 was the first we’d seen finished in Chili Red II and the first with the standard wheels. In our opinion these smaller and narrower 17″ wheels are not the best look for the car as the height of the belt line on the F66 (like the F56) makes 18” wheels fit its proportions better.

Inside the all black interior that comes with the Classic Style has enough small details and adds of texture and color that it’s not at all boring as you might think. That said there are some decidedly cheaper materials mixed in with a few more previous feeling elements. The dash near the windshield for instance is as cheap of plastic as we’ve ever seen in MINIs. Yet the steering wheel feels more premium than ever. It would seem MINI has done a purposeful job of taking cost out of areas that aren’t usually interacted with to create a few more premium touch points.

F66 MINI Cooper S

Since our test car had the Classic Style and not the Favoured, we were missing the more aggressively bolstered JCW Sport seats which are roughly equivalent to the F56’s sport seats. In their place where what MINI confusing calls “sport seats” finished in Vescin and cloth. They look great and the Vescin material is a huge step-up from the leatherette we’ve all come to know. But if you’re looking for lateral support you’ll want to opt for the Favoured style (the one with Champaign colored trim) as it’s the only way to get the sportier JCW seats.

F66 MINI Cooper S

2025 F66 MINI Cooper S – Early Conclusions

We have to stress the phrase early conclusions. But there are some clear themes. Let’s start with the disappointing part. If you’re going to take away the manual transmission, the Cooper S needs to offer some form of manual controls for its transmission. In all other parts of the world you can get the Cooper S in the JCW/Sport Style which comes standard with shift paddles. While MINI USA is reluctant to offer a purely visual package that mimics the look of the JCW (rightfully so in our minds), it unfortunately takes away the ability to manually control gears.

Which is entirely unfortunately as the MINI Cooper is the type of car that begs for interactivity. Without it you can’t help but feel more like a passenger than a driver in certain moments. And worse, a passenger that tends to slide around in corners thanks to those new, flatter sport seats. You can fix this by opting for the free Favoured Style which comes with standard JCW seats. But if you do, you’ll have to be ok with Vibrant Silver (aka light gold) exterior trim.

F66 MINI Cooper S
While parts of the F66 interior feel cheaper than the previous model, there are plenty of high quality materials in more visible areas.

MINI has also made some clear cost cutting decisions on material quality. Every generation of Cooper since its 2001 reintroduction has had slightly higher quality interior materials than the previous. That doesn’t seem entirely true with the F66. The important caveat here is that much of those lower quality materials are mostly out of sight and perhaps even smart trade-offs considering MINI has decidedly upped the quality in a few key areas while offering dramatically improved technology.

Yet there’s a lot of good to focus on with the F66. Losing the manual and shift paddles aside, the driving experience has actually improved with more refined suspension, more crisp turn-in and a improved dual clutch transmission. Add to this an increase of 15 hp and you have a car that feels quicker while delivering a better driving experience.

We can’t help but also mention the design which we have warmed to it greatly over the past few months. While some have some major issues in the way MINI has rolled out its Styles, the fundamental design changes they’ve made are successful in our eyes and will prove to be a great basis as MINI adds more trim options and even the JCW model.

The 2025 F66 MINI Cooper S is refreshingly updated in so many ways but not quite perfected. And what makes it a bit frustrating is that it’s held back by decisions MINI has made. Eliminating the manual and even the option of shift paddles (in the US) feels entirely out of place for a car like this. And ordering the car will likely be frustrating for a few due to the Styles strategy that MINI has created. But if you can get past a few issues, the F66 is an excellent update to an already great car.

Thank you to MINI of Glencoe who graciously handed the key fob of this Chili Red Cooper S to us no questions asked. They have a handful of both the new Countryman and Cooper S in stock and read to test drive!