Mini Cooper S (F56) | PH Used Buying Guide

The current Cooper S and JCW have been around for a while now, and make for a canny secondhand purchase

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, February 20, 2022 / Loading comments

Key considerations

  • Available for £8,750
  • 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol turbo, front-wheel drive
  • B48 motor banishes bad N14 memories
  • Not exciting in a high-rpm way but fast through midrange torque
  • More refined and less frenetic than gen-two equivalents
  • Some driving oddness but no major reliability issues

Search for a used Mini Cooper S here

Today we’ll be looking at the Cooper S and JCW variants of the 2014-on Mini, available in three-door (F56) or five-door (F55) hatch formats. Ignoring the original ‘proper’ Minis, which sounds a bit sacrilegious, this was the third-generation ‘new’ Mini. As we had come to expect with Minis (the first new-shape one arrived in 2000, can you believe it?), the 2014 gen-three was longer, wider, and taller than the car it succeeded. The Mini wasn’t really ‘mini’ anymore, but as long as you weren’t bothered by that sort of thing then the benefits of the new UKL chassis’ longer wheelbase and wider track – more space in both the cabin and the boot – were clear enough.

The newly elongated body was rounded off to smooth its progress through the air and to enhance the airborne progress of any pedestrian it might hit. Not everyone was a fan of the extra blobbiness, or of what some saw as a slightly overwrought redesign of the front and rear generally (then came those Union Jack rear lights in 2018!). Still, again there were compensations in equipment like the segment-first LED headlamps. Keyless start, air-con and Bluetooth all became standard on the gen-threes too, but adaptive dampers, radar cruise and a reversing camera all had to be paid for on the Mini’s famously extensive personalisation options list – unless you went for the JCW, which had much of that stuff thrown in.

Common or garden gen-threes had a choice of six new engines, but the one we’ll be dealing with here for the S and JCW is the aluminium blocked and headed B48 2.0 litre, four-cylinder twin-scroll turbo petrol with direct injection, Valvetronic variable valve lift, and double VANOS variable valve timing that was also used in the BMW 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series and X3. In the Cooper S this unit generated 192hp, or 231hp in the JCW which joined the range in 2015. In the Cooper S the new engine was only 0.2sec quicker over the 0-62mph than the old gen-two S, but it had plenty of turbo urgency and big torque starting from just 1,250rpm, with a choice of snap, crackle and pop depending on the exhaust you had.

The clearest advance for the hot gen-three Minis, however, was their extra refinement, reflecting the car’s gradual enlargement over the years. The ride was still firm, but the steering was positive and accurate (albeit a touch artificial) despite the amount of power going through the front wheels. Outside noise was well suppressed too, not just in the three- or five-door Cooper S but also in the more focused three-door only JCW.

They started off with a choice of six-speed gearboxes. The manual had been modded from the gen two to make shifting smoother and lighter. The JCW began life with the six-speed Steptronic auto only. This torque-converter unit was replaced in the 2018 midlife (LCI) refresh by a seven-speed dual-clutch Steptronic, but not in the JCW. Along with the high-torque Cooper SD, the JCW switched to the excellent eight-speed torque-converter auto that had previously only been available in the Clubman and Countryman.

The 2018MY LCI models also received trim changes, new colour options and more options generally. These are the ones with the brighter front lights with circular ‘halo’ DRLs and the Union Jack rear lights. The JCW wasn’t around for a while at the time of the LCI as it didn’t pass Euro 6 regs. After a few months’ rest it reappeared in March 2019 with a petrol particular filter, piano black trim inside and out, Dinamica leather bucket front seats and 17-inch Track Spoke alloys.

When it went on sale in 2014 the Cooper S cost £18,650 as a three-door F56. Sport, Exclusive, Convertible, Seven and probably too many other models to count were on offer. Prices for the 2015 JCW started at £23,780, but you could get that up to nearer £30k without too much effort at spec-locking time.

A UK-only JCW Challenge edition came out in 2016. Inspired by the Mini Challenge racers, it was billed as the ‘ultimate roadgoing Mini’. There were no drivetrain changes and no auto gearbox option, but the chassis mods were extensive and all the parts – Nitron NTR R1 coilovers, Quaife ATB limited-slip diff, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, Team Dynamics alloys and Mintex brake pads – were sourced from the race series suppliers. In addition to that lot, it had adjustment plates allowing you to run up to two degrees of negative camber on both axles and a JCW Pro Aerokit with a front splitter, rear spoiler extension and rear diffuser. Limited to 50 or 100 examples, depending on which part of the internet you believe, the JCW Challenge cost £32,000 and is worth looking for on the used market.

SPECIFICATION | MINI COOPER S (F56)

Engine: 1,998cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual or auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],700-6,000rpm ([email protected],200-6,000rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 206 (236)@1,250-4,750rpm
0-62mph (secs): 6.8 (6.3) (both manual)
Top speed (mph): 146 (153)
Weight (kg): 1,235 (1,280)
MPG (official combined): 49.6 (42.2)
CO2 (g/km): 155 (133)
Wheels (in): 6.5 x 16 (7 x 17)
Tyres: 195/55 (205/45)
On sale: from 2014 (2015)
Price new: £18,650 (£23,780)
Price now: from £8,750
(JCW in brackets)

Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.


ENGINE & GEARBOX

The gradual gentrification of the Cooper S disguised the fact that, in gen-three form, it was a demonstrably quick car. The capacity increase from 1.6 to 2.0 in the B48 delivered a fat wodge of low-rpm torque that made it more than a match for rivals like the Clio RS Turbo and Abarth 595 Comp, both of which it easily out-accelerated. It was a tenth quicker to 62mph than the Fiesta ST, too, thanks to its longer bottom two gears obviating the need to change to third. The gen-three JCW 2.0 had 10 per cent more power than the old 1.6 and 23 per cent more torque.

Some drivers did find the standard throttle mapping to be a bit peculiar on the new Minis, with a slightly disappointing vagueness and a lack of linearity in the comms between right foot and engine. Torque limiting in the lower gears meant you had to tramp hard on the pedal to get out of a side road. You might also wish for a more immediate and proportional response coming out of a roundabout, but you could mitigate some of these laggy effects by switching off the traction control.

With nearly 50mpg on the official combined cycle for the S and more than 42mpg for the JCW (30-40 being a typical real-world figure) these were performance cars you could own without too much conscience-pricking. The B48 engine wasn’t burdened by earlier Mini engines’ negative legacies of dodgy crank bearings and oil solenoids. Obviously, you should always keep an eye on the oil level as a matter of principle, and there have been a few reports of injector trouble and air leaks, but in general it’s a sturdy and reliable engine, adding interest to the idea of investing in tuning kits from Mini specialists like Lohen.

The JCW Pro exhaust (an option box that you could tick back in the day) got a reputation for being a bit droney on the motorway and probably too loud everywhere else. The standard factory JCW pipe was rorty enough for most and sounded better than the stock S system. A simple remap with the JCW Pro exhaust could produce around 270hp, which was about the limit for S pistons. Scorpion, Milltek, Remus, Borla and Dinan all offered alternative pipework.

The six-speed manual gearbox worked well enough as long as you weren’t too impatient on changes and didn’t mind an element of springy notchiness. An excess amount of jerkiness on gearchanges could often be traced back to a clutch delay valve in the slave cylinder, which could be removed. Jerkiness at a steady engine speed of 1,500rpm-2,000rpm – the sort of thing that on a diesel could usually be cured by cleaning the inlet manifold and/or the EGR valve – would normally be solved by a software reflash.

The pre-LCI automatic was a £1,270 option. It wasn’t the quickest-responding transmission and there were no flappy paddles. The torque-converter eight-speed auto on the JCW was better than you might think, though. It had a proper manual mode that let you rev right out in any gear and that wouldn’t change down unless the engine was on the point of stalling. Even so, four out of five JCWs were manuals.

Clutches on manual cars are known to squeak, quietly when cold but more loudly when warm. Mini has so far been unable to come up with a lasting solution for this. Some owners have had the whole clutch assembly replaced only for the squeaking to return less than 10,000 miles later.

We found one example of manual clutch failure on a 7,500-mile 2019 Cooper S bought from new by an outer London driver. A drivetrain failure message led to a dealer inspection which revealed clutch material that had worn down to the rivets with damage to the flywheel. The bemused owner was presented with a £3,500 bill for that.

Some cars have suffered from broken engine mounts, usually flagged up by a thud on start up and some complementary rattles that would disappear at engine speeds above 3,000rpm. One owner on an F56 community noted that his 64-reg S with a JCW tuning kit on it had stopped revving past 4,000rpm. A responder thought it might be a clogged cat but no firm conclusion was reached on that.

Wonky fuel tank vent valves will cause high idle speeds and an odd ticking noise. Fault codes for turbo wastegate actuators can sometimes be traced back to unstable voltages from old/original batteries. Pops and bangs from the exhaust were plentiful in Sport mode. There was also synthesised noise from an extra speaker – Active Sound Design, if you’re ever wondering what ASD means. A two-yearly main service typically cost around £600 if it included new front brake pads, which it probably would as pads wore out quite quickly.

CHASSIS

The gen-threes had a less frenetic feel on the road than the twos, and you might choose something else if your normal driving included a lot of B-road squirtery, but the overall Mini package represented a very acceptable compromise between steering response, agility and ride comfort.

Even in the most powerful models torque steer was minimal but the steering could feel artificially heavy, especially in Sport mode. In place of a mechanical locking diff the S made do with Performance Control, which was an updated version of the now-familiar inside-wheel-braking electronic diff lock control. The JCW had that too. Relative to the old JCW the new car’s springs and dampers were uprated. There were also new ARBs and lighter, stronger supporting hardware front and rear.

The normal passive dampers were on the stiff side so Variable Damper Control with the twin-reservoir switchable dampers was well worth having on both cars, to the extent that you wondered why it wasn’t provided as standard, especially as it was only £240 to buy separately. If the Mini you end up buying doesn’t have VDC you could get some improvement by swapping the standard dampers for adjustable coilovers from a firm like Nitron, usefully lowering the ride height while you’re at it. VDC’s Comfort mode worked well on most British roads and Sport was perfect for transporting relatives you didn’t like (assuming you had a rubber ring to sit on). Sport was great on a smooth track, of course, but if you were running standard brakes you might run into fading difficulties after a few laps in the Cooper S.

Cooper S alloys were 16-inch, up from 15-inch on the non-S, but still not that massive. 17s were a £450 option. The JCW had 17-inch alloys as standard, with 18s as an option. Nobody really rated the Pirelli run-flat tyres that came on it from the factory. Most found Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres to be noticeably better in all conditions, in terms of both grip and ride comfort. Michelin do now do a PS4S in 18-inch but not in the Mini size. A Cup 2-tyred JCW Challenge is a hoot to drive on the right road.

BODYWORK

You could distinguish the Cooper S from the regular Cooper by its bonnet scoop. The JCW was different again with its gaping front air intakes, plus extra ducts in place of the foglights (only one of which, the nearside one, is functional, the other is blanked off) and in the rear bumper, as well as a shoutier bodykit.

The limited edition JCW Challenge came in White Silver with a black roof and stripes and carbon fibre detailing on the air intake and mirror caps. For other models but there were dozens of colour combinations available through the Individual programme, with more coming along in the 2018 LCI refresh.

Check the paint on the door shuts as this could be rubbed off by the seals. We heard of one owner with a crack to the front screen being quoted £1,100 for parts alone as the dealer reckoned new gloss black pillar sections and the scuttle panel would have to be replaced at the same time as the new screen. They probably would have been better off triggering their £75 windscreen insurance excess.

INTERIOR

By this stage in the Mini’s career the transition to BMW standards was effectively complete. Even before you went up to Cooper S or JCW level the quality and ambience of gen-three Mini interiors was more than decent, when they were new at least. They all had digital radio, heated door mirrors, keyless entry/ignition and Bluetooth to connect you up to Mini’s online services. The Cooper S had its own cloth seat material while the JCW had Dinamica upholstery with all manner of JCW badging and stitching. The flattish regular seats were okay, but many found the high-backs to be more supportive.

The standard dash layout wasn’t massively changed for the gen-three, but a new and more sensible position was found on the steering column for the speedo, tacho, and digital fuel gauge. Having said that the tachometer was pretty small. The new central nav and infotainment display with 8.8-inch screen had a LED light ring around it. Another welcome return to tradition was the repositioning of the window and door lock switches to the door panel.

As noted earlier, four people and their cargo had more room to move in the gen-three Mini. Besides the extra shoulder and foot space, the boot had grown by over 30 per cent, which sounds a lot until you realise that the starting point for that increase wasn’t great at 150 litres, so you still only had 211 litres but hey, it’s a Mini innit and you did get a smart floor. If you wanted more space you would get a Countryman.

Horn pushes sometimes didn’t give you the horn and you don’t have to be fishing in the high-mileage pool to see that the leather on Mini steering wheels and seats wasn’t that durable. Talking of wet things, some S models had incorrectly routed air-con drainage, which could lead to a soaking of the front carpets.

PH VERDICT

The styling and/or supersizing of the gen-three Mini might have put off some potential buyers, but the ones who didn’t have a negative view on the looks and who did buy into it were usually very happy with their purchase. In the Cooper S and JCW they found thoughtfully improved vehicles that challenged the Fiesta ST for ‘best in class’ driving honours with the bonus of extra practicality and space, all without losing any of the car’s indefinable charm. Best of all they didn’t have the troublesome N14 engine.

The B48 engine was all about mid-range torque. There wasn’t much value in going to the higher reaches of the tachometer, not so much because of diminishing returns – though that was true – but because all the performance you could ever realistically want or need was between 2,000 and 4,000rpm. Once you’d got that into your head, these gen-three Minis provided walloping performance without ever feeling ‘hot’ in the old-fashioned sense.

One of the accusations levelled at Minis over the years has been to do with the extraction of money for various individualisation packs. Luckily for Mini, enough buyers were happy to go down that customising route to turn the business model into a commercial success, and for used buyers down the line it’s all gravy because expensively optioned cars rarely command a premium in the secondhand market. So long as the reliability side of it stands up it’s easy to see these gen-three Minis as bargains.

With almost a thousand gen-three 192hp Cooper S cars on PH Classifieds at the time of writing (without the JCWs) you’ve got zero excuse for not being able to find pretty much exactly what you want. We’re not going to try and pin down all the various models like the 25th Anniversary (2018), the 60 Years Edition (2019), the Mini Matching, the Mini Cloth, the Mini Facecloth, the Mini Pinny etc (we may have made some of those up) but we will tell you that there are quite a few crash repaired cars on the market, and prices for those start at under £7,000. The lowest priced non-cat car on PH was this 92,000-mile 2017 Cooper S Seven at £9,600. It’s showing signs of wear, but it’s only had one owner and it is fully historied.

For those who value low mileage over newness, another £2k on top of that 2017 car’s price will snip nearly 60,000 miles off the clock in this 2014 three-door at £11,493. Even with only 37,000 miles recorded we can see some seat material sagginess. If you’re after a JCW, again you’re spoiled for choice with nearly 300 examples on PH Classifieds. The cheapest one is this 2016 61,000-miler with the adaptive suspension at £14,500. Here’s a convertible JCW from 2016 with 44,000 miles and a £17,995 price ticket.


Search for a used Mini Cooper S here

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