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Setbacks sorted, the Cooper S starts to bring out the smiles

After leaving my car at the top of a cliffhanger so tall it could have played a part in The Italian Job, I can confirm that the low tyre pressures, wheel wobble and rumbling noise were all symptoms of loose wheel nuts. A relief, given I was convinced it would be something much more expensive, but still rather alarming…

Let me quickly explain just how loose these nuts were; I could turn them - all of the nuts on the front left wheel - easily with my fingers. Not just easily with a wrench, but with my fingers.

That’s really bad, and meant the left-front wheel - the only affected, and the one given a new tyre to get an MOT pass by the garage I bought it from - was wobbling around as I drove along. I tightened all four wheels with the wrench in the boot and went for a short drive, only to feel the same wheel come loose again. This time, with less care about causing damage by over-tightening, I jumped on the wrench until they were as tight as could be.

Sorted. No more vibrations, no more pulling to the left, and a quick top up of air at the local garage brought the pressures back up to normal too. To check my Mini was fully out of the woods - did I tell you there had been a warning light on next to the mileage since I bought it? - I booked it in for a service at a garage in Earlsfield. All fine, including the wheel nuts, the man said. The warning light is still on, but I’m assured that just needs switching off because it’s telling me the car needs a service when it’s already had one.

All fixed? Well, no. Not quite. That lovely panoramic sunroof, which opened just fine on the day I bought the day, no longer works. Flick the switch and it releases for a moment then retracts back into place. I tried a few times and, for fear of it getting stuck open, decided open windows or air-con would make do. A quick Google search revealed this as a common fault, but one which can cost around £1,000 for a BMW garage to put right. I think I’ll remain avec sunroof for the foreseeable.

Okay, so now are we all sorted?

 Why YES. Yes we are. The car has been running sweetly ever since and, finally, I have been able to enjoy owning it and driving a car which is a little more fun than your average runabout. It should be producing around 180 horsepower, and above about 3,500rpm the shove from the turbocharger is thoroughly addictive - as is the exhaust note, which sounds great without being too overbearing.

My car has the optional Sport button fitted, which turns down the power steering, sharpens the throttle response from the top of the pedal travel, and induces a lovely burble from the exhaust, complete with little pops and bangs when you lift off the accelerator. With Sport engaged, the steering isn’t really any more communicative, but by requiring more effort it makes driving the Cooper S feel more involving and rewarding.

However, it does exaggerate the car’s tendency to be knocked offline by bumps in the road. Other Cooper S owners tell me this is a trait of the rock-hard run-flat tyres the car is meant to use. Switch these for normal tyres at the next opportunity, I’m told, and driving over uneven roads will feel less like steering a dinghy through the choppy wake of an oil tanker.

Full of fear thatd I'd bought a donkey

I haven’t yet had chance to see what the S is truly capable of, but even at fairly mundane speeds the front end is one of the sharpest I’ve ever experienced. There isn’t a sniff of understeer and its eagerness to turn in never fails to put a grin on my face. The Mini’s love of pulling hard in second and third gears, mated with that sharp front end, means I look forward to the 10 minute drive across Wandsworth and Putney to Jess’ almost - I said almost, if you’re reading this - as much as I look forward to getting there.

After the first few days of car ownership filled me with dread and the fear that I’d bought a donkey, I’m now totally smitten by it.

But...there’s still some money left in the car fund, and it only took an evening of trawling through the forums before I was planning how to make it even better.


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