I had a chance to test drive a Cooper S yesterday. After driving the base Cooper a couple of months ago, I posted that while interesting and sort of entertaining, I didn't find the experience that remarkable. The engine's anemic power output meant that you really had to cane it to get anything out of the car. Later, after test driving a Focus SVT, I indicated that the Focus was all the car the base Mini is plus a whole heapload of practical acoutrements (like an actual trunk).
But the Cooper S is something else. It put the SAG on my face in a way that none of the other cars in the segment has. The extra power from the supercharger totally transforms the car; while the Cooper feels like a great chassis in search of an engine, the Cooper S has that balance of performance assets that BMW is so famous for. No one element dominates the car. Instead, the chassis is perfectly complemented by the engine, which allows you to whip from corner to corner with ease.
I still don't like the gimmicky interior (and though I suppose you get used to it, putting the speedometer in a fast car out of the driver's direct line of sight is like an open invitation to law enforcement officials). And I still think that, in the end, it's really too small to be used as anything other than a commuter/weekend toy. But, man, what a blast to drive. In terms of road feel and driving enjoyment, it really does feel like a 3/4 scale M3.