The Mini is a modern success story. When BMW introduced the new model in 2001, it didn’t simply reinvent an icon — it also created a new market, which it went on to utterly dominate. Even with rival manufacturers getting in on the premium supermini act and following the recipe to the letter, the Mini is still the first choice for many thanks to its personality, handling and virtually infinite scope for personalisation.
We drove the junior hot hatch version in the shape of the Cooper S, which checks in at around £18,075 without options.
Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the past decade with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, you will know the Mini shape inside and out. There is a distant similarity to the original Austin Mini but this is definitely a modern product, albeit with a retro feel.
The chunky details and grinning face all add to the charm, and of course you can spend hours (and a small fortune) endlessly personalising it — however questionable your taste. It’s still a basic hatchback underneath the fancy clothes, but the near-vertical tailgate helps to maximise the space within the wheelbase.
Although this second-generation model is a bit better, there’s still not much room in the back for passengers and the boot can only hold a pretty miserly 160 litres. The Fiat 500 is 180mm shorter but has 25 more litres of boot space. Front seat passengers should be pretty comfortable, but there’s not a huge amount of storage room in the cabin for odds and ends. If you need more space, Mini will be happy to sell you the bigger Clubman or Countryman — at a price.
Performance & handling
The Mini has a relatively sophisticated suspension setup, which gives it the best handling in its class. Even the humblest Mini First is a real pleasure to throw around, thanks to its excellent agility and responsiveness. The high-spec Cooper S has huge amounts of power and grip, and although occasionally you do feel the steering wheel tugging you off course as it struggles to transfer 182bhp through the front tyres, it is genuinely rapid.
The modern turbocharged engine in the Cooper S provides plenty of power at high speeds, but it also has a big chunk of torque. This helps it pull away rapidly when coming out of low-speed corners. The six-speed manual gearbox is pretty slick too. The John Cooper Works model is best if you’re hell bent on winning every traffic light grand prix, but for most people, the Cooper S should be more than quick enough.
Economy & environment
Mini does a pretty impressive job of keeping running coasts relatively low, if you take it easy on the go pedal. The combined fuel consumption figure of 48.7mpg is as good as some much humbler hatchbacks, and with CO2 emissions of 136g/km, road tax is only £120. This is all achieved thanks to the clever and efficient turbocharged petrol engine that has a full suite of BMW efficiency-boosting technology, including energy recuperation and stop/start. If that’s not good enough, the Cooper SD is almost as fast, yet gets over 60mpg and emissions drop to 114g/km.
Equipment & value
The basic spec on a Cooper S isn’t too bad; you get alloy wheels, air conditioning and a decent stereo system all thrown in. But it’s the temptation of the options list that gets most Mini buyers. The body-coloured bits, tattoos, and extra interior trinkets all add up and you may find it hard to say no. Plus there are a few other bits that aren’t fitted as standard even on this £18k car. Rear parking sensors (£245) and cruise control (£175) are extra, as is climate control (£235). In fact, even the £23,000 John Cooper Works doesn’t get climate or cruise control as standard — we think that’s a bit stingy.
There’s a generous amount of safety equipment. All models have ESP (or DSC in Mini-speak) as standard as well as six airbags. All Minis also have run-flat tyres, and while that means a slight compromise in ride quality, it does allow you to stay in full control should you have a puncture at speed.
You know exactly what you are getting with a Mini; a very attractive, premium hatch that is fun to drive. It’s expensive and not especially practical, but if you’re in the position to afford one, you’ll enjoy it a great deal. Fiat’s 500 is cuter but smaller and not quite as much fun, and Citroen’s DS3 is more practical, almost as much fun to drive and slightly better value.
The Cooper S is a genuine small hot hatch but consider the Cooper SD for a thriftier and cleaner alternative way into the Mini club.
Model tested: Mini Cooper S
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
Acceleration: 0-62 in 7 seconds
Top speed: 142mph
Emissions: 136g/km CO2