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The BMW Mini is something of a 'love it, hate it' car. People seem to be put off because you see them everywhere, and they appear to have become somewhat de rigeur for estate agents and the like. Personally I love them, and when we decided to replace our 4 year old Mini One it was a fruitless search to find something for around the same price that we thought would offer quite the same fun.
We were looking to upgrade really. The Cooper S was what I really wanted, and competitors were thin on the ground. The Clio 127 is a bit cheaper, with similar performance, but just didn't do it for me. It was a story repeated a few times. The reason we'd started looking at other cars, though, was because our original new Mini (if you see what I mean) was the old new style, and the new styling, brought in a couple of years back, was different enough for us to think it wasn't quite as nice.
That, however, was almost completely forgotten on a first test drive. A couple of months down the line and I know we've once again made the right decision by sticking with Mini.
As I said earlier the looks are subjective, so if you don't like how it looks I can't really say you're wrong. The reason I like it is partly because it's different from most lookalike boxes on the road (it tends to be the 'retro' styled that look different, like the new Beetle and Fiat 500). But different isn't enough on its own, and here you stray into unquantifiable personal taste.
It floats my boat, simple as that. I've got over the initial misgivings. It's a squatter, slightly fatter looking, car than the original
redesign. But it retains those retro cues, the cheeky wee headlights, and with some 17 inch alloys, bonnet scoop, and rear spoiler, it looks like it means business.
Plant your foot in this car and you'll soon realise you're in a very hot hatch indeed. With a 0-60 time of around 7.1 seconds, propelled along by a torquey turbo-charged 175bhp 1.6 engine, you will be pushed back into your seat with a grin slapped onto your face. The performance does have a slightly 'hooligan' feel to it. Not quite as raw as a Clio 127, but you wrestle the steering wheel to remain on the straight and narrow as torque-steer from the engine sets in.
The speed off the line is matched, and in some cases exceeded, by the speed you can carry round corners. Our old 'One' felt like it was on rails, but with the better tyres, and stiffened suspension, it feels as if you've got grip that could go on for weeks. The little traction control light might flash up occasionally on the dash, but the involving nature of the drive is such that you generally know exactly what is going on underneath.
Mind you, with that hard suspension and power output, hit a bump going through a corner and it once again feels like you're having to fight it every step of the way.
Remarkably with all of this performance, the mpg figures (a combined total of 45mpg) are better than in our old 'One', and shame many other little sportscars. As do the carbon dioxide emissions, which put this in a lower VED bracket than pretty much all of its competitors.
The new Mini is often derided for being short on internal space, certainly when compared to its external dimensions, and what other similar cars can offer inside. To complain about these things slightly misses the point (and it's an aspect that doesn't seem to have harmed sales).
That said, we've comfortable sat 4 adults in it, and even managed 5 for one small hop. The driver's seat has to be moved a bit further forward than I'd normally drive to accommodate rear passengers, but it's a minor inconvenience.
Equally, while the boot IS tiny, there's enough space to fit in a decent amount of groceries, and if you pop the rear seats down flat you suddenly have a large space to work with. Our old car took us to and from Skye a number of times, loaded up with all-sorts for a self-catering trip, and the new car will be doing the same in June this year (got to love those twisting country roads).
The styling inside is one thing which I think lets the new car down. Some people thought the old car had gone a little too far with the retro look, but I tihnk the new car looks a little dowdy in comparison. It benefits from the optional chrome lining inside sprucing things up, and it's still a step above grey and black plastic overload, but the old car just felt nicer to sit in.
That's not to say it's a bad interior for occupants. I'm 6'3" tall and can fit in to drive perfectly well, with bags of headroom thanks to a height adjustable seat (and lowering down just adds to that feeling of driving a go-kart).
Another accusation launched at the Mini is the expense. Of course this was tempered for us catching this new car in the middle of the economic downturn, meaning we got the optional Chilli pack (with things like air conditioning and height adjustable passenger seat - option we would have chosen anyway) for half price, money off the base price, and a higher trade-in price on the old car. Offers never before seen at Mini.
Compare it to other small cars and it's not actually that expensive. The Clio 127 is cheaper, but at around £18k we paid less than you would for a new Mazda MX-5, little Volvo, or fast Golf (if you wanted something with the same performance).
And to run the mileage figures mentioned above, together with lower VED band, shows that it's cheaper to run on an annual basis.
And then add in the bombproof build quality of a BMW (who I normally hate, but will forgive for the Mini. This car is definitely screwed together more tightly than the older model) and the offer of free servicing for three years, and the cost over the lifetime of the car looks better and better.
If you already have a predisposed hatred to the new Mini then nothing said above is going to change your mind.
All I can say is that looking at pure 'bang for your buck' the Mini delivers for me every time. It's still a pleasure to walk out to it, hop in, and hit that start button. It's even more of a pleasure now to see what it can do...
The only final thing I'd say is that if you get one of these be prepared for plenty people telling you it isn't a 'real' Mini. For some reason being bigger than the original, for some, renders it a bad car. Okay, so maybe the name doesn't quite fit, but if you get past a semantic dislike, you could find that this is more fun than you realised.
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Jaguar verses Mini Cooper driving experience in Oxfordshire. Begin with a welcome introduction and safety briefing before receiving a circuit tour to get familiarised with track driving techniques and important racing lines. Once prepared, slide behind the driving seat of the iconic E-Type Jaguar for six high-speed miles of the Upper Heyford circuit, followed by a further six miles in a classic 1971 Mini Cooper S (one of only 1500 built). A certificate of participation is included to take home as a special memento.
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Cooper S and find out first-hand why this is such a legendary car. Following a comprehensive safety briefing, hop into the passenger seat of a hot hatch for a familiarisation lap and get acquainted with essential racing lines and driving techniques. When ready, get behind the wheel of the nippy and powerful Mk 3 Mini Cooper S for six sensational laps of Heyford Park's circuit. Only 1500 of these classic Mini's were ever built, so this is a rare opportunity for any driving enthusiast. To conclude, hold on tight to be driven round the circuit at high speed by a professional instructor in a hot hatch.