The Auto Trader expert verdict:
The Mini Cooper is a real driver’s car and style icon in a pint-sized package. Space is at a premium, both for passengers and luggage though.
Reasons to buy:
- Go-kart handling
- British built
- Endless personalisation options
How good does it look?
There are few cars as instantly recognisable and as distinctively styled as the MINI Cooper hatch. Critics say that it is too big to be a proper MINI, yet buyers queue up by the thousand each year. The retro looks have been given a more grown up and modern twist, and there are endless ways of personalising the iconic car. All of the styling cues that made the original Mini stand out are there, but wrapped up in a twenty-first century package.
What's the interior like?
The interior of the MINI is dominated by a large centre speedometer and rev counter that sprouts out from the steering column, and attempts to play homage to the original Mini. All of the materials are top quality, with well weighted controls and liberal use of soft-touch plastics and chrome trim. The toggle switches are a neat touch and add to the retro appeal. Some of the controls are quite small and fiddly though, and it will take a while to become familiar with what each one does without being distracted from the road ahead.
How practical is it?
Compared to its main supermini rivals, the space inside the MINI is pretty poor. Audi’s A1 and competitors like the Ford Fiesta offer more shoulder room and extra legroom. Headroom is generous in the MINI, thanks to its upright stance. Boot space is well below par too. At just 160 litres, every rival offers considerably more space. Audi’s A1 and the Alfa Romeo MiTo offer 270 litres, while Ford’s Fiesta can accommodate 295 litres of luggage. Even carrying an average sized suitcase necessitates folding down a rear seat in the MINI.
What's it like to drive?
This is where the MINI comes into its own with keen drivers celebrating its fine balance of entertaining handling, oodles of grip and sharp steering. There simply isn’t a small car out there that dishes up the levels of driver enjoyment that the MINI does. The ride is firm and sporting, yet perfectly pliant, while road and wind noise are kept well in check, providing the largest alloy wheels aren’t fitted. Ride comfort is markedly affected by big wheels and low-profile tyres.
How powerful is it?
Things are kept simple with the MINI, with two 1.6-litre engines on offer – one petrol, and the other a diesel. The 120bhp petrol unit produces 118lb ft of torque, can accelerate to 62mph in 9.1 seconds and hit a top speed of 126mph. The diesel unit pumps out a hefty 199lb ft of torque and 110bhp, and can hit 62mph in 9.7 seconds before powering onto a top speed of 122mph. Both units feel quite lively, with a broad range of power right across the rev range. The new diesel engine is a BMW-designed unit and is new to the MINI range for 2010, replacing the previously used Ford/PSA-engineered powerplant.
How much will it cost me?
Thanks to what MINI calls its TLC package, all of the servicing requirements for the first three years can be taken care of for a nominal fee. Almost all owners choose it, and it brings down the cost of ownership considerably. Insurance costs for the Cooper are quite expensive, with Ford’s Fiesta considerably cheaper, and even Audi’s new A1 coming in at less. Used values are pretty high, outperforming all other superminis except the A1. Buyers who choose the Cooper D will get into the London congestion charging zone for free, and won’t have to pay anything for the annual tax disc. With CO2 emissions of 99g/km, it falls into tax band A which is currently exempt. Petrol Cooper buyers don’t pay the tax for the first year, but it will cost £90 per year thereafter, due to CO2 emissions of 126g/km.
How reliable is it?
MINI has always performed well in reliability surveys and scored near the top. And because MINI is owned by BMW, the dealers are used to providing top notch service, and are usually sited alongside the BMW dealer.
How safe is it?
When safety watchdog EuroNCAP tested the MINI back in 2007, it scored a five-star safety rating. All MINIs come equipped with driver, passenger, side and head airbags and feature equipment like traction control and dynamic stability control. There are also Isofix child safety seat attachments in the rear so you can securely fasten a child seat.
How much equipment do I get?
Considering the relatively high list price, equipment is merely average. Standard equipment includes 15-inch alloy wheels, air-con, an alarm system, electric mirrors, electric front windows, radio/CD player and remote central locking. There’s also the choice of a white, black or body-colour roof and door mirrors. Popular optional extras include larger alloy wheels, or buyers can choose one of the option packs interestingly named Pepper and Chili. The Pepper pack includes a leather steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, front fog lights as well as other goodies, whereas the Chili pack majors on 16-inch alloy wheels, half-leather sports seats, rear spoiler and multi-function steering wheel as well as all the contents of the Pepper pack. There is an almost endless list of personalisation options, and few MINIs are identical.
For the young and style-conscious, the MINI makes a compelling choice. It is fantastic to drive, looks great and there are endless opportunities to personalise it. Factor in low running costs and excellent residual values and the MINI is a solid buy, if not a particularly practical one for carrying passengers or luggage.