The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.1
The MINI First is the cheapest BMW product available. It has the same virtues as more costly models, like great handling, strong used values and good build quality but with less equipment.
Reasons to buy
- Strong image
- Good handling
- Good build quality
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
When it comes to instantly recognisable shapes, few can compete with the MINI. Even those who aren’t interested in cars will identify this as BMW’s smallest car with those cheeky looks that haven’t dated since the first-generation MINI appeared in 2001. The minimal overhangs, circular headlights and floating roof all mark this out as a MINI, and it looks all the better for them. However, while other MINI models come with alloy wheels that lift the car’s exterior, the First has steel wheels with plastic trims, that don’t look as good.
What's the interior like?
The MINI’s dash is one of those that people either love or hate. It’s far from bland, but with many retro details it would be easy to say it’s contrived. For example, there’s a huge central speedometer, into which are set various other pieces of information. It looks fine, but the toggle switches below are over-designed and some of the plastics feel and look cheap. At least it’s easy to get comfortable though, as the seats are supportive and there’s ample reach and height adjustment for the steering wheel.
How practical is it?
The MINI’s boot is pretty small with the rear seats in place and can accommodate just 160 litres. Fold the seats and this increases to 680 litres. If you bought a Renault Clio you’d have either 288 or 1,038 litres available. The First is available only with three doors, so rear seat access isn’t too great. If there are tall people in the front, it’s not possible to accommodate adults in the back, for any length of time.
What's it like to drive?
Few small cars handle as well as the MINI, with BMW having given the car sharp steering that makes every journey a hoot. However, while the controls are well-weighted and there’s much driving pleasure to be derived from the MINI, the ride is rather hard thanks to the short wheelbase, firm suspension and run-flat tyres. The result is a car that’s definitely set up for handling rather than comfort, so if most of your journeys are at slowish speeds on potholed roads, the MINI may not be for you.
How powerful is it?
The MINI First is only available with one engine, and that’s a detuned version of the 1.6-litre petrol engine also seen in the One. With 74bhp and 103lb/ft of pulling power it’s no ball of fire, but with a standard six-speed manual gearbox it’s easy enough keeping the unit on the boil – which is necessary to make good progress. However, use those revs and it’s possible to get to 62mph in 13.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 109mph. Those figures aren’t that far behind the MINI One, but they are behind enough to make a difference in everyday driving.
How much will it cost me?
With its low purchase costs and strong used values the MINI is amazingly cheap to run, especially when considering these cars aren’t exactly rare. With CO2 emissions of just 127g/km and fuel consumption of 52.3mpg possible, the First isn’t too heavy on fuel either, helped by the standard fit of stop and start. Running costs are reduced by a servicing package which is available when buying the car, which covers the first five years of maintenance and costs less than £200 – an absolute steal.
How reliable is it?
Ownership experiences tend not to come any more painless than with BMW products. So far the second-generation MINI has built an enviable reputation for reliability. The sorts of problems that have cropped up include temperamental speakers with upgraded stereos, starter motors failing and starter motors packing in. Cracked windscreens and damaged paintwork have also been reported by some owners.
How safe is it?
With a five-star EuroNCAP crash test rating, the MINI is about as strong a small car as it’s possible to get. The testing was performed on a MINI Cooper and while the One doesn’t come with quite as much standard safety kit it uses the same structure. For example, while there are six airbags, it’s necessary to pay extra for a deactivation switch for the front passenger seat airbag. However, there are anti-lock brakes, traction control and electronic stability programme as standard, along with Isofix child seat mountings for the rear seats.
How much equipment do I get?
It’s not just the power that BMW cuts in the transition from One to First, as there’s also less standard equipment. Unless an optional extra is chosen, there are steel wheels instead of alloys, a single-disc CD/tuner and no air-con. There are electric windows, but not much else, unless one of the key option packs is specified that offer an improved level of interior trim and sportier exterior details. The assumption is that this MINI suits customers on a tight budget – if they are not it makes more sense to move up to the more highly specified MINI One.
It may be the cheapest MINI available, but that doesn’t stop the First from looking almost as good as the posher models while also being nearly as good to drive.