Mini First

31 Jul, 2009 3:06pm Owen Mildenhall

New entry-level model gets a bargain price tag – but does it make retro baby even more tempting?

Verdict

The British firm’s new entry-level contender proves that sometimes, less is more. Retaining the brilliant build quality, retro design and appeal of pricier MINI models, it’s very desirable. With perfectly weighted controls, sharp steering and engaging handling, the First is great fun to drive. As it delivers only 75bhp, performance feels leisurely when compared to the One – and there’s no improvement in emissions or economy. Plus, we think it’s a real pity there’s no air-con. However, the MINI’s blend of quality, fun, fixed-price servicing and strong residuals is even more tempting at this price.

It’s another first from MINI! Fifty years ago, the original small car epitomised economical and cheap transport – but the modern reincarnation has always been a premium model out of range for those on a limited budget. However, with tough times meaning tighter purse strings, MINI has launched the First – its most affordable car yet, with a very attractive £10,950 price tag.

Only available in hatch form, it features the same 1.4-litre petrol unit as the £1,395 more expensive MINI One, albeit detuned by 20bhp, taking output to 75bhp. You still get the same six-speed manual gearbox and clever stop-start technology, meaning emissions and economy are identical to the One.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the MINI Hatch

Top speed falls by 6mph to 109mph, but of far more relevance is the sluggish acceleration. It takes 2.3 seconds longer to cover 0-62mph, completing the benchmark sprint in 13.2 seconds. On the road, the bargain Brit feels considerably slower, and you have to work the engine hard through the revs.

Thankfully, it thrives in these situations and never feels strained. As with all MINIs, the controls are well weighted and the gearbox accurate. You also get the same sense of top-notch mechanicals in the First as you do in more expensive variants.

Cabin quality is first rate, and although there is more black plastic than in glitzier MINIs, everything is impeccably screwed together and the dash blends retro design with an intuitive layout. Reach and rake steering adjustment means the driving position is spot-on, and split-fold rear seats boost practicality.

MINI hasn’t scrimped on safety equipment, either, as this entry-level model comes with curtain airbags, Isofix child seat mountings, stability control and a tyre pressure warning system as standard.
Air-conditioning is a £665 option, which is a pity, as cheaper rivals include this as standard.

However, you will forgive this as soon as you take the wheel. The First delivers the same near-faultless driving experience as other models in the range. Wonderfully accurate steering, superb body control and delightfully agile handling ensure this city car always raises a smile on the open road.

The relatively small wheels and skinny tyres mean the limit of grip arrives sooner than in sportier MINIs, but there’s a purity to the feedback from the superb chassis. And although the ride is still firm, the First’s suspension isn’t as unforgiving over bumpy surfaces as other models. Wind noise is well suppressed at motorway speeds, and the brakes have a positive, firm action.

Visually, the First is distinguished by plastic wheel covers, black mirror housings and a small badge on the B-pillar. There are three option packages available – the £525 Design Pack offers chrome detailing, body-coloured mirrors and a three-spoke steering wheel, while the £855 Tech Pack includes a multifunction wheel and audio upgrades. Yet sure to be the most popular is the £390 Salt Pack, which gives you interior mood lighting, floor mats, foglamps and an on-board computer.

But with or without options, the new First proves that the MINI is just as special in basic form.

Disqus - noscript

The new Mini is not as cheeky or as much fun as the old. It has a sour look face to the grill too

Key specs

 * Price: £10,950
 * Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl, 75bhp
 * Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
 * 0-62mph: 13.2 seconds
 * Top speed: 109mph
 * Economy/CO2: 53.3mpg/128g/km
 * Equipment: Alarm, stability control, curtain airbags, Isofix mountings, split-fold rear seats, stop-start system, iPod input, remote central locking

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