MINI Cooper S Checkmate

It's no secret that the current MINI's days are numbered! Development of its replacement is well underway, and the wraps are due to come off a new model next year.

Special editions usually make sense. They get lots of extra kit and represent excellent value. Yet while the Checkmate is distinc-tive and offers lots more equipment than the standard Cooper S, it's pricey. We'd stick with the Chili pack Cooper S - it's nearly £1,000 less, and offers a superb all-round package combining performance and high specification.

It's no secret that the current MINI's days are numbered! Development of its replacement is well underway, and the wraps are due to come off a new model next year. As a result, BMW is aiming to shift as much of the remaining stock as possible, ensuring the MINI's final year is its best ever for sales, which are already up 12 per cent in 2005.

With such demand, the Oxford-based company doesn't need a discount model to keep interest in the marque alive - which is why three fully loaded special-edition cars have arrived. We took the wheel of the first, the Cooper S Check-mate, to see how it shapes up.

Based on the flagship Cooper S, the Checkmate concentrates on improving the MINI's aesthetics rather than its performance. Outside, it gets unique (and very smart) Space Blue metallic paint, dubious chequered stickers on the front wings, Checkmate badges on the B-pillar, bonnet stripes and new 17-inch alloys.

Step inside and there's more Check-mate branding on the kick plates - but most noticeable is the new upholstery. Bold blue and silver leather covers the seats and steering wheel, while the dash is an identical colour to the exterior and the headlining gets a swanky metallic grey finish. It's all very swish and trendy.

Other extras over the standard car include air-con, an on-board computer, front foglights and xenon headlamps, an interior lighting pack and a limited slip dif-ferential - to help put the supercharged 1.6's 170bhp on to the road. These toys add a hefty £2,450 to the Cooper S price, though, bringing it to £17,635.

And while MINI points out that all the Checkmate options would cost 25 per cent more if bought individually, a Cooper S with the Chili Pack would get virtually the same additions - apart from the bespoke exterior and interior - for £1,600. Since the Checkmate drives no differently to the standard car - and, as such, is one of the finest hot hatches on sale, with well weighted steering, great agility and storming acceleration - it seems an expensive way of standing out from the crowd.

As the Checkmate will be relatively rare, buyers are paying for exclusivity. But then MINI customers love to personalise their cars - so the firm should have no trouble selling the newcomer.

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