MINI Cooper 1.6 litre

How does the stock MINI Cooper, launched at the same time as the Cooper S, perform against the opposition?

  • Great driving position, excellent quality, ride, handling, plenty of steering feedback, perfectly weighted controls, tlc servicing deal
  • Miserly standard equipment tally, cramped rear seats, boot has tiny luggage capacity, expensive optional extras

Now the new MINI has arrived in showrooms, many of the 200,799 British buyers who chose a first-generation model will surely be popping in to spot the changes. And even though every panel is different, you have to look hard to see them.

The front end is raised and more bulbous, but the overall styling sticks to the same winning formula. The Cooper is set apart from the flagship Cooper S by its slatted chrome grille, single exhaust and toned-down lower bumper sections.

Also, the detailing is more subdued; the surrounds for the indicator repeaters are now made of black plastic instead of chrome, the tail-light lenses are coloured rather than clear and you don’t get the Cooper S’s metal-effect fuel flap.

Inside, the retro-inspired cabin that helped make the original MINI such a hit has cleverly evolved. The neat detailing, chrome trimming, trademark toggle switches and large central speedometer all look fantastic. The seating position is perfect and, unlike its rivals here, the Cooper has reach and rake adjustment on the steering.

Our test model’s Chili Pack – an option costing £1,875 – adds a three-spoke steering wheel, sports seats, air-conditioning, trip computer and mood lighting. Yet whether or not you choose these goodies, the MINI’s interior makes you feel special in a way no other small car can. Passengers sitting in the rear seats will find that they have much less room than in either the Fiesta or Swift, however. And there’s not much space for luggage, either; the 160-litre boot is downright cramped. Yet these are compro­mises MINI fans are prepared to accept, because when it comes to the driving experience, the new car teaches the old one a lesson or two.

For starters, even though our test model is fitted with the £130 optional sports suspension, the ride is more comfortable than before, and there’s a compliancy to the MINI set-up that neither rival can match. Yet the Cooper displays just as much agility as composure. There’s a fraction more body movement, but the new MINI changes direction beautifully, while the feel and accuracy of the steering is a real pleasure at any speed.

What’s more, the strange whining noise the old car’s electric power-steering pump made at low speeds is now a thing of the past. The brakes are strong, the clutch well weighted and the gearbox a joy to use. In fact, whatever type of driving you’re doing, the MINI excels, with refinement at motorway speeds being especially impressive. The engine contributes to this. Although it has 3bhp less than the Suzuki unit, there’s a 12Nm torque advantage, and so it feels more responsive lower in the revs and doesn’t need to be worked quite as hard. While the Cooper may not be able to match the in-gear acceleration times its shorter-geared rivals posted at the test track, in reality it is just as keen. This was proved when the model sprinted from 0-60mph in only 8.6 seconds – just a third-of-a-second behind the 2.0-litre Fiesta. As well as being the most refined, the Cooper engine is more frugal and far cleaner too.

We do have one criticism, though: without the Chili Pack, the MINI doesn’t have enough standard equipment in this class. And even with it, the Suzuki’s bargain price and generous spec, and the Ford’s larger engine plus great handling, mean the Cooper faces a tough test here.

Details

Price: £12,995Model tested: MINI Cooper 1.6-litre/120bhpChart position: 1WHY: Launched alongside the Cooper S, the Cooper is distinguished by several external modifications. It undercuts the Fiesta on price, although our test car had the £1,875 Chili Pack. Nearly all this year’s allocation has already been sold, so you will have to move fast to get your hands on one.

Economy

Helped by a six-speed gearbox and modern engine, the MINI averaged 32mpg with us. That’s some way off the maker’s official 48.7mpg combined figure – although it included a cross-continental trip from Barcelona to London, plus time at the test track. And it’s better than either rival.

Residuals

Resale predictions for the new MINI have yet to be calculated, but they are guaranteed to be very strong indeed. The previous generation had some of the industry’s best residuals, at around 60 per cent. Thanks to high initial demand, the new version looks certain to continue that trend.

Servicing

The tlc fixed price servicing package is another key element that has helped make the MINI such a great ownership prospect. This deal gives drivers five years or 50,000 miles of servicing for only £150. Plump for tlc XL, and you get another three years or 30,000 miles of cover for a further £300.

Tax

Not only is the MINI the most economical car here, but emissions of 139g/km mean it also sits in the lowest tax bracket. For higher-band earners, the Cooper is more than £200 a year cheaper than both rivals, at £780. But this car is poorly equipped, and options will raise the bill.

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