MINI One

Enduring class leader finally has a match in terms of retro appeal.

  • Nice ride, cockpit is stylish and solid, good pace and refinement even at high speeds, economical.
  • Low-rent heater controls, air-con isn’t standard, cramped 160-litre load area, getting in and out is difficult.

At a time when everything retro is once again in vogue, the MINI is an example of how to blend classic styling with modern elements perfectly. BMW hit the jackpot with the MINI – and it’s exactly this kind of popularity that Fiat is hoping to emulate with the 500.

Of course, both cars are now much bigger than the legends in whose footsteps they follow, but they still retain the styling ethos that made the originals classics. It’s no surprise then that the second-generation MINI, launched last year, saw few changes over its predecessor.

The revisions are subtle, yet park the new car alongside the old one and it’s easier to spot the differences than it is on the Smart, for example. The latest MINI has retained its predecessor’s compact dimensions, although alongside the 500 it looks quite big.

But inside, it’s not as well packaged as the Fiat – cabin space is modest. While city cars are obviously never going to offer huge amounts of room, the MINI is disappointing – especially the tiny 160-litre boot, which is only good for a brief shopping trip. If you need to carry anything sizeable, you’ll have to drop the rear seats – which, luckily, is a straightforward operation.

Passengers in the back get decent shoulder room, but they feel the pinch when it comes to knee space: the MINI offers 565mm compared with 610mm in the 500. Still, the One feels more roomy inside, thanks to its higher roof and more upright tailgate.

The British model also has a better driving position than its Italian rival. There’s adjustment on the steering wheel for reach and rake plus, thanks to a low-slung seat, it’s easier to get comfortable. The cabin itself has an air of sophistication and cohesion which is missing in either competitor here, and the MINI’s build quality still sets the standard. From the funky toggle switches to the heavy doors, it feels upmarket – although considering the price tag, this is the least buyers should expect.

And they should also reasonably anticipate a certain amount of standard equipment for their money – but this is a real sore point with MINI. The entry-level One model only gets ugly steel wheels as standard. You can specify alloys, but they’re far from cheap – even the basic 15-inch wheels fitted to our car cost £330.

None of this detracts from the great driving experience, though. Don’t be fooled by the small engine; the 1.4-litre unit, co-developed with PSA Peugeot Citroen, puts out a modest 95bhp – that’s around 25bhp more than either rival. But it’s enjoyable to use, especially around town.

The powerplant is smooth and tractable at low revs, happy to be pushed all the way to the red line and never feels strained. It’s also good on the motorway, and is surprisingly relaxed over long distances. Equally impressive is the One’s refined nature. The smaller rims mean the ride is excellent and it doesn’t jar or fidget like the bigger-wheeled Cooper S. The gearbox is slick and precise, too.

Out on the road, the MINI uses its wide stance to prove how strong it is dynamically. It’s stable through corners, feeling balanced and grippy, while the electrically assisted steering is nicely weighted. Body roll is kept well in check, and the One is great fun along country lanes.

That price could put buyers off, though. At £11,625, the MINI is £2,300 more than the Fiat, and it doesn’t even feature air-con as standard. Realistically, buyers will have to opt for the Pepper pack to get decent kit – that costs £1,315 more.

Details

Price: £11,625Model tested: MINI One 1.4-litreChart position: 1WHY: In terms of style and image, this is the 500’s main target. The entry-level model is costly, though.

Economy

Long gearing, a torquey powerplant and clever Efficient Dynamics technology ensured the MINI was the most frugal car here. It returned 48.0mpg in our hands – and that makes it one of the most efficient petrol cars we’ve ever tested.

Residuals

spending the extra money on the MINI really makes sense when you look at the depreciation figures. The One costs £2,300 more than the 500 to buy, but after three years it will have lost £4,952 of its value to the Fiat’s £4,938.

Servicing

a simple servicing scheme is part of the appeal of owning a MINI. The tlc package allows buyers to pay £150 up front for five years or 50,000 miles of check-ups. It’s no wonder the model has such low running costs.

Tax

The MINI puts out the most CO2 of the cars in this test, although 128g/km is still impressively low. But its relatively high list price means business users pay £384 a year, or £77 more than those who choose the Fiat.

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