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Premium Small Car of the Year 2016: MINI Cooper

The MINI Cooper is the 2016 Auto Express Premium Small Car of the Year, with the DS 3 and Fiat 500 commended

The MINI once again sets the standard in the premium small car class and scoops our award for the third year in a row. Even the efforts of the revamped Fiat 500 and DS 3 weren’t enough to topple the fashionable Brit.

It’s the compelling blend of style, quality, customisation and driving fun that gives the MINI the edge over the competition. Ever since parent firm BMW revived the name a decade-and-a-half ago, it’s always been one step ahead. This is particularly true of the current third-generation car, which has brought new levels of refinement, sophistication and technology to the already tempting package.

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Yet while the MINI has moved with the times, at its core it’s as fun-loving as the original. It doesn’t matter whether you pick the entry-level 1.2-litre three-cylinder or feisty 228bhp John Cooper Works model, every MINI is infused with the same eager personality that encourages you to drive just for the hell of it. With its compact dimensions, agile handling and beautifully weighted controls, the car makes you look forward to every corner.

And then there are the endless personalisation options. Whether you want a contrasting roof, bold body graphics, wider wheels or an eye-catching interior finish, there’s something for everyone. Yet the MINI can be grown-up, too. The latest car has the sort of refinement you’d expect in a class or two above, while additions such as adaptive dampers, a head-up display and adaptive cruise control bring a hi-tech sheen that rivals simply can’t match.

MINI Cooper - front

Inside, the MINI strikes the right balance between funky and functional. The cabin is packed with retro touches, while the top-notch materials add an upmarket flourish.

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It’s still a small car, so you can expect running costs to match. The diesel models emit as little as 82g/km of CO2, and even the racy JCW claims 42.2mpg economy. So this really is a car you can buy with your head and heart. 

Our choice

MINI Cooper (£15,485)

No model encapsulates the MINI’s strengths and charms better than the Cooper. Powered by an effervescent 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, it has all the performance you’ll ever realistically need. It’s not exactly extravagantly equipped, but it gets all the essentials, while the great-value Chili and Pepper packs add extra tech and luxury. Cheeky looks, an upmarket cabin and strong refinement complete the package.

Commended 

DS 3

DS 3 - front static

A raft of updates has kept the eye-catching DS 3 in contention. The brand’s smallest model ignores the retro approach of its rivals for a more modern look and feel. However, there’s still plenty of scope for personalisation, while efficient new turbo engines and a Convertible model have helped keep the DS 3 fresh.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 - front

The recently revised Fiat 500 is back to its best. The brand’s designers have left the charmingly retro looks largely unchanged, but tweaks to the interior include much-improved quality and the addition of some cutting-edge kit. It’s not as refined or as accomplished as the MINI on the move, but the fizzy TwinAir car is huge fun.

Auto Express New Car Awards 2016 

For complete, in-depth coverage of the New Car Awards 2016, buy your collector's edition copy of the Auto Express magazine now or click here to subscribe...  

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