Mini Cooper - The Verdict

We know it's really a BMW, but that's a good thing. Is there a trace of Britishness left in this update from Bavaria? Over to David Wilkins and our panel

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Price: £12,995
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 9.1 seconds, 48.7 mpg
CO2: 139g/km
Worth considering: Ford Fiesta ST, Nissan Micra 1.6 Sport SR, Peugeot 207 1.6 Sport

An interesting opportunity for some of our Kent-based readers this week - a chance to sample the revamped version of BMW's Mini before the paying customers get their hands on it later this month, on what would have been the 100th birthday of Sir Alec Issigonis, father of the first BMC Mini of 1959.

I'm not sure the Bavarians are wise to make so much of this coincidence, as it raises again the question of what the great man would have thought of their interpretation of his original concept.

We can only guess, of course, but I doubt he would have been that keen. The BMW Mini copies much of the superficial detailing of the original - all carried over as part of this update - but not some of the fundamental qualities that made the older car great, such as its low weight and clever maximisation of interior space.

Still, I don't think any of that really matters much. This Mini is a lot bigger and heavier than Issigonis's creation because it is full of the comforts that today's buying public demands and the safety features that modern law-makers require. Despite its size and weight, it's still just about as nimble as a modern car can be, perhaps thanks to its very short overhangs, the one fundamental feature it does retain from the old Mini.

And I've never thought that the attraction of this car lies merely in the extent of its Mininess. There's something else as well; under the skin, the current Mini is really a small, very well built, front-wheel-drive British BMW providing surprisingly low costs of ownership. This other side of the Mini's appeal has been greatly strengthened by the update.

For a start, the latest car is more of a BMW than its predecessor because it has better engines that are now built in-house, rather than bought in from Chrysler. It is more British, because BMW has chosen to make these new engines at its UK engine plant near Birmingham. And the new car feels better built; the dashboard in particular has excellent plastics and fit, although I'm not sure that re-inventing the old eyeball-style air vents that were so popular on British cars of the Sixties was necessarily the best use of BMW's engineering resources, even if they look good.

The latest Minis may be even cheaper to own, too; price rises are modest, fuel economy is improved, and low-cost flat-rate servicing packages are available. Depreciation is likely to remain very low, too. And, for some reason, BMW just doesn't seem to be able to make enough of them.

Jas Manku, 31
Financial manager, Bexleyheath, Kent
USUAL CAR: LEXUS IS200

Initially the new Mini did not appear much different from the current model, however when you look closely you will see that it has had a facelift. Internally, it shows all the signs of a quality car, as expected from BMW. There is plenty of head-room, and two adults could comfortably sit it the back seats. Driving, it feels similar to an Audi A3 or VW Golf. The leather sports seats tuck you into a good driving position, visibility is great and the car had great acceleration in all six gears - while the 16in wheels and low-profile tyres kept me in control on bends and roundabouts. A great car that puts fun and control back into driving, without having to remortgage.

Scott Powers, 27
Gallery supervisor, Welling, Kent
USUAL CAR: FORD FIESTA ZETEC S

As an avid fan of the Mini, I had high expectations of this car - I was not disappointed. At first glance it doesn't look like much has changed from the old model, but when you take a closer look you can see the rounded front end, added chrome and higher stance. On entering the car you see more subtle changes, such as a well built interior, comfortable half-leather seats, six-speed gearbox and the best bit, the starter button: press it and off you go. The driving position is good, but keeping track of your speed takes some getting used to, due to the centre-mounted speedometer. If you want a good-value hatchback with lots of street cred, you can't go far wrong.

Adam Liversage, 34
Press officer, Sevenoaks, Kent
USUAL CAR: RENAULT MEGANE.

The Mini felt solid, and was roomier and more comfortable than the exterior suggested. The boot is too small to be practical for a family, but a suitcase would probably fit on its side. On the road, the BMW engineering really shines: grip is excellent, the steering is light and precise, and there's plenty of poke on tap. The clutch travels too far, but the six-speed gearbox is crisp and well-balanced for sprints and cruises. It's a refined, quality drive and alarmingly good for a "fun" car. I'd lumped the new Mini in with the new Beetle - all style, no substance, and too girlie - but once behind the wheel it justifies the premium price. I'd buy one instead of a Golf or Focus.

THE VERDICT

If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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