Price: £20,995
Top speed: 148 mph 0-60mph 6.5 seconds
Consumption: 40.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Best for: barrels of fun
Also worth considering? Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Scirocco

"Coopering is not just a dying trade, it's already dead". That was the depressing assessment offered by Alastair Simms, Britain's last remaining master cooper, when he made the news a few weeks ago with his desperate search for an apprentice to carry on his barrel-making craft at a brewery in Wiltshire. I hope Mr Simms is successful, of course, but I'm more concerned about the future of a different sort of Coopering – the British art of modifying Minis in order to make them go faster, practised on these islands since 1961. That's when the late John Cooper, one of the giants of our motor-sport industry, first tweaked the original 1959 Mini to give it the power to match its excellent road-holding.

When BMW reinvented the Mini in 2001, it not only kept the Cooper badge for the sportier versions but also gave its seal of approval to a "Works" kit of go-faster parts produced by Cooper's family company. When I tested a Works Mini fitted with that kit a few years ago, it was provided by Cooper, rather than BMW, and when I got chatting to the man who delivered it, he turned out to be John Cooper's grandson. For me, what made that car special was not the way it went but its provenance.

Since then, the Mini has been revamped, and has a new range of smoother engines. Another change is that BMW has brought the Works variant in-house and now offers it as a ready-built production model, rather than expecting the customer to buy a separate kit of parts.

What difference has this made? Objectively speaking, the Works model is better than ever before. Like all BMW Minis, it is a brilliant amalgam of British quirkiness and excellent German execution. Even so, I can't help feeling a certain sadness at the fading of the Cooper link and the slight loosening of the Mini's British roots it represents; that successful Anglo-German mix is a precious, delicate thing with which BMW messes at its peril.

But we Brits can grumble all we like; when it comes to the future development of this, the UK's greatest automotive icon, our German friends are in charge and have, I'm afraid, got us over a barrel.

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