The Mini Cooper S is a home-grown hot hatch that's big on performance and style, yet treads far lighter than rivals because of its smaller carbon footprint. It'sgood enough to have won the hot hatch category of the What Car? Car of the Year Awards for the past two years, and was the best sports car in last year's Green Awards.
Its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine develops 173bhp, yet it's still capable of an official average of 45.6mpg. You can get from 0-60mph in just over seven seconds, yet you'll pay only £125 a year in road tax.
It's not all about straight-line performance, though, because the Mini has the handling to match. Accurate and informative steering let you position the car perfectly when cornering and, thanks to
As well as being a hoot when tackling leafy lanes, the Mini is easy to live with in town, with light steering and a decent ride. It doesn't even mind traffic, because the Mini has stop-start technology as standard. This automatically kills the engine while you wait at lights and junctions, reducing the car's emissions and fuel consumption, and then quickly restarts it when you need to move.
The Mini is big on style, too: from its carefully crafted exterior to its distinctive interior, there are plenty of neat touches that give the car bags of personality. The S comes with air-con, automatic stability control and driver and passenger airbags as standard, but there's a host of wheel, colour and trim options to make your Mini your own.
It's still a supermini, so don't expect acres of legroom or a huge boot, but there's plenty of space for front passengers and acceptable leg- and headroom for children and small adults in the back. The boot is undeniably small, but for larger loads you can fold the rear seats down to boost the luggage space.
Okay, so the Mini isn't cheap, but solid resale values mean you'll retain more of the car's original price when you sell it on. Mini's excellent TLC service pack lets you pre-pay for up to eight years' scheduled maintenance, covering up to 80,000 miles, for £555.
If you still need convincing, then remember that the car is built in the UK – so delivery transportation emissions are minimal.
Picking up a used Mini Cooper S isn't difficult or expensive. There are many cars available and prices are reasonable. Dealers have the best selection, but you can find cheaper, higher-mileage cars at independents and supermarkets. Prices start from less than £12k for a 2007 Cooper S with 36,000 miles, but can rise quickly depending on specification and options. The best news is that the TLC service plan is transferable when you buy a used car, and can be extended, too.
Green car fact file
Best buy up to £20,000
Mini Cooper S
List price: £16,575
Target Price: £16,412
Particulate emissions: na
Average fuel economy: 45.6mpg
Green verdict: Fast, frugal and feisty – the Cooper S delivers scorching pace without sizzling the planet
Best buy £20,000-£30,000
Audi TT 2.0 TDI Quattro
Target Price: £24,549
Particulate emissions: 0.004g/km
Average fuel economy: 53.3mpg
Green verdict: Svelte coupé has a green heart and is great fun to own
Best buy over £30,000
BMW 335d Coupé SE
Target Price: £33,581
Particulate emissions: 0.001g/km
Average fuel economy: 42.2mpg
Green verdict: Combines green tech and a powerful engine to deliver more smiles and miles per gallon than any rival at this price