What we were looking for: Agility, power and a heck of a lot of fun are the main qualities we need in a hot hatch, but that's not enough it needs to be affordable, too
Best buy under 15,000
Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133
List price 11,309
Target Price 10,743
Best web price 10,309 (www.dealdrivers.co.uk)
Best buy 15,000 17,000
Mini Cooper S
List price 15,910
Target Price 15,753
Best web price 15,450 (www.carfile.net)
Best buy over 17,000
Honda Civic 2.0 i-VTEC Type R GT
List price 18,640
Target Price 17,824
Best web price 14,978 (www.carfile.net)
Just as brilliant as ever, the Mini is still the headline act in this category.
The Mini is in dire need of a new trophy cabinet. It won this award last year and in 2007, and comes fresh from picking up a gong at our Green Car of the Year Awards.
All of this success is richly deserved. The Cooper S is, quite simply, the best hot hatch around. Whether you're buying with your heart or your head, whatever questions you ask of it, the Mini comes up with all the right answers.
It'll entertain you
If you're thinking about buying a hot hatch, you'll want to be entertained first and foremost. Well, guess what? The Cooper S will have you smiling before you even press the start' button. The funky retro design still looks fresh today, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that it's hardly changed since 2001. Chances are, it'll still look this fresh in another eight years.
The style doesn't stop when you get inside, either. The interior isn't big, but it's a lovely place to be. The driving position is spot-on, and the dash is much more charming than the drab designs served up in many modern superminis. It's not simply laid out, though, but getting the hang of all the oddly positioned knobs and switches doesn't take long.
On the streets
Hit the road and things get even better. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine offers lightning throttle responses and enough kick-up-the-backside to get the Cooper S to 62mph in a whisker over seven seconds. That might not be quite as quick as some modern hot hatch brutes, but the Mini will soon catch up when the road gets twisty. Stunning agility is backed up by superb steering, which gives you the confidence to push the S to its limits.
Hot hatches are usually costly to run, but not the Cooper S. Its official fuel economy of 45.6mpg is better than a 1.4-litre Nissan Micra's. Tax is cheap, too C02 emissions of 149g/km mean (from April) you'll pay only 125 a year for a tax disc. Company car drivers will be quids-in, too they'll pay just 17% of the list price each year, which is about the same as for a diesel Ford Focus.
Value for money
At this point, you may be thinking: Sure, but 16k is a lot of money for a Mini.' True, but you'll make a lot of that cash back when you sell. Even in these turbulent times, you should get 57% of your money back after three years and 36,000 miles that's better than all its main rivals.
So there you have it yet more silverware for the Cooper S. Such is the Mini's dominance in this category, we wouldn't be surprised to see it on top again in 2010. There's some stiff competition hitting showrooms later this year, but it'll have to be exceptional to beat the Mini.