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The car Mini 5dr hatchback Cooper Sport Run by Chris Haining, sub-editor
Why it’s here To see if the iconic Mini still has what it takes to compete in a world that cares about more than just image.
Needs to Keep its driver entertained on twisty roads, as well as shrugging off motorways comfortably and economically.
Mileage 2990 List price £21,965 Target price £20,761 Price as tested £27,385 Test economy 48.2 mpg Official economy 49.6 mpg Running costs (excluding depreciation) Fuel £435, Trade-in value now £21,978 Dealer price now £24,473 Private price now £21,754
15 September 2021 – Graduating from Oxford
The Mini plant in Cowley, near Oxford, has a long and storied history. Around nine months ago, my five-door Mini Cooper Sport rolled off the production line there, but cars have been built on the site for almost a century, wearing Mini, Austin, Morris, Triumph and even Honda badges. Rovers, too. In fact the silver 800 in the pictures below emerged from the same facility 24 years before my Mini. It once belonged to my grandfather, and I now cherish it myself.
The Rover is here because the more I drive the Mini, the more I think about my Rover. That’s not because the two are in any way similar – they really aren’t – but because of how I connected with the Mini. It got beneath my skin in a way that few cars manage.
I initially chose the Mini because I fondly remembered the fun I've had in previous versions, and it didn’t take long for it to live up to those memories. Every trip I’ve made in it has had me grinning for at least part of the journey. Indeed, while it doesn’t corner with quite the dogged enthusiasm of a Seat Ibiza for example, it has a more easygoing feel that brought me joy even when I wasn’t pushing it hard.
The truth is, I found the Mini fun even when it was standing still. It’s a car that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with amusing features such as the facility to set the big LED ring that surrounds the infotainment screen to illuminate in a way that matches the movement of the rev-counter needle, or to follow the beat of your music. Then there’s Wanda the economy goldfish, who rewarded my efficient driving with playful backflips. Those Union Jack rear lights, too – they border on the tacky and polarise opinion, but I’ve come to enjoy the sheer truculence of them.
All this cheeriness distracts me from the Mini’s flaws, but they can’t be ignored entirely. Certain small-car rivals, particularly the Ibiza, trounce it when it comes to practicality.
I chose the five-door (which is slightly longer between the axles than the three-door) on the basis that its extra doors provide easier access to the rear seats, and there's more leg room for whoever's sitting in them. Unfortunately, while that’s the case, the tiny front doors leave a really narrow gap for me to squeeze through, and my cumbersome frame requires that I move the steering wheel and seat as far back as they’ll go. That means any leg room for a passenger directly behind me disappears anyway.
My biggest gripe concerns road noise, though. I've rarely heard such a big difference between the coarse concrete and smooth Tarmac sections of the A12 than in the Mini. The tyres roar and the suspension hums to create a drone that drowns the engine noise and does its best to smother the stereo, rather spoiling long, fast journeys. It’s just as well, then, that the Mini did such a good job of persuading me to take the twisty route home.
It says a lot that the Mini wins me over despite its shortcomings, and that brings me back to the Rover. When my Grandad bought it in the Nineties, he could have chosen an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 Series for the same money, and both were objectively much better cars. He wanted the Rover, though. He identified with it.
'Wantability' is the Mini's stock in trade. You could say that it lives in a parallel category to other small cars; the Honda Jazz rules the roost for practicality, the Volkswagen Polo is the go-to for a blend of quality and comfort, and the Ford Fiesta and Seat Ibiza duke it out for handling honours. If What Car? did awards for character and individuality, the Mini would surely be in contention for a gong.
It's easy to fall for the Mini’s esoteric charms. I certainly have, and I’m not the only one. If my car’s strong trade-in value is anything to go by, dealers must have a steady stream of customers who yearn to go on a Mini Adventure of their own.
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