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Best buy - Mini Cooper S
The Mini Cooper S is like one of those cool kids at school who seem to be brilliant at everything.

For a start, it's got a conscience. It wants to 'do good work' and save the planet. You see, it's filled with BMW's Efficient Dynamics technology, which is a range of systems including electric power steering and active aerodynamics that are designed to minimise the amount of fuel the car uses and reduce the gasses it chucks out.

The most noticeable of these is Auto Start-Stop, which cuts the engine when you stop and take the car out of gear, then automatically restarts it when you engage first gear again.

The Mini puts out just 149g/km of carbon dioxide and just 0.005 of nitrogen oxide, which is a seriously low figure.

It also does an average of 45.6mpg, which is pretty handy for a car that will run rings around some of the other properly quick machinery on the market.

The Mini's also popular because it has the sort of good looks that make it popular with both sexes. It's also the best in the school at PE. The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine puts out 173bhp and 177lb ft of pulling power with which it ripples the road on the way to a 0-60mph time of just 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 140mph.

Don't think it's a straight-lines-only one-trick pony, however. Oh no, it loves corners - the more the better.

It turns in quickly, seemingly regardless of your speed, and will hang on long after your bravery has run out. Quick sequences of corners are no problem, either, because the Mini's more agile than your average squirrel.

It would be a shame if the Mini had all of these talents, but with only the intelligence of a goldfish. No worries, though, because it's sharp. How else could it carry four people and their shopping (just)?

That's enough to mean the Mini is one of those cars that makes you sick with jealousy - but then you discover that the finances stack up, too.

Just 16,000 will net you our reigning Hot Hatch of the Year, and while dealers will knock only around 150 off that, you'll reap the benefit come resale time - your Cooper S will still be worth 62% of its list price three years and 36,000 miles down the line.

So there you go - the Mini is annoyingly good at everything, and it's got a heart, too. What's not to love?

buying used There are plenty of used Minis to choose from, but strong residuals mean prices will be high. A 56-plate Cooper S with under 20,000 miles will go for about 13,000, but prices rise steeply from there. Expect to pay 16,500 for a 57-plate car with the desirable Chili pack and other options.

Best buy up to 20,000
Mini Cooper S
Price 16,245
Target Price 16,079
CO2 149g/km
NOx 0.005g/km
Particulates n/a
Average economy 45.6mpg
Green verdict A quick bit of kit with a heart of gold when it comes to being green

Best buy 20,000-30,000
Audi TT 2.0 TDI quattro
Price 26,350
Target Price 26,350
CO2 139g/km
NOx 0.118g/km
Particulates 0.004g/km Average economy 44.4mpg
Green verdict Now there's even more reason to buy this cool coup

Best buy 30,000+
BMW 335d SE
Price 34,050
Target Price 31,638
CO2 177g/km
NOx 0.194g/km
Particulates 0.001g/km
Average economy 42.2mpg
Green verdict A business car that does the business - economically

With thanks to the Eden Project: