Now owned by BMW, the MINI is undoubtedly an iconic brand. Its reputation is largely based on fashion and film. Indeed, if you want a speedy MINI, there’s one name that comes to mind - and that's the Cooper.
The 2007 onwards 118 bhp 1.6-litre engine in the Cooper makes for thrilling performance. If you want more of a kick, then the Cooper S with a turbocharged 175 bhp 1.6-litre engine is for you. If you truly are mad and your need for speed is insatiable, then the John Cooper S Works (JCW) special version will satisfy you.
The JCW performance-brand has produced the most focused and hard-core versions of the legendary car and has some serious clout under the bonnet.
Accompanying the grunt is an exhaust that adds a sweet, yet sinister, soundtrack. It's not as loutish as its performance might imply, though. It's just utterly exciting and, if you ease off, it is more than comfortable enough for everyday use.
From August '07 onwards, the MINI came with stop-start engine technology, reducing fuel consumption and emissions, so if this is important to you, there is a 108 bhp 1.6-litre diesel available, with Cooper trim. Like all MINIS, it's enjoyable to drive and will return superior fuel economy compared with petrol versions.
Ride and handling
The MINI Cooper handles like a go-kart, with exact and perfectly-weighted steering. It has excellent control when cornering as there is hardly any body lean. This is why the MINI can feel a tad firm - but it doesn't become unpleasant. There is an automatic gearbox available on all models. It's well suited to the car's performance and gives a pretty smooth drive, but the manual tends to be more satisfying.
Indeed, the MINI is sophisticated enough to make commutes along either country lanes or motorways equally enjoyable, although there is some road and wind noise at higher speeds.
Inside, the MINI is comfortable if you are the driver or front seat passenger. Head and legroom is decent, but the rear seats are poky for passengers, and are only really good enough for young children. The hatchback style boot is small, so it is not the most practical of load spaces. Your weekly shop will just about fit in, but not much else.
What to know before you buy
Most issues will have been sorted under the initial MINI three-year warranty, but there are still a few problems that blight the Cooper from time to time. The six-speed manual gearbox has gone wrong on some cars and the clutch can fail. Repairing it could be quite pricy.
You can check the condition of the clutch when you test drive a MINI. Shift into gear, the engine revs will surge, but if the car doesn’t move as fast as the engine sounds like it’s going, then this is a sign the clutch needs replacing.
It can also point to a more severe problem within the gearbox. The stop-start system has also been known to break down and stall the car when you come to a stop at traffic lights or a junction. The cabin and dashboard can also produce irritating squeaks and rattles.
The MINI windscreen is very vulnerable to damage, too, so check it carefully for cracks and damage.
There are alternative quality small hatchbacks such as the BMW 1 Series or Audi A3, which are well built and in abundant supply secondhand. They are pricier to run, so other trendy, more economical, but less premium used options to consider are the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3.
The MINI Cooper is a great super-mini. It has a very cool image and is exceptionally compelling to drive. If space isn’t an issue for you, but a fun drive in a small, iconic car is, then the Cooper is for you.
The trouble is, this makes it very sought-after as a secondhand buy, so you will have to shop around to find one.