First drive: MINI First and Cooper S

  • New entry-level Mini launched
  • Cooper S gets more power
  • Mini range now starts at £11,160

MINI has to up its game if it is to stay relevant beside shiny new metal like the Citroen DS3 and the Audi A1 and that's even before you consider the ever popular (and significantly cheaper) Fiat 500. 

In response, the firm has launched an all-new entry level trim called the MINI First. 

Powered by the same 1.6-litre petrol that lives under the bonnet of the Cooper S and One models, the First gets the least powerful power output of just 75bhp.

This means it hits 62mph in 13.2 seconds while topping out at 109mph. Fuel consumption is identical, pegged at 52.3mpg while emitting 127g/km of CO2. On the road you notice the shortage of power beside its more powerful stalemates. The engine seems relaxed and not especially eager, which is a bit frustrating because overly long gearing means it needs working very hard to keep up with traffic. 

The good news is the MINI is still as great to drive as ever and remains, significantly better than its opposition, although, that said, it still also has the worst ride.  

Pricing starts at a reasonable sounding £11,160 but beware, that is a car that does without alloy wheels and air conditioning. Expect a very costly box-ticking exercise on the options list. 

Also accompanying the new First in the hatchback range is a revised Cooper S, that thanks to an all-new turbocharger boosts power to a very healthy 182bhp. Against the clock this reduces the 0-62mph sprint to just 7.0 seconds and top speed increases to 142mph. Not only is the MINI quicker it is also more efficient at the pumps. Fuel consumption falls to 48.7mpg (down from 45.7mpg) while CO2 emissions have been slashed to 136g/km. 

On the road the Cooper S remains a joy and feels significantly quicker with the added power. In fact, the new Cooper S is so quick the hotter, more powerful, John Cooper Works (JCW) version now seems unnecessary. 

Find a twisty road and the S thrills, although, if we were really picky we'd choose the Clio Renaultsport 200 for its added agility and better balance, but in most places the Cooper S feels the quicker car of the two. 

Pricing for the Cooper S starts at £17,070, but again, we expect most will opt for the Sport pack that adds another £2,020.


Also consider

Fiat 500

Stylish city car that's economical and cheap to buy. Prices start from £9,265

Ford Fiesta

Marries comfort and excellent driving dynamics. Prices start from £11,645 

Renault Clio

French manufacturer has proved it can still build classy small hatch. Prices start from £10,930