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Review: Maxi fun with the wildly popular Mk3 Mini

This is the facelifted and fettled version of the wildly popular Mk3 Mini.

Having occupied a position in the UK's bestselling cars charts on and off for many years, the Mini has a dedicated fanbase that loves its pastiche of retro design elements, perky engines and sporty driving dynamics.

With a new Volkswagen Polo GTI on sale now, and the latest Ford's Fiesta ST on the way, this high-performance Cooper S has its work cut out.

What's new?

The only way this Mini could shout about its British heritage more is if the horn played Jerusalem. The car is covered in Union Jacks, with new LED tail-lights the boldest implementation of this. Elsewhere, changes are relatively small. Mini's new, simpler logo features throughout, and inside there are a few tech upgrades. Personalisation has been ramped up too, with the Mini Yours program giving buyers unprecedented levels of control over what their car looks like.

What's under the bonnet?

The entry-level 1.2-litre engine has been replaced by a detuned version of the Cooper's 1.5-litre unit. The rest of the range is identical in power, though economy has improved. Our Cooper S model produced a hefty 189bhp. Despite the Mini weighing a fairly porky 1,265 kilos, performance is sprightly, with 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds. Top speed sits at 146mph. The engine has plenty of low-down grunt, but doesn't encourage you to rev it hard. The best progress is to be made in the mid-range, thanks to the turbocharged torque. All Minis get an excellent six-speed manual box as standard, with rev-match technology in Sport mode. Most automatic models are fitted with a new seven-speed DCT transmission, which is smooth to shift but seemed too happy to change down unnecessarily. Hot JCW and Cooper SD models feature an eight-speed torque converter box instead.

What's it like to drive?

The Mini sticks to the road like glue in hard cornering -Mini says it handles "like a go-kart" and has been trading on this since the brand was reborn in 2001. It's fantastically entertaining on a twisty road, and the relatively stiff suspension ensures the car remains flat. The steering is nicely weighted - albeit slightly too heavy in Sport mode - and offers bags of feedback. It's not a match for really hardcore hot hatches such as the Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport, but it walks all over the likes of the Audi S1 and Volkswagen Polo GTI. That stiff suspension does mean the ride isn't ideal for longer journeys, though. The Mini doesn't exactly crash into bumps and potholes - it sort of bounces over them instead.

How does it look?

Those patriotic tail-lights are the big talking point - they make the Mini totally unmistakable, even from a distance, and are bound to be a bit of a Marmite choice. The headlights feature an unbroken ring of LEDs - a far more premium touch - but elsewhere the Mini retains its cute proportions and retro styling. Whether you prefer this to the more contemporary style of cars is a personal choice, but sales figures definitely come out in the Mini's favour. The Mini Yours Personalisation programme allows you to add your own choice of design to the projector lights, indicator repeaters, door sills and dash - our test cars were named after the royal family, and proudly displayed 'Philip' on the front wings.

What's it like inside?

The Mini's interior remains a sticking point, as its retro design hinders usability to a point. It's characterful, but buttons and switches are scattered about the cabin. The small gauge cluster is hard to read, while the central infotainment display looks a bit lost within its vast surround. Lighting is another sticking point, with an irritating strip in the centre console and a gaudily lit panel in front of the passenger clashing with the rest of the cabin backlighting. Space for rear passengers and luggage is poor, but this won't matter to most buyers - there's plenty of room in the front, with comfortable and easily adjustable seats. Five-door models fix this to a point, but the Mini really isn't a great family car.

What's the spec like?

The new Mini features an improved equipment tally, but buyers should be wary of the extensive options list. As standard, the car comes with a 6.5-inch infotainment display, DAB radio, LED lights front and rear, air conditioning and remote central locking. Equipment levels increase with engine spec, but most buyers will opt for the Chili Pack of options. This adds rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, different alloy wheels, improved upholstery and sports seats. Personalisation is vast and varied, and with the Mini Yours Pack it's possible to have 12 Union Jacks adorning your car.

Verdict

The new Mini isn't a big change over the old car, but it didn't need to be. The updates help freshen up what's now a four-year-old car, and the result is eye-catching and feels premium. The best part of the Mini - the driving experience - has been left virtually untouched, and while it's no luxury limo, it remains amazing fun on a twisting road and more than accomplished in town. A lower-spec Cooper would be our choice over the somewhat pricey Cooper S, but whatever engine or trim you go for, the Mini hatchback is a great small car.

Facts at a glance

Model as tested: Mini Cooper S

Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol

Power (bhp): 189

Torque (Nm): 300

Max speed (mph): 146

0-60mph: 6.6 seconds

MPG (combined): 47.1

Emissions (g/km): 138 e

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