For years, if you were after a premium supermini there was only one choice, BMW’s Mini. Launched a barely believable 14 years ago, the ‘New’ Mini was available in 3 main trim levels, One, Cooper and Cooper S.
The majority of cars would leave the factory with a 1.6 petrol offering between 89 and 170 bhp, giving performance that ranged from reasonable to rapid. Power wasn’t the issue though, fuel economy was. It’s for this reason that I would suggest hunting out the much rarer first generation One D.
Introduced in 2003 and produced up to 2006, the D came with a 1.4 litre turbocharged diesel engine good for 75 bhp and more importantly, over 50 mpg. This engine actually came from Toyota and was shared with the Yaris. As you would expect, this engine is virtually bulletproof and has the advantage of a chain driven cam. In layman’s terms, this means you avoid costly cambelt changes that are needed for most other cars. If 75bhp isn’t enough for you (0-60 takes almost 13 seconds) then look for a post 2005 car which gained another 20 bhp. The more powerful engine can be identified by a plastic engine cover that the lower powered model does without.
If there’s one thing to remember, it’s that the Mini is not an overly practical car. There was no option of 5 doors, the boot is tiny and the rear seats are cramped. While long doors help make rear access a little easier, they are heavy and have no protective rubbing strips to save your paint. The interior is funky but the centre speedo is a pain to use and the toggle switches on the centre console easy to confuse.
Behind the wheel, the One D has almost all of the qualities that make the petrol powered models so appealing. You sit almost sports car low behind a chunky leather steering wheel with the stick to the 6 speed gearbox within easy reach. Although the tractor noises coming from under the bonnet may seem a little out of place, the handling is pure Mini. Turn is excellent thanks to quick steering that provides ample feedback from the front tyres. The gearbox is a delight to use with well judged ratios and a shift action that feels mechanical and direct.
The car I tested had stability control fitted which does an excellent job of keeping you on the straight and narrow, switch it off and you can feel the rear of the car helping you into and round corners although this never translates into full on oversteer unless you do something very silly. This leads to my main criticism, the chassis is almost too good for the power output of the car. Even on tyres that wouldn’t look out of place on a motorbike, you always get the feeling the car could take another 100 bhp or more. This is no surprise as the brakes and suspension are identical to that on a Cooper S which has another 100 bhp. Admittedly, the test car was the lower powered variant which doesn’t help, I think you’d have the same issue with the 95 bhp version though.
It is of course running costs where the One D really shines. As mentioned, you can get well over 50 mpg without even trying and over 60 mpg if you have a particularly light right foot. Even someone as lead footed as me struggles to get less than 38 mpg around town which coupled to low(ish) road tax of £110 a year makes for a cheap to run car. Do check insurance quotes though, it’s in a much higher group than you might think. You’ll also find Mini’s are pretty expensive to buy, only high mileage cars dip below £2500 with the best nearing £5000 even at 9 years old. The good news is that Mini’s tend to hold on to this value and even the introduction of a new model doesn’t upset prices too much.
Things to look out for are electrical gremlins, cars pulling to the left or right, shoddy gearchanges and noisy power steering. These issues seem to affect the older cars more although be wary of them on any test drive you might take. With the Mini being a premium product, they can be expensive to repair although a dealer should offer you a warranty if you are worried. The interior isn’t quite as well screwed together as you might think so expect the odd creak from the dashboard. The One was quite sparsely equipped as standard so look out for the Salt & Pepper packs which add alloy wheels, fog lights, rev counter and trip computer. Many other options were available so check specifications carefully. Find the right car and you’ll have a reliable, fun and stylish runaround that won’t break the bank.
For: Fun to drive, economical & styling.
Against: Expensive to buy, not overly practical & a bit slow.