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Mini Cooper

Date: 30 October 2006   |   Author: Guy Bird

Category: Supermini
Price: £11,595-£15,995
Key rival: VW Polo

If the all-new Mini hadn't a 'mk1' preceding it, everyone would be going crazy about it.

It, too, is an amazing vehicle - and much better for business than its predecessor, which itself was class-leading on RVs for its entire life cycle - but people have just got used to the quality. It's still best-in-class for style, driving fun, cost of ownership and resale value.

MINI Cooper spec

But the key difference for business drivers and managers is the all-new engine. One petrol engine block, co-developed with Peugeot, has been modified three ways for the One (1.4 95PS), Cooper (1.6 120PS) and Cooper S (1.6 175PS). But none will cause heartache in the economy or emissions stakes. The mainstay Cooper model - set to continue to take about half of all Mini sales - now offers 48.7mpg versus 41mpg before and CO2 emissions of 139g/km (166g/km before), ensuring a 15% tax bracket even into 2008/09 when the bands tighten again.

Wrap in the continuing £150 flat fee 'tlc' five-year servicing deal and it's no wonder the Mini's whole-life costs are best-in-class by some margin (the nearest supermini is the Renault Clio and that's three pence per mile off the Mini).

When this car was launched back in 2001 we couldn't find any major reasons not to buy it aside from poor rear legroom, a tiny boot and the odd bit of flimsy interior fitting.

The new boot is 10 litres bigger although still small at 160 litres with the seats up. But fold them forward and a useful 680-litre space is created - albeit with a 'step' where the folded-flat seatback starts.

Rear legroom has also allegedly been improved, but it's still a car that will only accommodate shorter people in the back for shortish journeys.

More headway has been made in the front, including an even bigger centre dial - to help integrate the optional £1500 satnav without resorting to adding an extra rev counter on the steering wheel column as before - plus higher quality materials and better fit and finish.

The car remains quite similar to the successful old model but there are some neat extra touches, including an optional lighting system that can change the colour of various indirect ambient lights behind the interior door handles, above the seatbelt reel socket and in the roof.

The exterior visual changes, which are barely perceptible, include a slightly more bloated bonnet to cope with upcoming pedestrian impact legislation, and an aerodynamic lip to the smoke-glass C-pillar.

To drive, the car is as magnificent as ever. Only the Cooper and S were available to test, and both offer the same peerless road handling as before. Although engine power has only gone up in small doses from the old unit - 5PS for the One and Cooper and 10PS for the S - so too has weight, so the extra power is not that tangible. Engine refinement is better, though, and the Cooper's only real failing seemed to be a lack of go on gradual inclines in third or fourth gear. The 175PS Cooper S, unsurprisingly, does not suffer in the same way and should not be dismissed out of hand from fleet choice lists with its now highly competitive 40.9mpg (from 32.8) and 164g/km (202g/km before) or 19% tax.

For once, the diesel due next April probably won't be the best fleet bet, as despite the expected better economy and CO2, the probable higher P11D and 3% diesel penalty should still make the 15% BIK-banded petrol Cooper a better business proposition. It really is top class.