Mini Cooper S

Test venue: Aberdeen and the Cairngorms

New Mini has been selling like hot cakes since its much-vaunted relaunch into the UK market in 2001. Already set to take both the coveted American and Japanese markets by storm, BMW needed a flagship of the Mini fleet to appeal to the sportier end of the small car and niche play market. Cooper S duly went on sale in June 2002 and is sure to be a success. Mini management claimed 4000 pre-orders for the UK's 148 dealerships.

Much has already been written about the new model and its all-round appeal, but the Cooper 'S' is actually a real driver's car. Mini management recruited the services of automotive stunt and demonstration expert Russ Swift to show off the car's handling and balance capabilities, but it's only when you venture behind the wheel that you see for yourself what leaps and bounds Sir Alec Issigonis's original design has taken in recent years. This car is actually built on the same Oxford site that produced the very first Morris Mini Minor back in 1959.

Figure hugging bucket seats, with the option of leather trim, keep you firmly positioned behind a sporty leather steering wheel, which features the option of cruise and radio control. A fashionable space ship-type facia, with clearly visible rev counter and speedometer are positioned behind the wheel on the Cooper S to allow for the option of a comprehensive satellite navigation system and on-board computer in the space used to locate the speedo and various gauges on older Mini models.

Leg and head room is ample for front seat passengers and there is more rear seat space in the Mini than in many popular sports coupes on the road today. Trim is well finished in traditional BMW mould and there are plenty of switches and stowaways areas to keep you busy behind the wheel. But it's out on the open road where Cooper S deserves particular praise.

The new model is fitted with a 1.6-litre engine,which deliver a clinical 163 bhp through a six-speed manual transmission and front driving wheels. Additional power is developed using the latest in supercharger and intercooler technology and there's no doubting the delicious whine from the engine when you push hard in third gear from 20 mph right through into illegal speed territory. Mini claim a maximum speed of around 135 mph and you could be attracting the attention of the local constabulary in a little over seven seconds.....

Add in stiffer suspension, uprated brakes, an impressive build quality, little or no body roll and you're left with a potent package suitable for spirited motorway and all-round driving performance. If you are concerned by fuel consumption from your new motor, don't be: over an excellent test route through the Cairngorms and the Abderdeenshire and Kincardineshire countryside, I managed around 34-36 mpg.

The Mini feels nippy from both the driver and passenger seats. It's handling inspires the driver to push hard, although there is ample grip, little understeer and plenty of torque to ensure that overtaking is a simple task in any situation.

On the open road and around town the Mini attracts more than its fair share of attention. A striking bonnet air intake, alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, centrally-positioned twin exhaust pipes and a chrome fuel cap ensure you are sure to be noticed in your new acquisition.

But the Mini Cooper experience is not cheap. A standard on-the-road model will set you back 14,500 and for that you will get a sports suspension Plus package, sports seats, four airbags, run flat tyres, traction control, a rear roof spoiler, chrome trim, and a remote alarm system.

But BMW is noted for an impressive after-sales market and a myriad of bolt-on extras and options to further personalise your car. Many of the launch cars were kitted out with satellite navigation (1410.00), air conditioning (830.00), leather trim, park distance control, colour coding and a sunroof. A combination of these can easily push the price up to the twenty thousand level.

Other options include Dynamic Stability Control, an advances head protection system, heated front seats, passenger seat height adjustment, etc. The list goes on, but its hardly a cheap experience for the discerning Mini enthusiast. You could even be patriotic in Jubilee and World Cup Year and opt for the Union Jack and St George Cross roof flag decal options and BMW's five year/50,000 mile service pack for as little as 100.

Personally speaking I wouldn't buy the new Mini, but it's so easy to see why this car is set to take the world by storm and rekindle the legend of one of the most famous trade names ever to be wheeled off an automotive production line.

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