Improved base Mini, not exactly cheap but refined, comfortable and with a better engine

What is it?

BMW has never pretended that entry to Mini ownership is cheap. The least you can spend these days is £11,160 for the new 1.6-litre Mini First, and that comes with a specification a bit too spartan for most of today’s owners. No air-con, for instance. For practical purposes, Minis start at around £14,000.

Once you’ve bought the car, however, the savings begin. Residuals are rock-solid; quality and reliability compare with cars costing five times as much. Just write that cheque, Mini people say, and you’re on to a winner.

For 2011, Mini is taking a couple of useful economy steps. First, by launching this bigger-engined First, still with 74bhp but with its torque output boosted by 17 per cent to 103lb ft. Second, by launching a ‘Minimalist’ version of the Mini One, which has steel wheels with wind-cheating flat hubcaps, low-resistance tyres, regenerative braking and standard stop-start for its 97bhp version of the 1.6-litre engine, all for a premium of £330 and a total price of £12,950.

See test pics of the Mini First

What's it like

The Minimalist’s main function is to cut a One’s emissions to 119g/km (just below the tax break at 120g/km). In all other respects, a First makes more sense.

However, although the previous First was engaging, it always felt distinctly puny, especially when you were trying to pass slower traffic or tackle long hills.

The new version keeps the six-speed gearbox and high overall gearing of more powerful models, but its extra torque makes it much easier and smoother to drive. It requires less gearchanging and can even be more frugal in real-world use. It will now maintain an easy 70mph cruise, with the engine turning at less than 3000rpm in sixth.

On its standard (and somewhat unfashionable-looking) 15in steel wheels, it rides quietly and more smoothly than most other Mini models, and the steering turn-in is still quick and predictable.

Should I buy one?

In short, with the addition of this slightly bigger engine – which actually saves fuel – Mini has changed its entry-level car from a curiosity to a practical proposition for those who aren’t easily seduced by stripes, body décor and stand-out wheels. There won’t be many buyers like this, but there will be some.

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
superstevie 6 July 2010

Re: Mini First 1.6

I currently have a 1.6 First as my cooper is in the garage (again...) and its not bad you know. Apart from the complete lack of kit (there isnt even in interior light!) I quite like it. One thing though, the stop/start has gone! Had it on the old 1.4's, but not on the new ones. Weird, as this would probably help the first get even lower emissions, possibly under the 120 bracket. Maybe they didnt want to do that as there is the minimalist version now 15 June 2010

Re: Mini First 1.6

I've test-driven the Mini One Minimalist and can't see many people choosing it over a regular Mini One with the cheapest optional alloys, given that the two cost within £5 of each other.

catnip 13 June 2010

Re: Mini First 1.6

Will86 wrote:
I'd agree, ok air conditioning is a glaring omission, but you can still add a few choice options to the First and keep it under 13k which considering the excellent running costs seems like a fair price to me.

I think MINIs are best when the spec is kept simple. As we all know, so many people go completely over the top with options (lucky BMW..)

And the running costs are excellent - with the TLC pack and warranty you rarely have to pay for anything maintenance wise. Although you have to pay a bit more to get a MINI in the first place, the excellent residuals mean it costs you relatively little to update after a few years. I've been very pleasantly surprised.