Dan Trent: Is the 'new' Mini already a modern classic?

06th February 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

Indulge me returning to the thorny subject of the original-not-original Mini but I’d now consider the ‘real’ one a classic car in the traditional sense. As in something you’d own accepting stuff like hands-on tinkering, night terrors over rust and rationalising the fact you’re the crumple zone in a crash are all part of the experience.


The swinging '60s posturing that helped launch (and continues to sustain, with increasingly stretched credibility) the modern Mini may still grate. But I think with the first cars we finally have something that lives the original Mini dream. As such will there be a whole new generation of young drivers getting up to first car mischief in souped-up Minis? I hope so. And prices of early Cooper S models would seem to make that a viable dream. 

I like the first, ‘R53’ generation of modern Mini most of all. I think the styling is cleaner and more successful than the later versions but it benefits from sophistication most hot hatches can only dream of. This gives them a much broader range of ability, with enough comfort and refinement for racking up boring motorway miles without any dilution of tearaway thrills on a B-road blast. The 170hp Cooper S has enough power to be going on with and the whine of the supercharger harks back to the sound of the classic Mini’s A-Series too. It’s also easily tuned, the optional factory-fit John Cooper Works package taking it to 200hp and beyond.

You can get an early Cooper S for as little as £2,500 these days, these cars typically well-specced with more luxuries than your average hot hatch. They’ll have lived a life at this price point and cleaner, more desirable examples can cost double that. Pays your money and all that.

Finding a stand-out example of a relatively commonplace and mainstream car like this took some (virtual) legwork, I’ll admit. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is helped by having a checklist of ‘must-haves’ before hitting the classifieds, especially given the number of cars in the market and a huge range of options. I decided I wanted one with the JCW package for the extra power because, well, why wouldn’t I. Plenty have the body kit with the small skirt vents and rear wing, which isn’t as offensive as those fitted to the later generations and something I’d consider tolerable. I think I’d have to draw the line at a Union Jack roof though, this £5K car nicely specced and with the power upgrade but a little too heart on sleeve, thanks all the same. 


The opposite extreme is this all-black one, up for a tempting £3,250. It’s got the JCW upgrade but – unusually – not the body kit or wing so is pretty understated. It doesn’t even have a contrast roof or any stripes and, while I like a Q-car, I fear it might be a little too downplayed.

After clicking through a lot of ads I think I may have found my car. Inevitably it’s the most expensive at just shy of six grand. But the metallic grey paint, black roof and de-chromed grille strike just the right aesthetic balance. And the fact it was originally run as a dealer demo means it has all the extras, including some very tasty race-style seats I’ve not seen on any other cars. 

A riot to drive without too much of the look-at-me retro posturing, I reckon with a car like this we finally have a modern Mini worthy of the name and traditions. Without the need to come across like some Austin Powers-style caricature.  

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