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First Drive

First Drive: MINI Cooper Sport

Mini Cooper Sport 5dr manual
The story: Mini’s now-iconic hatchback gets a facelift to keep it fresh against the competition. Little of substance has changed, but it’s still a very attractive, fun-to-drive car.
Category:Hatchback/ Convertible
Key rival:Audi A1
Price:£21,930 (P11D)
On sale:Now

It’s now 20 years since BMW reinvented the classic 1960s British icon that is the Mini Hatch. Although the current model has been around since 2013, Mini has given it a (second) facelift in 2021, changing a few exterior bits and introducing some up-to-date features inside.

First Drive - May 2021 - MINI Cooper Sport - Image 1The engine choices are unchanged, meaning you can choose from three petrol engines or the Mini Electric BEV. The entry-level petrol, called the One, has 102hp, but CO2 emissions for three-door models are almost identical to the 136hp Cooper, and sit at either 27% or 28% BiK brackets depending on spec. The five-door model Cooper pushes into the 29% bracket.

Manual gearboxes are standard, but the automatic transmission actually lowers emissions across the range, and could drop you down a tex bracket.

The Mini Electric has 184hp and a range of up to 145 miles, which is unchanged from the previous model. That’s not a massive range, but not the smallest on the market.

First Drive - May 2021 - MINI Cooper Sport - Image 2The relatively modest facelift brings a big new grille that drops down to the bottom of the front bumper, and the headlight surrounds are now black, rather than chrome; a trend that continues around the car. Inside, there’s a digital display in place of traditional analogue dials and a new 8.8-inch central touchscreen on all models.

The Mini range consists of the three-door hatch, five-door hatch and the Convertible. Unusually compared to rivals, it’s the three-door hatch that tends to be the most popular with customers.

We tried the five-door out of curiosity, in mid-spec Cooper Sport form (car pictured is a Cooper S), and understood why it’s often overlooked. While it’s as good to drive as the three-door, it doesn’t look as smart, and space in the rear seats is tight. If you regularly carry rear-seat passengers, go for something bigger, but otherwise, stick to the three-door.

The Mini Hatch is great fun to drive, with an agile chassis, although the steering isn’t quite as sharp as you might imagine. The Cooper engine is strong once it’s revving, but sometimes you’ll need to shift down a gear to get enough grunt when going up steeper hills.

We also had a go in a Convertible, in Cooper S guise. If performance is what you’re after, this is the engine to go for. It’s punchy and eager and complements the nimble chassis beautifully. The automatic gearbox is quick and slick too, although sometimes takes a beat to engage from standstill.

The Convertible’s fabric roof folds down electrically, either part-way like a sunroof or all the way down for full fresh-air fun. Rear seat space, even more so than other Mini models, is reserved only for small children.

There’s no One model in the Convertible, but you can have a performance-focused JCW model, with 231hp, if you’re after extra thrills.

phill tromans

The verdict

It might be getting on in years but this facelift keeps the Mini bang up to date, and it’s still got plenty of appeal. It’s fun to drive, particularly the Cooper S model and above, and has personality to spare.