There was no press conference. No boring speeches about design (always more 'expressive' than before), panel gaps (usually decreased by an invisible margin), target customers (they're always young outdoorsy couples) or volumes (this car will be bigger than the Beetle/Beatles). Instead, we simply got off the plane, went straight to the MINI plant in Oxford and started driving. No brain-washing, no flat jokes, no cringe-worthy attempts by some stuffed shirt to be a cool dude. To be honest, I feel a bit deprived. I kind of enjoy the dog-and-pony show, especially when someone who's probably brilliant at what they do is forced to do something they're utterly crap at - such as making presentations.
I think I know why there was no press conference. Usually, once the conference is over the floor is thrown open to questions and sometimes these can be awkward, for example: "Why doesn't the 'new' MINI look very different from the 'old' model?"; "Why haven't you bothered to engineer your own powerplants and how on earth did you decide upon Peugeot/Citroen as the engine supplier?" and "Why isn't there any smoked salmon at the buffet?"
Frankly, I could care less about who makes the engines. All I want to know is that the new MINI ONE has a better engine than the horrid Chrysler unit that used to whine away under the clam-shell bonnet of the old MINI ONE and the good news is: it is better. Capacity drops from 1.6- to 1.4-litres but power rises to 95hp which makes it an ideal engine for the Irish market. The pubescent Daddy's girls who until now had to wait until they had some No-Claims-Bonus under their 22-inch belts before they could get insured in a 1.6-litre MINI can now have a shiny new 1.4-litre MINI ONE the moment they get their little blue license, leaving them free to bounce off kerbs and bunny hop around town all during their transition year.
That makes the MINI ONE more attainable for young enthusiasts, too, of course, earning it a place alongside the Punto Sporting at the top of any young car-lover's list of realistic dream machines. No, I haven't been eating the week-old salmon at the buffet again, the MINI ONE really is a fantastic driver's car, a great training machine in which to hone your driving technique without terrorising the locals or getting yourself landed in jail.
OK, it might look a little apologetic in standard specification (hubcaps, rubber steering wheel, no air-con) but even the grimmest models have that same excellent chassis. In fact, the skinny 15-inch tyres suit the MINI much better than the silly 18-inch wheels most buyers insist on, allowing the car to skip over every bump instead of stumbling into them because of its too-big boots. Grip levels aren't as high, sure, but since when did grip equate to fun? The MINI ONE can be taken to the limit much sooner than its over-wheeled siblings and toyed with once its there.
Without much power to call upon, it takes a little planning to generate some lift-off oversteer but it's there if your entry speed is high enough and the corner radius is right, although it's easier and more satisfying to pitch the ONE into a four-wheel drift (just as you could with the original model) and adjust as necessary without shedding too much of that precious speed. Better brakes, a slick six-speed manual (seemingly engineered to give you two gears for accelerating, two for playing and two for cruising) and a slightly better ride all help to make the ONE one fun little car.
Meanwhile, the old MINI's 1.4-litre Toyota diesel engine has also been dropped in favour of a new PSA unit, this time the 1.6-litre common-rail oil-burner that can also be found in everything from the Peugeot 407 to the Volvo S30. With 110hp and up to 260Nm of torque, the new diesel engine transforms the MINI D from underpowered workhorse to full on diesel-powered hot hatch. Forget the so-so 0-100km/h time of 9.9 seconds - out in the real world the MINI Cooper D is seriously rapid (its increased pace even necessitated elevation to Cooper status), capable of impressive burst of acceleration as long as you've got at least 2,000rpm on the clock before you pounce on the throttle. A heady combination of low weight and well judged gearing gives the Cooper D considerably more pace than it probably could, in the right hands, give a full-on Cooper S a proper scare over any road that doesn't comprise low-speed mountain switchbacks (it chugs from walking pace). More significantly, the Cooper D is ridiculously economy and environmentally friendly, which goes some way to offsetting the rather saucy price of €26,400 sans essential extras like a Chilli Pack and air conditioning. Indeed, if it wasn't so expensive the MINI Cooper D would be the pick of the range but this time I think the basic ONE deserves the title, given its equally outstanding dynamics and low-low running costs. Now I think I finally know why they didn't have a press conference before the drive. If they'd have told me that the best MINI would be the cheapest and slowest one in the range I'd have thought they were stark raving mad.
Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cylinder, 95 hp, 104 Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Acceleration 0–100 km/h: 10.9 seconds
Top speed: 185 km/h
Economy: 5.7 L/100 km
CO2: 138 g/km
Boot Capacity: 160 litres
Weight: 1060 kg
Base Price: €21,350
Verdict: The 1.4-litre engine puts the MINI ONE within reach of affluent new drivers, thereby guaranteeing its success. Unlike the old ONE, this ONE's a good one.
MINI Cooper D
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo-diesel, 110 hp, 260 Nm (overboost)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Acceleration 0–100 km/h: 9.9 seconds
Top speed: 195 km/h
Economy: 4.4 L/100 km
CO2: 118 g/km
Boot Capacity: 160 litres
Weight: 1110 kg
Base Price: €26,400
Verdict: Performance has jumped to such an extent the diesel MINI has been elevated to Cooper status. It's a proper belter but frugal, too. Shame it's so expensive.