Remaking classic things rarely works because it fails to capture the zeitgeist of the period that helped to create the myth. It is just not the same the second time round.
And in case you still haven't worked out where I am going, it's the Mini Cooper S. But unlike soulless rehashes, this is one of the genuine occasions where the reincarnation has created as much excitement as the original, for all the right reasons.
I have to admit I was all set to dislike the MINI. The original was revolutionary in terms of packaging and design, and the new generation does not conform to that particular trait of the family genes: the smart and the Audi A2 should be the current descendants on that front.
But in every other way the MINI Cooper S deserves all the success it gets. And that success – 4,200 sales since it went on sale in June – amounts to 14% of all MINI sales until the end of October, which number 30,000 in total.
Although MINI and BMW have deservedly won a number of awards for the car's marketing and advertising, it should not be forgotten that all the clever ads in the world would amount to nothing without a top-notch product.
As a driver's car, which sustained the old MINI long after it had become obsolete in packaging terms, the Cooper S is almost faultless. From the moment the supercharger starts to wind itself up, through the snicky six-speed gearbox, the perfect pedal weighting and positions to the fizzy changes of direction, this is as much fun as any car on the road.
With 163bhp, the MINI is not the most powerful hot hatch on the road by a distance, but it doesn't matter. Such is the rightness of the package that it is more than enough. Cars with twice the horsepower are not as much fun as the Cooper S.
And although technically you could call the design of this car 'retro', park it next to any Focus-sized hatchback, and the Cooper S looks funkier and more modern than any of them. Its cartoonish looks make people smile, owners and the public alike, and that is a very good thing. Owning a car should be fun.
As for the interior, most of it is well built, although some of the metallic effect plastics look a bit cheap. For the driver, it is easy to get the ideal seating position, but for passengers in the back, forget it.
Rear space is awful, and with hard backs to the front seats, you would need sparrow legs to fit in if the driver is anywhere near six foot. The boot is equally bad, with less usable volume than a smart.
The MINI has also been subject to a higher than average number of first year niggles and recalls, but residuals for year-old cars are holding up well, with some selling for more than list price, so the problems have either been rectified, or people are so desperate to own one, they don't care.
The Cooper S is a classic within a remake of a classic. Any company car driver who has this car fall into their area of choice would be mad not to at least go for a test drive.
Its space problems will not suit everybody's lifestyle, but sometimes, forget practicality. Life's too short.
MINI Cooper S
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £14,320
CO2 emissions (g/km): 202
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 33.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,500/38%
Depreciation (14.38 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,628
Maintenance (2.25 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,350
Fuel (11.36 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,816
Wholelife cost (27.99 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,794
Typical contract hire rate: £334 per month
Three rivals to consider
The Cooper S ends up the cheapest on P11D price, but as with any BMW product, it is thin on the ground when it comes to extras the others have as standard, such as a CD player and air conditioning, which costs a hefty £600. After raiding the options list, it would not be very long before the Cooper S was the most expensive here. Although the Clio is the most expensive, it also has the most power, and the best spec with multi-CD player, rain sensitive wipers and ESP.
The MINI is cheapest on service, maintenance and repair costs thanks to its tlc service package. There has been virtually 100% take-up of the package, which offers five years' standard servicing for £100, and can be transferred when the car is sold on. Don't have a front-end shunt though – the bonnet and headlight assembly is a complex construction and does not look cheap, or easy, to replace.
The 160bhp 1.8-litre VVT engine, which has proved itself in such sporting luminaries as the Lotus Elise and various Caterham models, puts the MG well ahead on fuel costs over the others. Over 60,000 miles, it will be £800 cheaper on fuel. The extra power required to run the supercharger does not help the MINI here, and the extra volume of the engine counts against the Astra. The Renault, despite being the most powerful car, comes a tidy second.
Not surprisingly, the Cooper S wins the residual race by a distance, although its predicted residual value figure of 38%/£5,500 over three years/60,000 miles from CAP is slightly disappointing given the various talk of retained value heroism for the car. The MG does surprisingly well and illustrates what a good job MG Rover has done of sprucing up the ageing 25. The Clio also disappoints, while the Astra comes in last by virtue of being an Astra – an ageing design which is outclassed by newer lower-medium models.
MINI 14.38ppm MG 15.16ppm Renault 16.31ppm Vauxhall 16.35ppm
The MINI is not the best for wholelife costs principally because the MG trounces it on fuel consumption, but the two are well ahead of the Renault Clio 172 and Vauxhall Astra SRi, which, at three pence per mile more expensive each, would cost almost £2,000 more over 60,000 miles. The Astra is the most disappointing, because its strong suit should be value motoring. Down on horsepower by 20bhp, high on CO2 and low on image, it struggles.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
The MG is still making a surprisingly strong case for itself, as it does in the area of emissions, where it sits ahead of the field in the 17% benefit-in-kind tax band, while the Astra and MINI lag in the 22% band. Although it is only a 1.6-litre engine, the supercharger, six-speed gearbox and other extras on the Cooper S help to increase emissions by 44g/km over the MINI One. What price fun though?
There can only be one winner here. The Astra has more space and equipment but is too expensive to make up for its image shortcomings. As a driver's car, the Clio 172 comes close, and on a cost comparison, the MG ZR does very well. But the MINI Cooper S is the pick of the bunch. It really is a great little car and will serve a fleet well with its residual value strength and low service costs, while being funky and a blast to drive for its driver.
At a glance: for