Mini Hatch “First”

This was a surprise move, even to me.

It’s true, I always had a soft spot for the old-school Mini but even though I was one of the people who whipped the covers of the all new MINI at its launch in 2001, I never saw myself as a MINI owner. I was working that summer for a BMW dealership and, being a lowly intern, I was never allowed to drive the Beemers. But I did manage to get insured for the MINI’s. It was my job to take people out on test drives and show them how great the cars were. I only ever saw joy and excitement on the faces of the buyers but I never really connected with it myself.

Fast forward 17 years, and as my trusty Vauxhall Astra began giving me problems, I had a look on for options. I have never set a high budget for my daily drivers. I capped my search at £5,000 and 40,000 miles. Now that car makers put quality first, you’d be surprised at some of the cars that were cropping up under this criteria.

BMW 4×4’s, Mercedes Saloons and Volvo coupe’s all made an appearance but one car kept catching my eye. A blue 2010 MINI hatch. Now there are plenty MINI’s at this price point and, to be honest, I didn’t give any of the others a second look, but there was (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) something about the colour that kept bringing me back to this particular MINI.

It’s worth saying that this has nothing to do with any form of football allegiance – being from Glasgow that’s a bit of a thing. It was the shade of blue that I found unusual. The more enterprising side of my mind decided it would make the ideal background for a logo I was working on and I could see a branded MINI being a great little marketing tool.

Deal done, I found myself tooling around in a brilliant little 2-door Mini with a heady 74bhp coming from the de-tuned 1.6l engine.

That’s right, the “First” is turned down a bit, supposedly, to make it ideal for first-time car buyers. It didn’t turn down my insurance premium at all, in fact one insurer, Admiral, seems to think it’s a classic car for some insane reason. However, it still nips about without feeling lethargic, sips petrol at over 40mpg, and feels as well put together as the day it rolled out the factory.

Driving up and down the country, the little car has yet to put a foot wrong, and hasn’t been shy in making progress. Sure, overtaking needs a bit more planning and a longer stretch of road than a full-blooded MINI Cooper might, but it still does the business when asked. Six gears make it a comfortable cruise although I wish Air-Con was included. I love the toggle switches for opening the windows and while the plastic in this model is a bit cheap and nasty, it doesn’t feel like it’s about to break off in my hands.

Obviously, when you buy a good car for less than £5k you’re going to want to check out the faults which compelled the previous owner to sell it. In this case, I had to get new brakes all round and I chose to fit a new rooftop aerial (the previous one had clearly gone into battle with a car-wash and lost). A suspension coil gave up during a particularly challenging road in Southern Scotland, but still got me home without too much drama. Spring replaced, and she’s back at her best.

This one has surprised me. Not just in how well it drives, or how the looks have grown on me, but how it has made me feel. At long last, I might be starting to see what all the fuss is about.

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