Getting the keys to our new MINI wasn’t a problem, but keeping hold of them has been a different matter.

Auto Express required a family to test the fashionable Brit’s increased size, accessibility and practicality for our MINI special, and I immediately volunteered my rapidly growing-up clan.

The Cooper is the only car to join our fleet that I can recall actively asking to run, even though I knew it would require a serious bit of downsizing from the vast Citroen Grand C4 Picasso that I previously looked after. You could say I’m a MINI fan.

Turns out I’m not the only one. Within a few weeks of the five-door turning up in our car park, four people had whisked away its keys for a variety of magazine features – even the company chief executive tried the MINI for size as he’s considering buying one. So what would he get for his £15,900? Fun must top the list.

You can’t help but enjoy driving the MINI. For me, the low seats, smallish steering wheel and wide, shallow screen evoke memories of driving as a teen, racing through the gears, pulling out of corners and hearing the responsive engine’s rasp. The MINI encapsulates all of this, but now has five doors, added space and practicality for the children.

My family have certainly taken to the new car, and are wowed by the metallic paint, white roof and go-faster stripes. And while they don’t have the space to stretch out that they were used to in the Grand C4 Picasso, they’ve been won over by the MINI’s style. Neat designer label touches include the MINI logo sewn into tabs on the seats and inset within the light clusters front and rear. 

So far the car’s proven practical enough for my family of four. It can easily take a week’s shopping in the cleverly designed split-level boot, and was even able to collect a new bathroom sink, pedestal and bath panel with the seats folded flat.

The kids have had to adapt to the bumpy ride, though. They sit close to the road, but the ride can be hard, especially on the capital’s potholed streets, and has caused the odd case of car sickness in my younger son. I’ve also had to stop him fiddling with the rear door handles that glow different colours as the ambient lighting changes. If he was any younger than 10, I’d put the child locks on.

So, first impressions? Excellent. The MINI’s beautifully designed, with head-turning looks and improved practicality over the three-door, and it’s lots of fun. Yet I’m not going to shout about my love for it – the more attention I draw to it, the more likely it is someone will want the keys.

James Batchelor, News editor 

“There’s no doubt the MINI has grown up. I own a 2007 MINI Cooper S, and the ride and handling of this new one is better. The three-cylinder engine is characterful, plus the interior looks and feels wonderful.”

Graham Hope, Deputy editor 

“I ran the MINI for a week, and initially was sceptical as to how it might cope with my young family’s need for space and carrying capacity. But I shouldn’t have worried; buggies and child seats were comfortably accommodated, and the driving experience was genuinely fun.”

Henry Willis, Consumer writer

“The long list of tech features packed into the MINI represents a host of unique extras not explored by rival brands. The infotainment system is BMW-based, but exclusive MINI content adds to the car’s character.”

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