The remake of The Italian Job was undoubtedly the biggest pile of tummy rubbish to emerge straight to DVD since Jean-Claude Van Damme went quiet. On its own merit it probably wouldn't have been the worst film in the history of the world, but it tried to recreate an inspired low-budget moment in history infused with the modern corporate world of high-finance. It could never work, and we all had the same fears for the MINI that stars in both films. See the original MINI was a Carnaby St classic, an instant icon that summed up the free-swinging mood of the 60s and sold by the bucketload to pop stars, footballers and the common man alike. A front-wheel drive budget sportscar conjured up to appeal during the Suez Crisis, when oil and fuel were scarce, became an unlikely motoring God. It was a lottery win, and lightning was more likely to strike twice. So when BMW took control of the brand in the 1990s, old-school fans worried that the corporate 'man' would rend the soul right out. That didn't happen, it is still great fun and once again has sold by the bucketload: more than 800,000 have found owners. The MINI is an icon once again. This is the small, cheap car BMW's designers would never have been allowed to make without this brand extension. It's a Lord marrying a shop girl, it's Pretty Woman made real. Yet it's is one of those odd couple marriages that works: the resulting baby, for the most part, is a perfect blend of genetic strengths. And now it has come in for an update, although you'd really struggle to tell from looking at it. I mean really struggle. MINI assures us every panel and widget is different, but you'd need to work on the production line to spot the models apart. The headlights are rounder, and fixed to the bonnet rather than the wing, but that's pretty much it. It was hardly broke on the outside anyway, the new MINI is every bit as popular, cute and non-threatening as the original, and there's only so much they could do without being accused of fiddling for its own sake. The interior is better, though, with higher quality plastics all round and a chunky, solid feel to the toggle switches and dials. The seats, too, give a level of support that you don't get in this company and the doors shut with a satisfying clunk. This is BMW at work, the quiet maestro that marks this car apart from French and Far Eastern competition. But they made it fun, too, the interior is light, airy and dotted with adjustable lighting for boys and girls and toggle switches that undoubtedly proved costly yet added so much to the overall experience. Then it all went wrong, everyone got carried away with this cray-zee English funcar and they went and made that speedo It's bigger than an elephant's head and yet still hard to read thanks to its low-slung, central position. It's overdone, Care Bear cute and after 12 hours at the wheel made me want to smash the car's cute little face in. That aside, MINI's achievement on the inside cannot be overestimated and the Cooper comes with the space and refinement of a much, much bigger car. And I had long enough to check it out. Having been handed a car and a fistful of dollars in Barcelona, I pointed the car 1500km North to Amsterdam, for a one-hit run to a midnight clubbing venture. It wasn't a smooth trip either, with traffic and my crappy aftermarket SatNav adding 200km to the overall journey, but when I rolled into town nine hours after my admittedly optimistic target time I was still smiling. See this kind of journey would have shown up the harsh engine, the nightmarish fuel consumption and crashy high-speed ride in the last new MINI and would have been an impossible four-day odyssey in the original. But this is a car that fits the Supermini class, just, and yet happily tooled through Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland without inflicting any kind of crippling injuries beyond some bizarre Europop on the radio. And that is truly amazing. The base model's 1.6-litre, normally aspirated engine has barely any more torque or horsepower than the last model with 160lb/ft and 118bhp respectively, so inevitably it feels like its straining at high motorway speeds. But it is more refined than its predecessor and always feels like it's got something left to give when you floor the throttle. The engine comes mated to a sweet shifting six-speed gearbox too, which, stirred well and often, helps conceal most of the engine's shortcomings and help it to 60mph in 9.1s and on to 126mph. Now that's still not record-breaking pace, but this is the base model. For those that need a MINI with more poke, and if you've read this far you're almost certainly one of them, there's the turbocharged and considerably more serious Cooper S for not too many extra pennies. That is, pound-for-pound, one of the performance cars of the year, but this base model is still brilliant in the corners. I have heard from too many sources for this to be fiction that the new car's suspension is considerably cheaper than the old new MINI. But in the mountain road leading down to Barcelona central it became abundantly clear that the car has lost none of its magic. Of course it's much bigger and heavier than the 60s version, at 1140kg, but it attacks the road in the same terrier-like vein. It's a spunky little tyke of a car, in short it is absolutely hilarious. Driven sensibly a little press-on understeer is the worst it will throw at you, and with an abundance of modern electronics to mop up the spillage then it will never get out of hand. It will drive as well as any respectable mid-sized saloon, with none of the sacrifices that owners of the paper-thin hot Clios and Suzuki Swifts will attest to. But like the owners of those little dogs that suddenly launch into rabid assaults on Rottweilers, or darling little children that get hauled up for beating old ladies with sticks, those same owners would be shocked to see what their car gets up to in other peoples' hands. Because turn all the electronics off and this car will transport you back in time. OK so it's not quite as nimble as the original, it couldn't be, but by modern standards this car is absolutely hilarious. This is a go-kart that can be encouraged to oversteer with a dramatic lift and then planted round the bend at preposterous speeds with a simple dose of opposite lock and all the throttle the car can muster. It just hangs on, against the odds, and is a stupid amount of fun for what should be a little tin box on wheels. It's one of those cars that makes you fling it into bends that little bit faster, and that alone makes it great. Keen drivers just have to go to the turbocharged version that offers so much more for so little extra and is the pick of the bunch without doubt. But then this base model accounts for about 50 per cent of sales, will sell another 800,000 units without too much trauma and deserves to as well. BMW has produced a little car with quality, prestige and refinement, without losing its soul. Hollywood could learn a thing or two

Gallery: WCF Test Drive: New MINI Cooper

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