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Speed Week: Mini GP vs BMW 135i

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    Visually, they couldn’t be further apart. The Mini wears cheap lipstick and trainers. The BMW rocks a housewife frock and obviously forgot to take its rollers out. Peel back the costumes, and you’ll notice more differences. One drives the rear wheels. The other drives the fronts. One seats five. The other seats two. The BMW’s engine is nearly twice as big as the Mini’s and about 100bhp more powerful. But then you look at the prices and notice they both cost around £30k. And with that sort of money to spend - plus a yearning for something hot and hatchy - we’d consider leaving a showroom with either of these things. But which?

    Photography: Dom Romney

  2. Both of them can move. The 1-Series - with the optional eight-speed auto on this test - takes care of 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds. That’s a touch quicker than the Porsche Cayman we have here. Because under the BMW’s dumpy body is a 3.0-litre straight-six turbo with a very healthy 320bhp. The Mini’s 1.6-litre turbo is almost half the size, and with 215bhp it’s only 7bhp more energetic than the regular John Cooper Works on which it’s based. But - with some careful palming of the tight-ish six-speed manual ‘box - it’ll still scurry from a standstill to 62mph in 6.3 seconds.

  3. Those are the straight-line stats. But going through Charade’s uphill hairpin, the differences are more subtle. The Mini snaffles the inside line and sticks to it stubbornly - thanks partly to a touch more front camber than a standard JCW and a much lighter nose than the 1-Series, with just four cylinders to the BMW’s six. But then just as it sniffs the German’s bumper, the 1’s twin-scroll turbo breathes out hard - summoning a barrel-chested strength that makes up for the initial softness. It’s an effortless motor, this, and while the Mini wastes a moment between gears, the BMW has already escaped from the corner on a wave of torque.

  4. The Mini has an electric diff, and if the inside front tyre even thinks about spinning, it’s immediately disciplined by a momentary power cut. Turn off the DSC and - while it’ll still brake a spinny wheel - it’ll also let the arse swing around, should you have a clumsy mid-corner moment. But if this does occur, it straightens itself out without too much panic. Despite this, there’s no need to drive it bravely. Better to be smooth and slice up corners with the pleasingly responsive throttle, leaning on the special Kumho tyres that - although brilliantly sticky here - won’t be as willing in an especially exciting thunderstorm on our way home later.

  5. In Sport mode, the BMW’s ‘active diff’ restricts torque to an errant wheel. For added fun, turn off traction control to engage an electric diff lock, which does its best to simulate a proper mechanical one. This means it’ll slide merrily, but you’ll have to ask it to. Under normal inputs - slow in, pick your line - you’ll struggle to provoke it, because, unlike some powerful rear-drive things here, it’s not edgy or worrisome. It actually feels a touch soft on the track, but what makes it safe here also makes it a better all-rounder than the Mini. It’s certainly the best restaurant shuttle for a bunch of hungry blokes.

  6. It feels like both of these cars have been made by people who care. A chassis tweak here, a damper fettle there. This makes the anonymous BMW something of a pleasant surprise. And the Mini? It’s a fine car, but you’ll have to be a proper connoisseur to pay this sort of money for something approaching the end of its shelf life. Unless you really dig it, it’s probably a bit too indulgent. The BMW, however, looks like excellent value: an M-lite that’ll put in a decent lap time and also do manly drifts, should your anatomy demand that sort of thing. All with a few mates on board. What more could you want for your 30 grand?

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