Confession time: prior to prolonged exposure to this Works 210, I never really considered myself a Mini sort of person. Not to the point of outright dismissal, you understand, it was just that the rivals from Europe or Japan typically appealed more to what I wanted from a hot hatch. They were a bit more raw, a bit more focused, a bit more fun, or so I thought.
Now perhaps I'm becoming too mature, or maybe I've not driven enough of the Mini's adversaries recently, but it's a car I'm becoming increasingly attached to and liking more and more. It so expertly combines many diverse elements that it's tricky to fault - there are issues, yet it's hard to be anything but overwhelmingly positive.
As you'll be able to tell from the mileage log, YK17 FKG has been busy since it returned from its unscheduled garage visit. It's been to Hethel twice for a couple of Lotus features, provided transport to Anglesey for the BMW M5 launch and also to Crawley for getting that Caterham Supersprint. Yet even after exposure to more exotic, faster and more expensive cars, to get back in the Mini never felt like a significant downgrade.
The trip to North Wales was a perfect demonstration of its abilities: the motorway miles passed effortlessly (and at more than 40mpg), the stereo was fantastic and the driving position was spot on for six hours at the wheel. Then when the roads became more interesting the Mini was as agile and chuckable as you'd want from a little hot hatch, and didn't struggle to keep up when the 600hp supersaloons descended. Indeed photographer Luc said it was more fun than all of them up on the Welsh moors, and I'd be inclined to agree; it's not just a case of exploiting more of its ability more of the time, but giving you as a driver more to do also.
Wales gave ample opportunity to test our car's two damper settings as well. While the Sport mode can feel a bit abrupt at points, it certainly does deliver a level of control beyond standard if you're really pushing on a more difficult road. And I must be getting used to the feistiness, because I've occasionally left the car firmer and become used to it. That said, the Mini is hardly a ragged mess left un-Sported, so my preferred Sport setting at the moment only brings the more aggressive powertrain and leaves the dampers untouched. Make sense? My preferred Mini would probably leave them passive though, given its favourable review on Autocar and the possibility of saving some cash on a chunky as tested price.
Ah yes, the money. It won't go away in any Mini discussion because, put simply, it is quite a lot. However, it does feel expensive, and that's an impression that only becomes stronger the more time you spend in it. The toggle switches are lovely to use, the displays are vivid, everything opens and closes precisely and even the warning noises are less reedy than many others - not things that will be picked up in a road test, but elements that make the Mini really pleasant to use day in, day out. Whether it's in town, on the motorway or down a B-road, the quality shines through.
Whereas previously I thought the Mini was a bit too focused on those elements of pocket rocketing and not, y'know, the fun bit, thousands of miles in this one has revealed the error of my ways - it's a proper giggle. I've even got the rear seats permanently folded now for full hot hatch noise naughtiness.
Coming soon, however, the Mini will face two of its toughest tests so far - a direct pairing with one of its illustrious predecessors, plus a reassessment in light of a Fiesta ST drive. Stay tuned...
Car: 2017 Mini Cooper S Works 210
On fleet since: January 2018
Run by: Matt, this month at least...
List price new: £19,994.40 (As tested £28,344.40 comprising £475 for Melting Silver metallic paint, £300 for Mini active from 12/06/17 to 11/06/20, £1,695 for Works enhanced kit, £75 for John Cooper Works sport leather steering wheel, £375 for variable damper control, £80 for black bonnet stripes, £120 for Anthracite roof lining, £220 for sun protection glass, £215 for front seat heating, £2,710 for Mini hatch tech pack, £2,000 for Chili pack for JCW sports pack and £85 for LED headlights with extended contents)
Last month at a glance: Expensive, yes, but might the Mini actually be worth it?
[Images: Luc Lacey]