When we first heard about the plans for a successor to one of the icons of the world motor industry, we were at the very least skeptical. The revival of the Mini, at the time under Rover's direction, seemed destined to be a footnote in the "let's roll out the past" school of styling. It was to be small at a time when everything was being upsized and the bestselling, most profitable vehicles had the heft of hay haulers. Surely they would come to their senses, accept that the Empire was dead, and conclude that no one was going to care about a little shoebox of a car, no matter how cute or evocative of a rosier past. Surely the new Mini would go the way of Riley and Wolseley.

And then we drove it.

Immediately, from the first few moments behind the wheel, it was clear that the new Mini has what it takes to be a sales success and, we're convinced, generate the growth of an entirely new group of enthusiasts, quite apart from those who remember Alec Issigonis' groundbreaking original. This could be the car that finally convinces a doubting U.S. market that being small doesn't exclude a car from being safe, refined, sporty and practical.

Will the new Mini, and the variants that inevitably are to follow, eclipse the giant shadow cast by the old Mini? It's early days in the genesis of this new brand, but the Mini world promises to get huge. Frenzied customer demand is matched by the eagerness of the world's tuners to develop it in every performance direction imaginable.

The Mini promises participation in something a bit different, but at the same time very special. That's a trait we find especially appealing and the Mini has it in abundance. Congratulations to the Mini Cooper S, winner of european car's 2002 Grand Prix.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the Mini is its pricing. Despite a wealth of obvious creature comforts, sporty design and hidden technological sophistication, the base price of the entry-level 115-bhp Mini is only $16,850. The 163-bhp supercharged Mini Cooper S, the model we've honored with our award, has an MSRP of $19,850, and a fully loaded example tops out well under $25,000.

It''s also heartening to see such a quality automobile produced by a quite literally international consortium of designers and engineers. From as far afield as Germany, England, the USA and Brazil, the Mini team managed to make a strong connection with the past and make a bold thrust into the future.

Even the badge on the car reflects the attention to detail incorporated into the Mini Cooper S: The gentle curvature of the red "S" is meant the evoke the ultimate reason for the existence of the Mini S-pure driving pleasure.

Specifications

Engine Transverse four, supercharged
Bore x stroke 3.03 x 3.38 in. (85.8 x 77mm)
Displacement 1.6 liters
Compression ratio 8.3:1
Max. output @ rpm 120 kW (163 bhp) @ 6000
Max. torque @ rpm 210Nm (155 lb-ft) @ 4000 rpm
L/W/H 3655/1688/1416mm (143.9/66.5/55.7 in.)
Wheelbase 2467mm (97.1 in.)
Unladen weight 1140kg (2513 lb)
Track, f/r 1453/1460mm (57.2/57.5 in.)
Transmission Six-speed manual
Wheels/tires 6.5x16-in. alloy/195/55R16 all-season
Brakes, f/r Ventilated 10.9-in.disc/10.2-in. disc
Drag coefficient 0.36
Top speed 135 mph
0-60 mph (factory figure) 6.9 sec.

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