A boisterous squirrel-chaser — but comes with a pedigree price tag
Racing performance
Sturdy and tough
Creature comforts
Gimmicky exhaust
Serious price
Only 210 to be made

First Drive review: Mini Challenge 210 (2015)

Off the leash: a lively lurcher with a big bark

More Info

First Drive review: Mini Challenge 210

2015 Mini Challenge 210 at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★☆
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★★☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★☆☆

Mini Challenge 210, £29,990

FOR THE past few years there’s been a one-make race series called the Mini Challenge, which, as you might guess, is for Minis. The car you see today is a road-going version of the Cooper S that competes in the championship. It’s a limited edition, which is shorthand for saying that Mini acknowledges it’s unlikely to have mass-market appeal because, frankly, it’s a bit of an animal.

Browse the used Minis for sale at driving.co.uk

The first thing to note is that it comes with a dual mode exhaust featuring a special, extra loud “track” setting that Mini’s official bumf explicitly says is for “racetracks only” and is absolutely not allowed to be used on the road.

How thrilling, you might think. An exhaust of such volume and violence that it’s actually illegal. You could have some fun with that, careering about the place in your little hot hatchback, unleashing hell at the flick of a switch and terrifying pedestrians with the thunder and brimstone of your furiously farting tailpipes.

Actually, it’s not as exciting as all that. There’s not even a switch that puts you into rule-breaking super-shouty mode. It’s a button on top of a strange, leather-wrapped cylinder that rolls around in the cupholder and, this being 2015, connects to the exhaust system by Bluetooth, causing pops and bangs of varying ferocity depending on how hard you were mashing the pedal beforehand. At its mildest, it’s more of a hollow thud, like someone banging on a piece of double glazing. At its most intense, it’s as if a municipal fireworks display were happening just behind the car.

This is all quite amusing, if not the sound of mobile Sodom and Gomorrah you might expect upon reading Mini’s stiff warning. The biggest reaction I elicited while using it was a stern look from a steely-eyed gentleman walking a labrador.

It turns out the rasping and the banging isn’t really illegal; it just fails the standard EU car noise test, which is why Mini has to tell you not to use it on the road. But you can. And you will, for a bit. Then you’ll feel like a bit of an oaf and turn it off.

Regardless, the Challenge 210 is still an extremely entertaining thing to drive. Fast Minis have always had a hyperactive, puppyish quality to them and this one is no different, but there’s also a polish and maturity to it. Think of it less as a puppy and more as a one-year-old dog. It still has the energy and the excitability to make it an amusing companion but you could leave it alone in a room that contained cushions.

First Drive: Mini Challenge 210

The Mini’s energetic, squirrel-chasing side shows itself in lashings of straight-line speed — the car has 18bhp more than the standard Cooper S — and a remarkable amount of grip through corners. The steering is quick, the gearchange is slick and, although the ride is a bit bumpy on really rough roads, the whole thing is a pleasure to drive in a style that suggests you’re permanently very late for an extremely important meeting.

Many fast hatchbacks are the same, of course, but the Mini manages this feat while seeming sturdy and well engineered rather than tinny and cheap. It’s surprisingly quiet at a cruise, all the major controls operate with a well-lubricated smoothness and the whole car feels expensive. Which is fortunate, since it is. In fact, it costs, near as dammit, £30,000.

This might sound a stupid amount for a little car that — as it is being built to celebrate a motor racing series — you’d imagine must be pretty stripped-out inside. In fact the 210 comes fully equipped. As well as dual-zone climate control and sat nav there are fancy heated seats and a head-up display. This is quite the opposite of a bare-bones racing car.

Outside there are stripes and auxiliary headlights, saving you the bother of adding extra trimmings from the options list. And, let’s face it, unlike the original, the modern Mini is a small car that people buy predominantly because they want it, not because it’s all they can afford. Only 210 of them are being built, too, and anything that’s limited seems to attract buyers these days.

Of course, if you still think the price is too stiff, you should know that the exhaust system is available as a dealer-fit option on the regular, £18,840 Mini Cooper S. It’s a cost-effective alternative for anyone who’s always wanted the sound of an Action Man artillery unit in the boot. And the good news is, whether you choose the Challenge 210 or the standard Cooper S, you get a sturdy, cracking little car included in the price.

Top Gear: Planet Garage — Stuff to Do in a World of Your Own, by Richard Porter, is published on Thursday by BBC Books at £9.99


Mini Challenge 210 specifications

  • Price: £29,990
  • Engine: 1998cc, 4 cylinders, turbocharged petrol
  • Power: 207bhp
  • Torque: 221 lb ft
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 6.8sec
  • Top speed: 146mph
  • Fuel: 49.6mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 125g/km
  • Road tax band: D (£110 a year)
  • Release date: On sale now


Mini Challenge 210 rival

Audi S1, £25,380
For A real pocket rocket that comes with four-wheel drive
Against Too fiery for some

Search the used Audis for sale on driving.co.uk

VW Golf R, £30,820
For Ridiculously fast and fun; four-wheel drive
Against Lacks chic-cheek of the Mini

Search the used VW Golfs for sale on driving.co.uk