How we test cars 50 years of car testing
The Mini was one of the first cars Which? tested 50 years ago. We put one up against a modern Mini to see how much progress has been made.
Watch our Mini track tests video
The first ever issue of Motoring Which? (now Which? Car) was published 50 years ago in 1962. To celebrate, we brought together one of the cars reviewed in that magazine, a 1961 Mini, with its modern, BMW-built ancestor, then put them through our current test programme.
This isn’t an attempt to find out which car is best – the latest Mini is objectively better in almost every way. Instead, we wanted to take stock and see just how far one of Europe’s best-selling and most iconic cars has come in half a century.
The Mini 850 was among the first cars Which? tested
This was never going to be a fair fight. The Surf Blue 1961 Austin Seven has an 848cc petrol engine producing 34bhp, while the Ice Blue 2011 Mini One D packs a 1.6-litre diesel and 90bhp.
We used a GPS-based tracker to test both cars’ acceleration from standstill to 62mph (100kph – the car industry benchmark). Taking an average of ten runs, the Mini One sprinted to 62mph in just 10.1 seconds – 1.3 seconds faster than BMW's claim.
Contrast that with the Austin Seven, which loped sedately to our target speed (just 12mph short of its maximum) in 28.6 seconds.
1961 Mini 0-62mph: 28.6 secs
2011 Mini 0-62mph: 10.1 secs
New Mini was 7mph faster through the slalom
Brake tests in a modern car can be quite uncomfortable. Your upper body is thrown violently forward against the seatbelt as the anti-lock braking (ABS) system applies the brakes around 10 times a second to prevent skidding.
Not so in a 1961 Mini, which slowed gently to a halt in an average of 77.0m – around 11 car-lengths behind the new Mini (35.1m).
Interestingly, the Austin Seven’s original-spec cross-ply tyres didn’t affect the test as much as we expected. Its front and rear drum brakes simply weren’t powerful enough to test the tyres’ limits.
1961 Mini 62-0mph: 77.0m
2011 Mini 62-0mph: 35.1m
Which? has been testing cars for 50 years
In our avoidance manoeuvre test, which simulates a high-speed motorway lane change, the little Austin acquitted itself well. It passed through the slalom of cones at 40mph before finally starting to understeer – where the front end of the car loses grip and runs wide.
The modern Mini is also known for its driving dynamics. It managed 47mph through the cones – not as great a difference as expected, but was far easier to drive, with fingertip-light controls and much less body-roll.
Also, the new Mini has standard stability control (ESC), which cuts the engine power and brakes individual wheels to bring the car neatly back into line. It’s a safety system we highly recommend on any new car.
1961 Mini max speed: 40mph
2011 Mini max speed: 47mph