I HAVE a confession to make. I have a real love-hate relationship with Minis.
Yes, I know everyone universally adores them. I was brought up on The Italian Job and learning about their astonishing rally successes in Monte Carlo and many of my friends owned them.
But, a Mini was the first car I spent more than a three-figure sum on when I was growing up and it was a pig. Everything that could go wrong with it, did go wrong with it. I grew to loathe it.
However, when the last Mini rolled off the production line, I mourned its loss like so many others. Nobody enjoys the loss of an icon.
In September 2000, I was at the launch of the new Mini - or MINI as BMW would have it - at the Paris Motor Show. Like many, I was suspicious but perhaps my Mini adventures were tainted.
Over the years since, I've driven several, most enjoyably my good friend's Cooper S Convertible. Given free rein, that really would put a smile on your face.
But other models left me a little cold. The Mini ethos seemed to be diluted as they became bigger and, dare I say, brasher. The brand was all.
But, last year the new MINI Seven range was launched, taking its name from the very first Mini, the 1959 Austin Seven. And when we met - to be specific the Cooper model - we clicked. The joy was back.
Available in five-door or three-door form, with specially designed exterior and interior looks, it is available in a stunning Lapisluxury Blue colour - apparently the most intensive blue tone ever applied to a MINI. There's also Pepper White, Midnight black and - of course - British Racing Green.
A Melting Silver roof and exterior mirror caps come as standard contrasting with the distinctive body finishes. MINI Seven door sill finishers and side scuttles with the MINI Seven logo as well as 17-inch light alloy wheels in exclusive MINI Seven Spoke two-tone design complete the exterior look.
For those wanting to add their own personal style to the exterior, bonnet stirpes in Melting Silver with surround in Malt Brown are also available as an option.
Inside, the eye-catching design cues continuewith sports seats in the fabric/leather finish Diamond Malt Brown, designed exclusively for the Seven.
There's also a MINI Seven logo on the central instrument which surrounds the 6.5-inch colour display which comes as standard with MINI Connected, Bluetooth Handsfree with USB audio, floor mats, automatic dual-zone air con and the MINI Excitement Pack, which features a MINI logo puddle lamp. A gimmick yes, but I liked it.
The MINI Seven even has its own bespoke Chili pack - an option specified by the majority of the brand's buyers. This adds high quality leather upholstery, sports leather covered steering wheel, LED headlights, multifunction controls for the steering wheel and cruise control with brake function.
It also allows you to choose from several different ambient lighting options. Another gimmick but again, a welcome one. It gives the cabin that extra bit of warmth and homeliness.
It does bump up the price somewhat but it's a saving if you were to buy all the extras individually.
As you would expect now that MINI is owned by BMW, build quality is exemplary and all fixtures and fittings feel robust yet tactile and plush.
The Seven comes as a Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper SD in three- and five-door manual and automatic models so there's a dizzying amount of specs available.
Suffice to say, with 136hp and a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds, even the entry-level Cooper is a hoot.
Its official fuel economy might be 62.8mpg but as I spent most of my time scooting go-kart-like around the local country roads in sport modeI only managed - a still very respectable - 39.6mpg.
For this, you just flick a toggle switch to select it and the steering becomes heavier and the accelerator more responsive.
A little go-kart even pops on the central display and the LED ring around it goes red. The gearshift is short and sweet, there's plenty of oomph and also plenty of grip. Sometimes driving can still just be about having fun.
That doesn't mean to say it's rubbish at the other stuff. BMW has long pulled off the trick of making the MINI comfortable and nimble around town and reasonably refined cruising on the big roads.