I just test drove the SVT Focus at the local Ford store. It's an impressive piece, as the reviews in the mainstream press have stated. The handling is stellar; the Cooper has nothing on the Focus whatsover. The steering is quick and communicative, and the wheel is nice and thick and provides a proper grippy surface (in marked contrast to the Cooper). Bumps are absorbed by firm but not overly hard springs and dampers, and the stiff structure keeps the car solidly planted at all times. The car has much more tire than it needs, providing limits well beyond what can be explored on city streets.
The interior is good but not great. There's too much somewhat cheap feeling vinyl (the sides of the front seats are leather, but the back seat and front seatbacks are vinyl) and the plastic is not of the highest quality. OTOH, the Cooper's base interior is no better, with lots of shiny plastic and hard, rubbery leatherette. Neither car can hold a candle to the VW Golf/Jetta, which sets the gold standard in the class.
In terms of power, the GTI also walks both the Cooper and the Focus (I haven't had a chance to drive the more expensive Cooper S). The Focus has a boy-racer loud exhaust and a relatively pleasant engine note, and feels a lot better around town than the wheezy, foot-to-the floor Cooper, but the chassis deserves a lot more zip. In a perfect world, the GTI's engine and the Focus' chassis would be available in the same car.
The icing on the cake is the size. The driving position in both the Cooper and the Focus is similar--the car is big and square around your upright seat. But the Focus offers so much more usable space that it's not even worth comparing the two. Fitting a bike in the back of a Cooper *may* be possible, but it would be no problem in the Focus.
So the Focus shares all of the Cooper's strengths (go-kart handling, stiff structure, etc.) and none of its weaknesses (overworked engine, miniscule interior and trunk space). It's not as cute or faddy, but it costs about the same. And unlike the Cooper S, it's available right now. Honestly, I'm not sure why you'd buy the Mini.
After all that, though, I'm still leaning toward the GTI as my second car. That engine is magical, and I suspect I will be happier with the high-quality feel of the interior and the muscle car personality than I would be with the surgically precise but substantially slower Focus. After all, I've already got a car to autocross in.
OTOH, the dealer is willing to do an A plan on the Focus...
Maybe I could even get this plate: