MINI hatchback review
The all-new MINI is more grown-up, and more like a baby BMW, than ever before
The new MINI has been running down the production line at BMW’s Plant Oxford since 2001. But, although its looks haven’t changed wildly since then, even with a new, second-generation model in 2006, there’s much more to this new, third generation MINI than meets the eye.
MINI is taking no chances with its eagerly anticipated newcomer. Not only is the car bigger and more refined than before, it features an all-new turbocharged engine line-up and even more upmarket interior.
The rival to the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 is built on a new UKL front-wheel drive platform, which will also be used for the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. The MINI also features a range of new predominantly three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines that have been designed and engineered solely by BMW for the first time.
The MINI also benefits from even higher levels of technology than before, making it safer, better equipped and posher than it have ever been before. Yet with prices rises by 2.6 per cent, or around £400, the new MINI is also one of the most competitively priced that BMW has ever sold.
There are also five models in the MINI models range - One, Cooper, Cooper S, diesel powered Cooper D and the John Cooper Works.
Our choice: MINI Cooper
Given the huge sales success of the first two generations of MINI, it’s no surprise that designers have played it safe with the latest car. In fact, at a glance it looks identical. But dedicated fans of the brand will notice the slightly more bulbous proportions, the larger front and rear lights, and... well, that’s about it.
As with every MINI, there’s huge scope for personalisation. The contrasting black roof is a no-cost option, and for an added cost, you can get bonnet stripes and black 17-inch alloys in place of the standard 16-inch rims. There are also optional LED headlamps, with distinctive circular daytime running lights.
MINI has been bolder with the new car’s interior, although the eye-catching design still features plenty of retro touches. Dominating the dash is a large, circular display for the infotainment and optional sat-nav. This is surrounded by a ring of illumination that flashes green when the stop-start system operates and can be programmed to mimic the sweep of the rev counter needle.
The Cooper S stands out from lesser models with a twin central exhaust, a chrome-plated honeycomb grille and subtle S badges. You also get the trademark bonnet scoop, although this time it’s purely cosmetic and doesn’t feed air to the engine. The stylish approach continues inside, where the new MINI retains the retro touches you’d expect.
However, the interior has been substantially reworked. A lot of the switchgear has been relocated – the familiar line-up of toggle switches is still on the centre console, but the window buttons are now on the doors, while a BMW-style iDrive controller sits between the front seats, replacing the old car’s joystick.
The large central rev counter is gone, too, replaced by a circular display for the infotainment and optional sat-nav. It’s surrounded by a ring of illumination that changes colour as you switch between the drive modes, or can even be programmed
to mimic the sweep of a rev counter.
Standard kit includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth and a DAB radio, while the optional Chili Pack adds desirable equipment such as climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, front sports seats and ambient lighting.
The new car upholds MINI’s reputation for driving thrills. BMW is keen to play-up the new MINI’s go-kart handling credentials, and has given the car completely revised suspension. As a result, the handling is very good, with a sharp, responsive turn-in from the steering and very good body control.
Acrobatic agility, rock-steady composure and strong grip let you relish every back road, while all the major controls deliver plenty of useful feedback.
However, the suspension is very firm, making long journeys and urban potholes a bit of a pain. This is more of a problem on sportier Cooper S models, especially if you opt for the larger 17 or 18-inch wheels. The new MINI is built on a new platform, which will be used by BMW. This has made the MINI feel more like a junior BMW than ever before, too.
So while the old MINI was more playful and moved around a lot more at the limit, this new car is very tied-down, stable and planted. It’s bad news for keen drivers, but means a much safer feeling, grown-up drive for everyone else. Factor in the lack of wind and road noise, the comfortable driving position and effortless mid-range acceleration, and it’s a surprisingly relaxing long-distance cruiser.
There are three petrol and two diesel engines to choose from. The entry-level MINI One gets a 100bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo, while the Cooper gets a 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder. The Cooper S upsizes from a 1.6 to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 189bhp. The diesels are both 1.5-litres and develop 94bhp in the One D and 115bhp in the Cooper D.
One criticism is that the engine in the Cooper S lacks a little in character. While there’s a nice exhaust note outside, the engine sounds and feels a bit subdued inside. Still, it's a hot hatch you could enjoy every day.
The smooth 1.5-litre diesel can be jerky at low speeds, but once the revs pass 1,500rpm it responds crisply and cleanly to the throttle. And while the three-cylinder thrum will be unfamiliar to owners of older cars, it adds to the MINI’s fun-loving character.
The MINI now comes with a choice of new six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearboxes. The manual is more precise than the old one, but lacks its slick shift, while the auto is more efficient but still never quite seems to know the right gear to be in.
To do this, the new model features more high-strength steel in the body and impact absorbers and a pop-up bonnet to help improve a pedestrian’s chance of survival should you have the misfortune to hit one. A full suite of airbags and ISOFIX mounts is also included. New tech for the MINI includes the option of a rear-view camera, to help with reversing, and a head-up display, to help keep your eyes on the road.
A camera-based adaptive cruise control system is also on the options list. The MINI is build using a lot of all-new tech, mixed with some tried and tested technologies. But as this will also be used in a host of BMW models, this should have been engineered to last.
Owners tell us MINI has its work cut out in the satisfaction stakes, with the previous hatch finishing a lowly 141st in our Driver Power 2013 survey. However, the new car features plenty of BMW input, which bodes well for reliability, while fit and finish is second to none.
MINI by name, not quite so MINI by nature – the new model is 3,821mm long, 1,727mm wide and 1,414mm tall. This makes it 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller than its predecessor.
The new MINI is longer and wider than before, but it’s barely any bigger inside. Although there is now more rear legroom, the rear seats are still a squeeze. At least the front chairs tilt and slide forward to aid access, and up front there is plenty of space, with impressive headroom and improved shoulder room.
The driving position is good, and there are new seats which are much more supportive than before. Visibility is pretty good, too, despite the MINI’s letter box windscreen. There are two gloveboxes and the seat backs and front passenger footwell have spaces to store bottles and maps.
The MINI still comes with a central armrest that never fails to be in the way of your elbow, whether you have it up or down. The boot space is better now, too, up 30 per cent to 211 litres. However, it’s still small.
The MINI has always been pretty fuel efficient, but the new range of engines helps improve this considerably. MINI claims that the entry level 1.2 petrol is around 25 per cent more fuel efficient, and can return fuel economy of 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 108g/km.
Next up in the petrol range, the new 1.5 three-cylinder features the same TwinPower twin-scroll turbocharging and direct injection as BMW’s larger engines. So despite the fact that it is more powerful than the 1.2, it returns 62.7mpg and 105g/km of CO2. The Cooper S is also impressive – its fuel economy is over 5mpg better than the outgoing model, at 49.6mpg, and CO2 falls to 133g/km from 149g/km.
The diesels are the real economy stars. The lower-power 1.5 found in the One D will return over 80mpg and emits 89g/km of CO2, while the Cooper D’s more powerful version returns 80.7mpg and 92g/km of CO2. The manual gearbox is the cleaner choice, but the new auto has a coasting function and stop-start, helping to improve fuel economy.