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 new MINI than meets the eye.
For a start, 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.
Our choice: MINI Cooper
The new MINI’s styling has evolved over its three generations, so it’s no surprise that the latest model doesn’t do anything that revolutionary. As with its predecessor, the new MINI is slightly bigger. It’s 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller, with a 28mm increase in the wheelbase to help add much-needed space inside, particularly for rear-seat passengers.
The new look is more striking than before – the new headlights and big front grille stick out more prominently, while the big tail-lights are a cartoon version of those fitted to the original 1959 model. Look closely, and the body panels are more sculpted, and there’s more black plastic to help make the car look smaller, and to fend off carpark dings.
Inside, the MINI has never been particularly user-friendly, but the new model does have a proper iDrive-style controller for the infotainment system. Retro features are still present, including the fighter-plane-style toggle switches for the ESP and stop-start system.
The plectrum-style starter button moves from beside the steering wheel to the centre console, while the central speedo is replaced by a conventional speedo and rev counter mounted ahead of the steering wheel. Modern touches include an LED ring on the centre console, which changes colour depending on the function you select.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 wheelbase has been extended by 28mm, and that has meant extra space inside. However, although there is now more rear legroom, the rear seats are still a squeeze. Up front though, 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.