MINI hatchback review
The all-new MINI is more grown-up, and more like a baby BMW, than ever before – especially as a 5-door with surprising practicality
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. And for the first time ever, there’s a MINI 5-door model, too, with an extra 72mm in the wheelbase, which translates directly into the same amount of extra rear legroom – it’s a properly practical MINI.
The rival to the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 is built on a new UKL front-wheel drive platform, which is also 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 in both MINI hatch and MINI 5-door forms – Mini One, MINI Cooper, MINI Cooper S, diesel powered MINI Cooper D and the hot MINI John Cooper Works, which develops 228bhp making it the most powerful production MINI ever made.
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, and the larger front and rear lights. The 5-door model gets side doors with frames, rather than the hatch's frameless doors, an extra 72mm between the front and rear wheels, plus an extra 89mm at the very back to boost the boot. It’s not as pretty as the MINI hatch, but still registers strongly on the cute scale. While Cooper S and Cooper SD models get a protruding lower front bumper with squared-off intakes, the Cooper, Cooper D, One and One D get a softer front-end treatment. A Sport Package lets you get the look from more powerful models fitted to more wallet friendly models lower in the range.
As with every MINI, there’s huge scope for personalisation. The One comes with 15-inch wheels as standard but you can upgrade to 18-inch alloys if you like. There’s also the popular Pepper and Chili equipment packs which most buyers fit to their cars, and are a must for optimizing resale values. Also a 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 optional 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 on the firm side. That said the ride is noticeably better than on previous models and on the 15-inch wheels it’s only badly broken surfaces which send shudders through the car. But as you increase the wheel size you increase the discomfort and on 17 and 18-inch alloys the ride will be too harsh for many people. It gets worse with the optional sports suspension. The optional adaptive dampers, however, do help as they let you toggle between a comfort and sports setting.
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 anyone that like sliding around, 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. The diesels are especially impressive as the are frugal, punchy and surprisingly quiet for oil burners.
The longer 5-door model feels barely any different to the MINI hatch to drive, the extra space between front and rear wheels not having a discernable effect on handling, but if anything making the ride slightly more comfortable. Performance and economy are ever-so-slightly worse, but not that you’d notice too much.
There are three petrol and three 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 while the SD has a 2.0-litre with 168bhp.
One criticism is that the engine in the Cooper S lacks a little in character. Happily, the new John Cooper Works ensures you won't be short on thrills. It uses the same basic 2.0-litre engine as the Cooper S but has 20Nm more torque and an additional 39bhp. Throttle response is razor sharp and bespoke sports exhaust adds the drama that's missing from the Cooper S.
If you want to spice up the Cooper S then there's always the Challenge 210 Edition. Limited to 210 examples for the UK market, it benefits from a dealer fit engine upgrade from 189bhp to 207bhp and a hilarious sports exhausts, controlled via a purpose-built Bluetooth controller. Click it twice and flaps open up in the exhaust unleashing a rip-snorting soundtrack and explosions on the overun. The extra power is noticeable throughout the rev-range, too.
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. It’s also a very quiet engine. In fact, only from the outside can you recognize the familiar diesel clatter, and even then it’s one of the most hushed small diesels in the business.
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.
Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the MINI, but BMW claims it has been engineered to achieve an impressive score in all global crash tests.
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 hatch is 3,821mm long, 1,727mm wide and 1,414mm tall. This makes it 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller than its predecessor.
Go for the MINI five-door and the length runs to 4,005mm, while height rises to 1,425mm – proper supermini sizes.
So the new MINI is longer and wider than before, but in three-door hatch form, 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 5-door car gets a healthy 72mm of extra rear space, which makes the back surprisingly practical and comfortable, for two at least - a third rear passenger is a poor relation. Those small rear doors open nice and wide to make getting in easier, but the door opening is narrow at the bottom so you’ll have to angle your feet to get them in and tuck them under the seat in front.
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 – the five-door is better still with 278 litres and easy to fold split rear seats. However, the boot’s still too 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.
Having a bigger, heavier 5-door does dent fuel economy slightly, but only by one or two mpg, with CO2 figures increasing by a similar amount.