MINI hatchback review
The latest MINI offers the quality and driver appeal of a baby BMW, but the design is becoming caricatured
It might be getting bigger with each new generation, but the MINI is also getting better, to the extent that now it truly feels like a cut-size BMW. It's also an award winner, having scooped the Best Premium Small Car of the Year gong at our 2016 New Car Awards and Convertible of the Year in the 2018 awards.
In 2018 the car underwent a mid-life update consisting of tweaked exterior styling, more technology fitted and even more ways to personalise it – a key part of the MINI's appeal ever since the car was revived by BMW in 2001. And while it’s possible to spec a highly personalised MINI that’s eye-wateringly expensive, regardless of engine, most versions are actually very well priced if you buy with restraint.
And thanks to the five-door version, which retains the character of the three-door but adds more space, it’s now passable family transport, too.
The MINI is an upmarket and fashionable hatchback that combines attractive retro styling with a great driving experience.
The MINI’s rivals include similarly upmarket offerings like the Audi A1 and Volkswagen Polo, along with more conventional superminis like the SEAT Ibiza, Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta and Citroen C3. To some extent, the Fiat 500 and its Abarth relative also stand as retro-styled competition, but these are much smaller.
While the MINI for sale today apes the style of its classic 1960s predecessor, and has similar go-kart-like handling, it’s much, much bigger – especially in five-door or Clubman estate guise. In fact, the latest ‘new’ MINI is the third generation built by BMW, and is itself a little bigger than the last.
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Introduced in 2014, the MINI Mk3 is longer, wider, and has a slightly longer wheelbase than its predecessor, which improves accommodation for rear passengers and luggage space. As well as three and five-door models, you can also opt for the practical MINI Clubman estate, a MINI Convertible, the sporty John Cooper Works hot hatch, and an SUV/crossover known as the MINI Countryman. There’s a plug-in hybrid Countryman model too, while a MINI all-electric hatchback is destined for production in 2019.
In early 2018 the MINI received its mid-life update and benefitted from tweaked styling, more technology and equipment added as standard, and offered more ways for customers to personalise their cars. Facelifted MINIs are recognisable by the single-ring LED daytime light graphic, full-LED headlights (with a matrix anti-dazzling function, available optionally) and rear lights with a Union Flag design.
Inside all cars now get a multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth and a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen as standard, while MINI now offers a comprehensive MINI Yours Customised programme – highlights include the ability to have the scuttle trim (the plastic next to the side indicators on the front wings) 3D printed with a word, pattern or collection of words and numbers of the customer's choice.
Meanwhile, the latest MINI benefitted from the introduction of a new range of turbocharged engines, as well as cabin upgrades. The three-cylinder units are shared with the BMW 1 Series and the BMW X1 crossover, the latter also sharing its platform with the MINI.
With the recent update, the range of trim levels became rather more complicated; the familiar 1.5-litre MINI One, more powerful MINI Cooper, sporty 2.0-litre MINI Cooper S, and the full-blown hot hatch MINI John Cooper Works versions are still available, but all except the latter now have three separate ‘Styles’.
The entry-level model is the basic but well-equipped Classic, a traditional looking MINI and a blank canvas for your imagination to run wild on the options list. Then comes the Sport with a JCW bodykit, sports suspension, cruise control, and various hot hatch-inspired details. Topping the range is the Exclusive which features most of the Sport’s features, but brings an air of luxury to the MINI, with plenty of leather and chrome details.
A limited-edition 60 Years Edition is also available, based on the Cooper S three-door model. Just 500 examples will be made, each finished in dark green with a brown leather interior. Two-tone 17-inch alloys and front spotlights are also included. The model is available exclusively with an automatic gearbox.
However, inside, the MINI gets a raft of technology with a fun side, and it's safer, better equipped and more sophisticated than ever. Despite all this, the MINI can also be affordable. Unless you go crazy with the bewildering range of options, the MINI hatch is generally a cost-effective car to run.
The 2018 facelift saw the MINI One lose its 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine and instead gain a de-tuned version of the 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine from the Cooper. One, Cooper and Cooper S cars also get the option of a new, slicker seven-speed Steptronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe latest MINI offers the quality and driver appeal of a baby BMW, but the design is becoming caricatured
- 2Engines, performance and driveA brilliant range of engines and one of the best small car driving experiences there is – but comfort suffers
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsVery economical and, if chosen wisely, a very sound buy that will be relatively cheap to own and hold its value well
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe five-door adds significantly more room and practicality, there’s some interesting tech and no loss of typical MINI charm
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe addition of the five-door model adds useful extra space, but this is not a car bought for practicality – or even comfort – reasons
- 6Reliability and SafetyBMW engineered and full of safety equipment, the MINI nonetheless could do better in the reliability and safety stakes