MINI hatchback review
In the face of stiff competition, the latest MINI stands out by offering the quality and driver appeal of a baby BMW
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 Convertible of the Year title at our 2021 awards.
A key part of the MINI's appeal is the myriad personalisation options available, but while it’s possible to spec a bespoke MINI that’s eye-wateringly expensive, regardless of engine, most versions are actually very well priced if you buy with restraint. Thanks to the five-door version, which retains the character of the three-door but adds more space, it’s passable family transport, too.
About the MINI hatchback
The MINI is an upmarket and fashionable hatchback that combines attractive retro styling with a great driving experience. Its 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.
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 the MINI all-electric hatchbackhas recently benefited from a facelift.
In early 2018 the current generation MINI received a 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. These 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.
There was a further light refresh in early 2021, with revisions including a bigger grille, with a body-coloured strip through the centre and a new black surround, as well as air inlets replacing the previous spot lamps in the lower section of the front bumper. The inside trim around the headlights is now finished in black rather than chrome.
Interior changes added a new 8.8-inch colour touchscreen, along with sporty black trim in place of the older car's chrome flourishes. A new sports steering wheel and a five-inch digital instrument display are also now standard across the range.
Meanwhile, the latest MINI benefited 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 is no longer offered on the MINI price list, although the more powerful 1.5-litre MINI Cooper, sporty 2.0-litre MINI Cooper S and the full-blown hot hatch MINI John Cooper Works versions are still available.
MINI used to offer three separate Style specifications: Classic, Sport and Exclusive, although the Sport has now been removed from the configurator.
The entry-level Classic is basic but reasonably well-equipped; a traditional looking MINI and a blank canvas for your imagination to run wild on the options list. The Exclusive brings an air of luxury, with plenty of leather and chrome details. MINI has also introduced a limited Resolute Edition model, based on the Exclusive trim and featuring Rebel Green solid paintwork.
Inside, the MINI gets a raft of technology, and it's safer, better equipped and more sophisticated than ever. Despite all this, the MINI can also be affordable and, unless you go crazy with the bewildering range of options, the MINI hatch is generally a cost-effective car to run.
Used and nearly new
Launched in 2001, the classy MINI hatchback has lost little of its desirability over the years and is still a strong used buy. Now in its third generation, buyers will find plenty of models on the market, although be prepared to do your homework before committing to a purchase, as the variety of engine and trim combinations and myriad special editions can be a little confusing. Reliability is good, though, and there is the option of economical diesel engines or more powerful petrol units.
MINI hatchback history
MINI hatchback Mk3: 2014-date
The third-generation MINI hatch is a bigger car than its predecessor and has received some criticism for its enlarged dimensions and front- and rear-end styling. It's still unmistakably a MINI, however, and offers the usual premium air, efficient engines and a striking interior.
We'd recommend a petrol Cooper model with a six-speed manual gearbox, although there are two diesel versions available: the 95bhp One D and 116bhp Cooper D. Buyers looking for a more dynamic drive will find the 192bhp Cooper S, or the more powerful 228bhp John Cooper Works (JCW) variants more appealing. Read our full Mk3 MINI hatchback buyer’s guide here…
MINI hatchback Mk2: 2007-2014
You'll probably find that a Mk2 MINI will command a price premium over other superminis of similar age and mileage. Its blend of stylish good looks, decent engines and driving fun mean its hard to beat, even if you have to pay a little more for the privilege.
A facelifted model was introduced in 2010, bringing styling tweaks to the bumper design and changes to the exterior light clusters. Interior trim was upgraded, while a new 1.6-litre diesel engine was added to the range with 111bhp in Cooper guise. Read our full Mk2 MINI hatchback buyer’s guide here…
Other MINI hatchback models
MINI hatchback Mk1: 2001-2007
BMW struck gold in 2001 with its all-new MINI hatchback. Buyers were captivated by the retro-modern One and Cooper models, which also offered an impressive cabin and superb driving dynamics. The 163bhp Cooper S arrived in 2002, while the 200bhp Cooper S Works provided even more punch. Those looking for wind-in-the-hair motoring might want to seek out a Mk1 Convertible model, available from 2004 onwards.
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In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingIn the face of stiff competition, the latest MINI stands out by offering the quality and driver appeal of a baby BMW
- 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 CostsThe MINI offers strong economy and, if specced carefully, should be a very sound buy that will hold its value well
- 4Interior, design and technologyMINI offers an array of personalisation options, but the costs can soon add up
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe five-door model adds useful extra space, but this is not a car bought for practicality
- 6Reliability and SafetyMINI benefits from BMW engineering, but safety levels could be better