New MINI Cooper 5-door: long-term test review
Final report: Reluctant farewell to blooming brilliant family hatch
This hugely fun car will be sadly missed. It’s practical enough for a family of four (and all of their trappings) and stylish enough to impress the children, with a brilliant design and clever tech throughout. Urban economy could be better, but it’s great to drive, if bumpy at times.
Mileage: 6,161Fuel economy: 30.1mpg
After six months on the Auto Express fleet, our MINI Cooper five-door is leaving, and it’s fair to say I’m gutted. I was already a MINI fan, but as a father of two, I wanted to test whether the extra room and accessibility would make it a more practical, family friendly option as our sole vehicle.
But what does ‘family friendly’ mean these days? Well, ask a different member of my crop, and you’ll get a different answer. Sure, it looks great, is comfortable, fun to drive and loaded with clean, clever design touches; but would it really have enough space to accommodate my lot and their stuff?
The short answer is yes. Surprisingly, we managed to squeeze just about everything we needed into the car during our time with it. I’m not just talking shopping and the odd suitcase, either; this MINI has shifted my front garden’s remains to the recycling facility, before reloading at the garden centre.
Car group tests
With the rear seats folded flat, I had 719 litres of space to play with. And while I needed a couple of trips, the boot swallowed some big bags of ornamental slate, shrubs several bags of compost, eight-metre-long garden canes, flowers and cobble stones. All this was boosted by the extra load space beneath the folding floor, which meant fewer trips to and from the garden centre.
Helping with home improvements has been a common task for our MINI. Earlier in the year, I was able to collect a six-metre bath panel, sink and pedestal for some renovations. The rear doors provided excellent access, helping to load the bulkier items and save on potential back problems.
This lifting came at some cost to the car’s appearance, though. It got so filthy over the past month that it proved the perfect guinea pig for our Product Awards photos.
Removing the grime to uncover the beautiful metallic-blue paintwork, chrome grille and white roof showed what can be done with some award-winning products. It also reminded my children of the original appeal of the five-door – they loved its looks and £80 optional go-faster stripes from day one.
In many ways, the MINI’s styling overcame any doubts they might have had about space in the rear seats. Legroom has been fine, due to the space-creating cut-outs in the front seatbacks. It hasn’t always been plain sailing, though.
On the rare occasion that all four of us do venture out together, my eldest son has been restricted on whether he can take his guitar; and you can forget the idea of cramming in a couple of bikes. But more often than not, I tend to taxi one person and their gear at a time, so this is rarely an issue.
Driving the car remains my greatest joy, especially in sunny weather. It’s fast and fun, and you find yourself checking the speedo to ensure that you’re not breaking the law. For the record, I haven’t, but with the low driving position, sporty seats and sharp cornering, it just feels like you’re going so much faster than you really are, especially in sport mode.
The ride has been bumpy at times, mainly due to the larger alloys and low-profile tyres. The rims and rubber look great, but aren’t ideal for potholes, speed bumps or parking.
The only other downside is the 30.1mpg economy figure – although, as the car spends most of its time crawling along London’s crowded streets, I find its performance hard to resist on the open road. And when you’re having that much fun, it’s okay to spend a little more of the family budget on fuel.
MINI Cooper: second report
MINI hatch is a big hit, but it’s not without its flaws
Mileage: 4,429Fuel economy: 38.1mpg
As you may have seen on the roads, the new MINI is a popular car on British roads – and rightly so. The MINI has been a whole lot of fun in the four months that my family and I have run the car.
The addition of the extra rear doors and increased boot space have made the MINI a more practical option, yet it lacks none of the upmarket appeal that made the original three-door model such a huge hit. Yet those searching for 5dr MINI deals should be aware some compromises do lie in wait.
The split-level boot is clever, opening up 278 litres of space. It easily accommodates an average family weekly shop, but over the Christmas period, we had to ask another family member to take my eldest son’s guitar in their car, because we just couldn’t squeeze it in with the rest of our luggage.
Likewise, another family member who would usually accompany us on our festive trip needed to hire their own car, as we simply couldn’t fit him and his gear in.
Still, motorway driving has generally been stress-free. The intuitive sat-nav system has directed us around the country on various family trips away, and the ability to sync several iPods and phones has caused only minor in-car squabbles.
But you’ll need to make full use of the stereo’s volume control on the noisiest stretches of road. The first time I drove along the concrete section of the M25, I slowed down and moved into the inside lane, as the din from the uneven surface convinced me the MINI had a puncture.
This is one of the downsides of the low driving position. Driving the MINI is great fun, and this is predominantly down to its road-hugging stance. It is genuinely exciting flicking the red start button and feeling your weight shift as you turn into the first corner. Yet after several months of daily urban commuting, the initial fun factor of the ‘go-kart thrills’ is waning.
Much of the blame can be levelled at the combination of our roads and the optional 17-inch alloys. The amount of thumps and bumps on my commute has led me to avoid certain sections of road, and I’ve taken to driving over speed bumps at a slight angle to lessen the thuds (even at low speed).
A fuel return of 38.1mpg isn’t at all bad for a petrol car driven almost exclusively in slow city traffic. I’ve been using the green mode which encourages sensible acceleration and thoughtful gear choices by illuminating the green lights on the centre console.
However, the eight-stepped digital fuel gauge does seem to count down quite quickly. It may only take around £44 to fill up the MINI’s small 40-litre tank with unleaded fuel, but it would be nice if I was doing this a little less frequently.
Still, it’s hard to stay mad at the MINI for too long, as it only takes a few corners or an admiring glance to have me smiling again.
MINI Cooper: first report
It's bigger, more practical and even more fun - no wonder everyone wants the keys to our hatch
Mileage: 2,641Real-world fuel economy: 31.0mpg
Getting the keys to our new MINI wasn’t a problem, but keeping hold of them has been a different matter.
Auto Express required a family to test the fashionable Brit’s increased size, accessibility and practicality for our MINI special, and I immediately volunteered my rapidly growing-up clan.
The Cooper is the only car to join our fleet that I can recall actively asking to run, even though I knew it would require a serious bit of downsizing from the vast Citroen Grand C4 Picasso that I previously looked after. You could say I’m a MINI fan.
Turns out I’m not the only one. Within a few weeks of the five-door turning up in our car park, four people had whisked away its keys for a variety of magazine features – even the company chief executive tried the MINI for size as he’s considering buying one. So what would he get for his £15,900? Fun must top the list.
You can’t help but enjoy driving the MINI. For me, the low seats, smallish steering wheel and wide, shallow screen evoke memories of driving as a teen, racing through the gears, pulling out of corners and hearing the responsive engine’s rasp. The MINI encapsulates all of this, but now has five doors, added space and practicality for the children.
My family have certainly taken to the new car, and are wowed by the metallic paint, white roof and go-faster stripes. And while they don’t have the space to stretch out that they were used to in the Grand C4 Picasso, they’ve been won over by the MINI’s style. Neat designer label touches include the MINI logo sewn into tabs on the seats and inset within the light clusters front and rear.
So far the car’s proven practical enough for my family of four. It can easily take a week’s shopping in the cleverly designed split-level boot, and was even able to collect a new bathroom sink, pedestal and bath panel with the seats folded flat.
The kids have had to adapt to the bumpy ride, though. They sit close to the road, but the ride can be hard, especially on the capital’s potholed streets, and has caused the odd case of car sickness in my younger son. I’ve also had to stop him fiddling with the rear door handles that glow different colours as the ambient lighting changes. If he was any younger than 10, I’d put the child locks on.
So, first impressions? Excellent. The MINI’s beautifully designed, with head-turning looks and improved practicality over the three-door, and it’s lots of fun. Yet I’m not going to shout about my love for it – the more attention I draw to it, the more likely it is someone will want the keys.
James Batchelor, News editor
“There’s no doubt the MINI has grown up. I own a 2007 MINI Cooper S, and the ride and handling of this new one is better. The three-cylinder engine is characterful, plus the interior looks and feels wonderful.”
Graham Hope, Deputy editor
“I ran the MINI for a week, and initially was sceptical as to how it might cope with my young family’s need for space and carrying capacity. But I shouldn’t have worried; buggies and child seats were comfortably accommodated, and the driving experience was genuinely fun.”
Henry Willis, Consumer writer
“The long list of tech features packed into the MINI represents a host of unique extras not explored by rival brands. The infotainment system is BMW-based, but exclusive MINI content adds to the car’s character.”
*Insurance quote provided by AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.