Ah, the Mini…
The Mini hatch has been around since time immemorial, and has been the funky car of choice for so many after a fun little runabout that can satisfy their need for individuality. Since its reintroduction in 2000 under the BMW Group, Minis have enjoyed great success worldwide, with each iteration getting a little more mature and sensible, without ever losing the fun-factor that comes pre-packaged into every Mini.
Responding to the pleas of consumers, this time around, the Mini is available as a five-door hatch (without having to concede to a Countryman). It also brings with it brand new engines, with a thrummy 3-cylinder adding to the zing-factor of the new Mini. But has it grown a little too much for its own good?
“When BMW returned Mini to our shores for the 2002 model year, having finally dispensed with Sir Alec Issigonis’s original design after too many years in production, the result, frankly, was revelatory.” - Car & Driver
When BMW first took to the design of the Mini, someone must have reminded them just how special the Mini was to so many people, and how its proportions are essential to the appeal of the thing. This was advice that BMW heeded, and even this third generation model can still link itself directly to the original Issigonis Minis of 1959. It has short overhangs, and wheels shoved into each corner, and features the round headlamps and perk rear that have made Minis recognisable for over half a century. This new car now gets a bit of a chin up front on some variants to aid aerodynamics, while the rear now gets a cool retro rear lamp cluster to inspire warm feelings from classic Mini enthusiasts.
The 5-door sees the addition of two doors (naturally), which gives the more practical hatch surprisingly pleasing proportions (much better than the Countryman, to us). It looks almost like the Mini had always needed a slightly more practical and conventional sibling, though admittedly the Clubman has a little bit more cool factor about it. Must be those fridge-like boot doors.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Under the clamshell bonnet of the most basic Cooper is a little 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo which has a nice round 100kW and 220Nm available to shift its 1092kg mass around. And you know what, it’s enough.” - CarAdvice
At the beginning of the range is the One, which benefits from a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with 75kW of twist. This may not be enough for some, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend it, as a little more money will get you the 1.5-litre unit, also with three cylinders, which is far more characterful and useful on a day-to-day basis. A majority of buyers will likely opt for the 6-speed automatic transmission, although the 6-speed manual is likely one of the best DIY-boxes we’ve encountered in recent memory. When that manual is paired with the new 1.5-litre turbodiesel, it can return an impressive claimed fuel consumption figure of just 3.9l/100km, though 5l/100km is more likely in real-world conditions.
Moving up a notch bags a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, which packs no less than 141kW of power. This power plant is good for a 100km/h sprint time of just 6.9-seconds, which can be shortened by opting for the ‘Steptronic Sports Automatic’ transmission instead.
“In many respects, it’s a standard Mini affair. That means plenty of retro charm throughout but, thankfully, without too much compromise in usability. The air-con controls are logical, for example, and the infotainment system (while basic unless you fork out extra for one of the optional upgrades) is easy to get the hang of.” - WhatCar
Like the exterior, the cabin of the Mini is funky and cool, and makes just the right about of retro noises to keep purists happy. The central-speedo of the old car has been moved to a position ahead of the driver (something that divides opinion, but is definitely more functional), and the centre is now free to house the infotainment system, which is upgradeable to one that is broadly similar to the iDrive setup you’d find in most modern BMWs.
BMWs influence on Mini can be seen further than just the infotainment system, though. The way the Mini feels, with its robust and well-engineered switchgear and tightly-fitted panels means that this little British car feels a good head more premium than most of its rivals. It feels now like the funky-fun Mini has grown up a bit, but it retains just enough pizzazz to be the choice of many looking for a car that’ll make them smile.
Behind the Wheel
“It’s a lightweight motor, which helps give the car a terrier-like way of biting into bends. It’s huge fun, but the other story is one of refinement – the ride is hardly big-car cushy, but it doesn’t bash you about.” - TopGear
In a Mini, engaging ‘Sport’ mode will endow the little car with “maximum go-kart feel,” or so the drive select display says. That kind of personifies the Mini’s ride and handling characteristics, because Minis have been known for their excellent agility and fun-factor behind the wheel since the era of the 1st-generation model.
The cars with heavier engines (namely the diesel and the 2.0-litre) blunt the Mini’s excellent handling slightly, but only just. With short overhangs and wheels in each corner, driving a Mini isn’t so much like piloting a car, but rather siting on its chassis and having it swivel around you. The steering is communicative and light, and the ride is decent. Noise intrusion from the wind and from the tyres is a little high, but it’s far from being uncomfortable.
Safety & Technology
“Because it’s a BMW group product there’s a strong reputation to uphold and as a result the Hatchback features some clever technology.” - Carwow
Despite every attempt to retain as much of its heritage as humanly possible, the Mini is very much a modern machine in terms of safety. The architecture of the car itself promotes even force distribution in event of a collision, and all Minis get a host of airbags, including a pair that cover all four side windows in event of a side-on accident. There’s even a bonnet that pops up to minimise the injury incurred should you hit a pedestrian, proof that a Minis’ safety isn’t just about those inside.
Naturally, all Minis have faired well in crash safety testing, with EuroNCAP awarding the Mini hatch 4-stars out of five (recognised and honoured by ANCAP).
The Mini hatch continues to tug at your heart strings with its cheeky looks and perky drive. But where life with a Mini required a certain degree of compromise, the new Mini is now more grown-up and that maturity shows. From aspects of practicality and refinement, the Mini is now a truly worthy contender in its segment, no longer a flight of fancy reserved for people who don’t have to consider the practical requirements life will eventually throw at them.
Our recommendation sits with the mid-range Cooper, regardless of 3- or 5-door body style. The choice of the number of doors depends entirely on what your life may demand on you, but we reckon that there’s no harm in having two extra doors (and all that additional space). The same logical reasoning also needs to be applied when choosing between the petrol and diesel units for the Cooper, because they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
WhatCar? - 80/100 - “Let’s be clear – the 5-Door doesn’t transform the Mini into the ultimate family car. However, what it does do is make it a more realistic option for the type of buyer who needs to carry four people on a regular basis. The Mini 5-door is a much more relaxed and easier-to-live with car, so is perfectly suited to the smaller, more economical engine fitted to the Cooper & Cooper D models.”
Car & Driver - 80/100 - “Consider our test car, the new four-door version of the Mini, in Cooper S tune. It has gunfighter reflexes, hardly a trace of body roll, transient responses reminiscent of a mongoose tormenting a cobra, and steering that’s both quick (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) and precise to several decimal places. The net-net is a car capable both of distinguishing itself at an autocross and of making its owner feel like Fernando Alonso at track days.”
The Car Connection - 67/100 - “The Mini Cooper is still one of the most fun cars to drive on the road today.”
Edmunds - 75/100 - “The subcompact class is populated by vehicles that are easy to drive in congested city centers, earn great fuel economy and do little damage to the pocketbook. Fun, however, is often in short supply. The Mini is designed to rewrite that story. While it's more expensive than most rivals, this BMW-built runabout adds lots of value with its energizing driving experience and premium character.”
AutoExpress - 100/100 - “Now in its third generation under BMW stewardship, the MINI is fast becoming a legitimate icon. It might be getting bigger every time, but it’s 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.”
TopGear - 80/100 - “Still all Mini to look at, but beneath the skin there's been a BMW-flavoured revolution...”
AutoCar - 90/100 - "So can this third-generation Mini rise above its predecessors and, like them, become a true driver’s favourite? In Cooper form, the answer is unequivocal. It has upped the stakes in terms of performance and handling but brings with it a broader appeal thanks to its improved ride quality and everyday usability. It is a now more rounded car than ever before as well as a real entertainer - whether tooling around town or out on the open road.”
CarBuyer - 76/100 - “The MINI hatchback is stylish and has lots of character, plus it’s cheap to run and enjoyable to drive. It’s a bit cramped in the back, though.”