posted 6 years ago

MINI Hatch Review

The original premium supermini – and still the one for newcomers to beat.

Pros: Fun to drive, huge degree of personalisation available, strong engines

Cons: Not cheap (especially once you dive into the options), love it or hate it styling, due replacement soon

Model Range

Trim range: First, One, Cooper, Cooper S, John Cooper Works, Inspired by Goodwood, John Cooper Works GP

Petrol engines: 1.6 (75, 98, 122), 1.6T (184, 211, 218)

Diesel engines: 1.6 (90, 112), 2.0 143

Gearboxes: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic

What is the MINI Hatch?

This is the second-generation version of the car that resurrected the MINI brand. In the face of an ever expanding model range, it’s now officially known as the MINI Hatch, but essentially it’s the BMW-reimagined version of the classic runabout so many know and love. A trailblazer for ‘premium’ superminis, it paved the way for cars like the Audi A1, Citroen DS3 and Vauxhall Adam.

Road test

Performance

The core MINI range has always been based around 1.6-litre petrol engines. These now come in several states of tune, from the basic 75hp version in the entry-level First to the 218hp turbocharged firecracker in the limited edition John Cooper Works GP range-topper. All are blessed with plenty of enthusiastic verve.

However, you shouldn’t overlook the diesels – the less powerful models aren’t the most refined, but fuel economy is excellent throughout and the 143hp 2.0-litre Cooper SD is a very effective alternative to a traditional petrol-powered hot hatch. The manual gearboxes are mechanically satisfying and precise, but MINI hasn’t yet caught up with the latest dual-clutch trend when it comes to the automatic.

Ride and handling

MINI sets the standard for premium supermini driving fun – with sharp steering, flat roll-free cornering and feisty front-wheel drive performance they will run rings around many more powerful vehicles, especially on a tight and twisting road. You’ll find most drivers have a smile on their face, and this is why.

The downside to this is that the ride quality can be rather abrupt, especially on the more powerful models and those fitted with bigger wheels. This is a price many are happy to pay for the good grip and such lightening direction changes. MINI loves to roll out the ‘go-kart handling’ cliché – easy to forgive when it’s true.

Behind the wheel

Dashboard and driving position

Much like the outside, the inside is a retro-pastiche of the classic original, which you will either love or hate. Key features include a large, centrally mounted speedo (which doubles as a display area for the sat-nav, where fitted) and lots of toggle switches. Build quality is good for the class, as are the materials – many of which can be customised to your heart’s content.

Visibility

Thanks to the upright windscreen and thin pillars, forward visibility in the MINI hatch is genuinely excellent. And thanks to the shape of the bonnet and the way very little protrudes beyond the rear window, it’s easy to place precisely on the road – and when parking.

Gadgets and technology

Gadgets

Like many other premium marques (big or small…), MINI’s business model partly relies on tempting you into making purchases from an extremely extensive options list. As such you don’t get an enormous amount of standard equipment – though MINI is generous with safety and efficiency kit, and does offer good value ‘Packs’ containing popular extras.

Tech guide

- Smartphone connectivity: MINI offers extensive connectivity, especially for the Apple iPhone, via the options list

- Navigation: full-colour sat-nav is available – this combines a display screen in the central speedo with a control knob in the centre console

- Personalisation: faster versions include a ‘Sport’ button, which improves throttle response and changes the stability control settings

- Audio: Bluetooth and USB connectivity are optional, as is a powerful Harman Kardon stereo system

- Internet: optional ‘MINI Connectivity’ includes Google search and web radio capability, which function via your smartphone

- Can it Tweet or Facebook: MINI Connectivity includes Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare apps

- What is the standout gadget on the MINI Hatch: MINI Connectivity also includes tools for tracking both how economical and how sporty your driving is, a calendar and news service; we are rather partial to the optional interior mood lighting system as well

Passenger space and practicality

Passenger space

As a style-led car that’s intended to make you smile, you perhaps won’t be surprised to learn passenger space isn’t the MINI’s strong point. Rear legroom is especially tight – but should be fine for smaller children and occasional adult journeys. The present MINI Hatch comes in a three-door bodystyle only, which means access to the back seats can be tight.

Boot space

Similarly, the MINI Hatch isn’t blessed with the biggest boot. At 160 litres, it offers considerably less luggage room than the latest Ford Fiesta (276 litres), Renault Clio (300 litres) and – perhaps most critically – the three-door Audi A1 (270 litres).

Refinement

The MINI Hatch isn’t the most aerodynamic shape, so it can be a little noisy on the motorway. Diesel refinement has never been a particularly great strength, either. The noise from the petrol engines, however, is entirely deliberate, as this is a sporty car and a bit of aural swagger is all part of the fun.

Safety

All MINI Hatch models get six airbags and a comprehensive suite of stability control systems as standard – indeed, some of the electronics are even intended to enhance the driving fun. While it doesn’t feature any of the latest active accident avoidance aids, Euro NCAP scored the MINI five-stars in 2007 (the test has since been made harder, however).

Running costs/Value for Money/Pricing

Fuel economy

MINI is very proud of its ‘Minimalism’ technology – the equivalent of parent company BMW’s ‘EfficientDynamics’. All versions of the Hatch get engine stop-start, for example, and two of the three diesels emit just 99g/km CO2. That’s low enough to avoid road tax, and accompanied by a claimed 74.3mpg. The petrols are less impressive by the latest standards, but OK given the performance.

Quality

MINI build quality is generally solid, though the exact degree of fit and finish depends on how much you want to spend – there is a dazzling array of interior trim colours, types and combinations available. The firm ride can lead to rattles, but all of the major controls and switchgear feel satisfyingly robust.

Pricing and equipment

MINI has never built cheap cars, but over the years it has introduced more affordable equipment grades to help aspirational buyers. The First, for example, is available from £11,870. On the other hand, MINI is also fond of special editions, and some of these can be very pricey indeed – most extreme being the Rolls-Royce-designed ‘Inspired by Goodwood’, which starts at £41,005.

Value for money

This is a bit of a tricky one. Anyone who (if you’ll forgive the pun) buys into the MINI brand and what it stands for – the image, the way the cars drive, the personalisation – is likely to see what it offers as great value. If you don’t, then perhaps the MINI Hatch isn’t for you.

Key rivals

MINI may have established the premium supermini sector, but it’s far from alone in the marketplace now. Key rival is the Audi A1, which offers a slightly less cutesy approach, while buyers may also consider cars such as the Citroen DS3 and Alfa Romeo MiTo. The Fiat 500 is also hard to ignore, albeit technically counts as a city car, while the Vauxhall Adam – sized between the two – takes personalisation to even greater extremes.

VERDICT

As far as we’re concerned, the MINI Hatch is still the premium supermini to beat. While not the most practical choice, it remains great fun and very stylish. Though an all-new third-generation model is due at the end of 2013, there are unlikely to be any radical visual design changes, so the current car will continue to look fresh for several years to come.