MINI Hatchback Review
A MINI marvel at last: it doesn’t quite have the design purity of the first MINI, but this BMW-influenced car’s better in every wa
- Thorough BMW engineering
- Brilliant to drive
- It’s still a car less than 4 metres long!
- It’s bigger inside but still not big enough for some
- Quickly gets expensive
- Some people will never ‘get’ the new MINI
?Since BMW reinvented the MINI back in 2001, the British car brand has gone from strength to strength. The Oxford plant is bursting at the seams to make enough cars, so much so that MINI’s had to open another one overseas to take up the strain. It’s not all just because the car looks cute, either: this is a genuinely superb small car to drive. No, it’s not as small as the original, and never could be due to modern safety and refinement standards. But it’s just as fun to drive and satisfying to own.
This third generation car does not move the styling theme on from the award-winning original, but does give BMW it’s first opportunity for a full ground-up redesign. This, then, genuinely is a junior BMW – it even shares suspension bits with the next 1 Series – and the advantages of this are felt throughout. It really is probably the best MINI there’s ever been – and here’s why.
On the Road
MINI offers an interesting range of engines with the new Hatch. The base units are 1.2-litre and 1.5-litre three-cylinder units, and the larger ones are 2.0-litre four-cylinders – both diesel and petrol versions are available. All are turbocharged, which means even the base 1.2-litre petrol feels livelier than you’d expect it to, even though it’s hardly fast when you press on.
The 1.5-litre in the Cooper is the same turbocharged engine as used in the BMW i8 supercar – how about that for kudos? With 136hp and 162lb ft of torque, it’s good for 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds: do you really need more? You may not think so, until you drive the 2.0-litre turbo in the Cooper S. This engine’s shared with the BMW 3 Series and such a large motor in the mini MINI means performance is superb – and if even that’s not enough, MINI’s given it even more oomph in the latest John Cooper Works model. 231hp means 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds, and a guaranteed blast of a drive.
The diesels aren’t quite as exciting but they’re still able units, particularly the 2.0-litre in the Cooper SD which again is one of BMW’s latest units. Even this delivers 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, but somehow pairs this with fuel economy of over 70mpg.
The MINI is best with the snappy standard six-speed manual gearbox (even if it does remain a bit tricky to snick into reverse). The six-speed auto is available on most versions, but it somehow takes a little something away from the experience. Full engagement is how you get the best from the MINI.
It handles brilliantly: need we say more? OK, well, the reasons why it’s such fun to drive include super-sharp and fast-reacting steering, a lack of roll, pinpoint agility and the sort of back-road control you normally associate with a hot hatch. This comes as standard even in the standard cars – step up to the Cooper S and you’ve an experience more akin to a high performance car.
What MINI’s been able to do with the latest model is improve the ride quality without diluting the handling. It now rides city centre bumps much more smoothly and quietly before, without the wearing stiffness that could make the fun of older cars wear off somewhat. It even pulls off the super-large alloy wheels that so many MINIs wear these days without totally destroying the ride.
Really, the BMW influence of top-notch dynamics is evident from the first turn of the wheel in the latest MINI. No wonder so many people buy model after model – a normal supermini just feels a bit dull compared to it.
The MINI never particularly set out to be a premium luxury car in a junior suit – the market response to it seems to have taken it that way. Today, it’s seen as an upmarket car commanding step-up list prices, and this means competition doesn’t come from the supermini norm but from more sophisticated cars such as Polo GTIs and, of course, the purpose-built junior premium Audi A1.
So MINI’s had to improve refinement as the years have passed, and a concerted focus on this in the latest model has delivered real advances in this area. It’s now much smoother and more peaceful, particularly at the motorway speeds lots of single-car families use their MINIs on.
You can justify the premium stereo systems and other luxuries now because of the MINI’s additional refinement. No, it’s still not going to be as silent-running as a larger car; it’s simply too small for that. But this latest one is the most hushed MINI there’s ever been, and you shouldn’t tire of it no matter what sort of intense use you put it through.
In the car
The familiar MINI dash, with its swoopy controls and big oval in the centre of the dash, remains, but it’s been given a proper tidy-up and significant lift in interior quality. The stereo volume control is now easily accessible, heater controls are logical and MINI’s dialed back on the impractical cuteness for features such as the toggle switches for the electric windows – door-mounted buttons are FAR easier to use.
Some may bemoan moving the speedo and rev counter onto a steering wheel console, but this frees up the central circle to take, if fitted, the car’s BMW-sourced infotainment system. MINI adds some fun with an LED circle that colour-changes from green, yellow and red to depict various functions, from rev limiter to parking sensors. All rather cute indeed.
Space and practicality aren’t terms often favourably used when talking about a MINI. But while it’s still compact – and still slots well under the four-metre overall length MINI sees as a must-have for a small car – the severe compactness of the first two cars have been pretty successfully overcome.
You still won’t look to willingly fill the rear with adults, but it’s now not objectionable for short journeys, and you won’t have to shove the front seats right forward just to give this in the back some semblance of legroom.
The boot’s larger than before too, albeit still small: 211 litres with the seats up means you’ll probably be using the easy split-fold functionality rather a lot. But even this is potentially academic as there’s something that takes the pressure off the standard MINI Hatch’s need to deliver on space and practicality – yes, the launch of the much larger MINI Hatch 5-door. That car’s not far off a Fiesta for practicality…
MINI prides itself on its ultra-low running costs, and rightly so. With sky-high retained values, brilliant fuel economy, low car insurance and even the famous MINI tlc service inclusive package, it’s one of the cheapest premium-priced cars on the road to run.
All this is further enhanced with the latest one, which is more economical than ever, cheap to tax and has even better retained values. It’s a bit better quipped as well, so you may not need to spend quite so much on options – but, once you’re in the dealer, just you try to resist the personalisation.
The first MINIs were originally designed by Rover Group, latterly MG Rover. BMW input gradually grew over the years but this car is the first time the brand has been able to base the MINI on its own purpose-built platform. And it shows: it really does feel like a BMW, full of quality integrity that’s tremendously reassuring.
As such, we expect reliability to be better than the older cars, particularly given how it shares major mechanical parts from such mass-sellers as the 1 Series and 3 Series. Time will tell, of course, but we don’t foresee any major worries here.
The new MINI can’t quite manage a full five-star Euro NCAP crash safety score, but that’s more a reflection of the tough new standards for safety assist systems (that require standard fitment of some expensive equipment and gadgetry) rather than any flaws in the car’s overall safety. It’s also likely to be more secure than older MINIs – again, it enjoys latest-gen BMW locking and alarm systems, which can only be a good thing.