The design cues from the 1960s original have continued on this third-generation, BMW-built Mini like a rich thread of heritage, albeit in a chunkier, bloated kind of a way. The hexagonal grille, floating roof, upright windscreen, chrome door handles and round, gooey headlights are all present and correct, though the latest round of crash-safety regulations are making it increasingly difficult to maintain the traditional ‘wheel-at-each-corner’ stance. Still, as small cars go, the Mini remains one of the most cheeky, instantly recognisable and undeniably modern silhouettes out there.
When it comes to small-car interiors, choice, quality and texture matter. Mini understands this and has presented a cabin that’s brimming with character. The soft-touch dashboard feels high in quality and can be specced in a variety of colours, while the interior lighting can be changed on the move to alter the cabin’s ambience. Plus, items like the chrome toggles and plectrum-shaped starter button cleverly combine the ornamental with the useful. Ergonomics are good, too, with a large circular console housing the infotainment system, a paired speedo and tachometer arrangement mounted above the steering wheel and the buttons for the electric windows and lights being placed in intuitive locations. Sounds obvious, but for owners of the previous Mini Hatch, this will be a revelation. There are still a few idiosyncrasies: the dial controller for the optional infotainment system is positioned next to the handbrake and so requires nimble fingers, while the fog light buttons are positioned out of view beneath the steering wheel.
Practicality is not a strong point of the Mini Hatch. Although the space up front feels surprisingly generous, accessing the rear pair of chairs requires the deft precision of a small circus performer and the 211-litre boot is about as useful as a tape player. Remove the false floor, and you’ll be able to squeeze two items of carry-on cabin luggage in there, plus a hand /manbag. That’s without a spare wheel which, annoyingly, isn’t even an option. That said, the rear chairs fold flat with a 60:40 split and the front passenger seat is ISOFIX appointed, making it easy to install a child car seat.
Ride and handling
So far we’ve tested the range-topping Cooper S and Cooper D, with both versions offering the fun, playful handling characteristics that are synonymous with the Mini brand, albeit with an unexpected layer of maturity. The Cooper D demonstrates fine body control through corners and maintains an impressive level of cabin refinement over all manner of road surfaces. The stiffer Cooper S may be a bit bumpier at slower speeds, but things settle down a lot more at higher speeds, making it a surprisingly stable and comfortable long distance companion. There’s also the option of an adaptive suspension that lets you soften things off when you’re in the mood for comfort rather than fun.
There seems to be a fun little driver’s car for every budget with the Mini Hatch. The entry-level Mini One has a 101bhp, 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine and accelerates to 62mph in 9.9secs. The Cooper uses a turbocharged 1.5-litre unit, bringing the power up to 134bhp and sprint time down to 7.9secs, while the Cooper S sticks with a more conventional 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged unit developing 189bhp, hitting the 62mph from rest in 6.8secs. All versions use a notchy six-speed gearbox as standard, though a paddle-shift automatic transmission is also available. Even in the hottest Cooper S variant, the power delivery remains smooth, linear and refined, rather than raucous, with minimal corruption to the steering even under heavy acceleration. However, select the ‘Sport’ driver mode and you are treated to a slightly meaner temperament, including a few pops and bangs from the exhaust.
The Mini Hatch is expensive to buy compared with most other superminis, but it also has some of the best residual values in class, which will help safeguard your initial investment. If other running costs are your key priority, the Cooper D is a great choice. It benefits from a smooth 115hp three-cylinder diesel engine that accelerates the car to 62mph in 9.2secs, yet has a claimed fuel economy of 80.7mpg and a CO2 output of 92g/km – much lower than an equivalent Audi A1 or Citroen DS3. However, the petrol-powered Cooper offers the best balance of performance and economy, with 62.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 105g/km.
Look at the reliability data on previous Minis, and the chances are you’ll be pretty underwhelmed. Scores for most of the previous versions have been a bit lower than average according to Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, as has the score for the Mini brand as a whole. We’d recommend you take Mini up on the offer of the Mini TLC servicing packages (98% of buyers are expected to), which covers the first few years of servicing for a nominal one-off fee.
Six airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and cornering brake control are all standard fit. Running through the options list, we’d nominate the brilliant heads-up display – a function normally associated with much bigger cars – but pass on park assist and the reversing camera. Mind you, even the standard kit is pretty effective, with the Mini scoring four stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP.
The first BMW Mini of 2001 helped pioneer the trend for customisation, and third time round, there remains a near limitless number of options, from bonnet decals to downloadable Apps via the Mini Connected service. Standard equipment on the Cooper and Cooper D includes air-conditioning, keyless start, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a USB socket. We’d also recommend that Cooper customers upgrade from the standard 15-inch alloys to some bigger, blingier items, and we’d also recommend the 20GB music hard drive so you can ditch the CDs and help free up some much-needed cabin space. The Cooper S, meanwhile, gets sports seats, a sports leather steering wheel and 16-inch alloys as standard.
Look beyond the hype, and you’ll discover a car that’s great to drive and has plenty of substance to back up the style. You don’t measure desirability in boot capacity, and for the Mini, that’s just as well.