July 18, 2014
Vehicle Style: Light premium hatch
Price: $26,650 (plus on-roads), $31,470 as-tested
Engine/trans: 100kW/220Nm 1.5 turbo petrol 3cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.7 l/100km | tested: 7.1 l/100km
The MINI Cooper is back, bigger (slightly) and better than ever… though you need to squint to tell.
Is MINI’s rigid adherence to the Cooper’s throwback styling such a bad thing? Nup, the MINI brand is all about that retro-modern feel, and it does it better than most. Us? We kinda like its quirkiness.
That said, the previous-generation Cooper hatch range had some shortcomings (though definitely always a delight to drive). Happily, MINI has listened and given us a vastly improved product.
We spent a few days behind the wheel of the base model Cooper manual, and were thoroughly impressed. While the previous-gen entrypoint was lacklustre, the new Cooper positively shines.
Quality: Interior quality is about on par with the preceding generation, but substantial renovations and a rearrangement of the furniture means the F56 Cooper hatch’s interior is a far more liveable environment than before.
There’s a proper analogue speedo mounted atop the steering column, the comically oversized central speedo has been deleted, the window switches have migrated to the door panels and the layout of buttons and switches is more ergonomically sound.
Comfort: A slight increase in length and width liberates more leg and shoulder room inside, though the rear seats can feel a little tight around the knees after a short while.
Rear passengers do get a reasonable amount of headroom though, as well as their own armrests and three cupholders.
Accommodation up front is more spacious, and the seats give good support. The Cooper’s upright windscreen also provides good outward vision.
Equipment: Standard equipment covers the essentials like power windows and mirrors, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, USB audio input and Bluetooth telephony, but you need to pay extra for features like Bluetooth audio streaming or dual-zone climate control.
A larger (6.5”) colour infotainment screen is also a cost option, and so are features like sat-nav and a reversing camera.
But there are a few luxuries that you get for free, like reverse-parking sensors, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and keyless ignition.
Storage: The boot measures just 211 litres with the rear seatbacks in place, but thanks to a two-position false floor, a generous under-floor compartment, oddment nets, tie-down points and a 12-volt outlet, it’s a highly versatile load area for a light hatch.
The glovebox isn’t massive, but the clever hidden compartment above it (a feature carried over from the previous generation) gives you another place to hide valuables from view.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Compared to the last-gen Cooper’s asthmatic 1.6 litre four-cylinder, the new Cooper’s 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbo is a real peach of a motor.
With 100kW and 220Nm it’s got ample grunt to get the 1.0-tonne Cooper moving. A 7.9 second 0-100km/h time is nicely brisk - and it feels lively on road - if not in the tarmac-blistering league of some of the hot-hatches.
The standard six-speed manual it’s paired to (a six-speed auto is optional) is also a pearler, with a light, slick shift and perfectly-spaced ratios.
The engine needs a few revs to really get cooking (the turbo doesn’t really come on strongly until after 2000rpm), but there’s plenty of thrust in the midrange.
Refinement: The three-cylinder thrum from up front is actually an endearing facet of the Cooper, and, thanks to careful balancing of the engine, there’s none of the vibration that usually comes with a three-pot motor.
There’s lots of tyre roar on coarse-chip roads though, though the fact our car rolled on optional 16-inch alloys rather than the standard 15s may have had something to do with that.
Ride and Handling: The Cooper’s lively handling hasn’t been dialled out of this latest generation, and that’s good news for anyone who loved the well-balanced chassis and razor-sharp dynamics of its predecessor.
The electrically-assisted steering is ever-alert and satisfyingly direct, with outstanding on-centre response and good weighting.
And the Cooper sure can corner.
Turn it in sharply and the nose responds immediately. Lift off the throttle sharply at the same time or trail brake into the corner, and the rear-end lightens and points the nose further in.
Ride quality around town isn’t too shabby either, though it’s far from luxo-smooth.
Sharper-edged obstacles like expansion gaps and manhole covers can be felt through the cabin (the stiffer sidewalls of the run-flat tyres are the likely culprits for this), but overall the Cooper rides quite comfortably.
Braking: The brakes respond keenly, and are controlled by a pedal that’s smooth and progressive throughout its travel. Discs are fitted at all corners, and the Cooper’s light weight means it can stop in a hurry if it needs to.
ANCAP rating: The F56 MINI Cooper has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), three-point seatbelts, two ISOFIX child seat anchorages, traction control, stability control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are standard on the MINI Cooper.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Service costs can vary according to vehicle use, however MINI Australia offers a basic servicing package for $850 that covers filters, fluids, sparkplugs and basic servicing for the first five years or 70,000km of the car’s life.
A more comprehensive servicing package is available that also covers consumables like brake pads, brake rotors, wiper blades and clutch discs, though pricing can vary from dealer to dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Fiat 500 Abarth ($34,990) - Slightly friskier performance from the little Fiat thanks to its 118kW turbo 1.4, and its 7.4 second 0-100km/h reflects that.
However, it’s much older, much smaller and not quite as well-rounded a package as the Cooper. It’s also on the wrong side of thirty too, with a retail price just under $35k. (see 500 reviews)
Audi A1 1.2 TFSI ($26,500) -Much closer in price and in 'badge desirability' is the base model A1.
Though its 63kW/160Nm 1.2 litre can’t hold a candle to the MINI’s tri-cylinder, the Audi does have the practical advantage of five doors rather than just three. Like the MINI, it’s also a cracking thing to fling about. (see A1 reviews)
Ford Fiesta ST ($25,990) - Fancy something that feels a bit sportier? Take a look at the 134kW/240Nm Fiesta ST.
The Fiesta loves to be hustled up a mountain pass, and its bang-for-buck quotient is through the roof. Rides very firmly though, and its ageing interior won’t be to everyone’s taste. (see Fiesta reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We like the new MINI Cooper a lot.
The three-cylinder engine is a standout feature; so too is the comprehensively revised interior. Not only is it easier to drive, but it’s now easier to live with too.
And, thankfully, MINI hasn’t messed too much with how the Cooper handles.
Cornering prowess has been a MINI hallmark since BMW relaunched the brand, and that sporting DNA is still very much present in the company’s newest offering.
Yep, $26k is still a fair slab of cash for a three-door light car, but drive the Cooper and we’re certain you won’t feel shortchanged.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- MINI One - $24,500
- MINI Cooper - $26,650
- MINI Cooper D - $31,800
- MINI Cooper S - $36,950