What’s Hot: Added space and versatility, spirited on-road feel
What’s Not: Chunky pillars can hamper visibility, options can quickly get expensive
X-FACTOR: The grown-up way to enjoy a MINI without missing out on the fun.
Vehicle Style: 5-door small sports hatch
Price: $27,750 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 100kW/220Nm 1.5 turbo petrol 3cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.9 l/100km | tested: 6.4 l/100km
A modern MINI is enormously different from the simple, raw, space-efficient original. And perhaps, to some, it may seem that with each new model there’s less of the archetypal spirit of the original, and more complexity, more creature comforts, and more, well, flab.
Traditionalists then, will be up in arms over this creation. It isn’t the first MINI five-door (the Countryman and Clubman took that honour first) but it is the first five-door to be so blatantly mainstream.
I know a few MINI fans - ardent folk who love the hedonistic ethos of a two-door car that is just for them - and they’re mostly childless. Or at least they were.
But families are on the way and suddenly the idea of buckling junior into a car seat while squashed over the top of a folded front seat isn’t so appealing.
What’s needed is a MINI that’s just as fun, just as compact(ish) but with enough common sense to allow owners to stack kids, pets, or friends into the back seat with a little more grace.
And of course, MINI’s parent company, BMW - famed for their niche filling models - found the answer.
This time it isn’t a niche though, this time it’s the business of building a MINI that’s designed to tackle sensible duties.
Serious stuff! But how comfortably do function and form sit together in this trendy little 'extended' MINI: the five-door Cooper Hatch? That's what we put to the test to find out.
- Cloth seats, multi-function leather trimmed steering wheel.
- Dynamic cruise control, electric windows and heated mirrors, automatic wipers and lights, air conditioning, push-button start.
- USB/aux connectivity, Bluetooth telephony.
- Optional equipment as tested includes 6.5 inch display with centre console ‘MINI Controller’, Extended Bluetooth with music streaming, and a folding centre armrest.
Have no fear; from the front row you’d be hard pressed to tell there was anything different about this MINI. The front seats and dashboard carry over unchanged from the three-door models.
That means that the quintessentially MINI design-ethos takes centre stage, with a repetitive circular motif across the dash and doors.
It also means a speedo that has finally moved to the steering column, a more conventional display in the centre of the dash, and window switches that have migrated to the door trims.
Interior quality is sturdy - it’s well finished and should endure a bit of punishment. And there are enough splashes of high-gloss, chrome, and textured patterns to keep things interesting.
Head for the rear and, even though the Hatch is 72mm longer (all of which is devoted to rear legroom), the rear doors are still pretty narrow, and the process of getting in and out can be a little comical for taller bods.
Although the MINI Hatch is defined as a light car, it’s dimensions fall somewhere in-between the light and small car classes, straddling that happy medium for those seeking it.
There’s also three seatbelts across the back (instead of two in three door models), but the centre console runs all the way to the rear seat base - a middle passenger can thus find the seating somewhat inelegant.
With 278 litres of boot space, the rear compartment of a MINI Hatch is more useful than before, aided by a 60:40 split rear seat and a dual-level boot floor that can allow underfloor storage or be dropped away for a deeper boot.
ON THE ROAD
- 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbo-charged petrol 3-cylinder, with 6-speed manual gearbox
- MacPherson strut and coil spring front, torsion beam rear with trailing arms and coil springs.
- Brakes: ventilated front discs, solid rear discs.
- Fuel consumption: 4.9 l/100km (official).
Bit by bit, the Australian motoring public has been welcoming the return of the three-cylinder engine.
The MINI Cooper runs one, this time measuring 1.5 litres and producing 100kW @ 4500-6000rpm and 220Nm from a super-low 1250rpm.
Not only is it pleasantly swift, but the engine is smooth, the note is rorty, and the whole package screams MINI.
We tested the Cooper with a six-speed manual transmission, there’s a six-speed auto available too, but the manual is more engaging to drive.
The gearshift is firm but easy to flick through the gate, and the clutch takes no time at all to get used to - just the thing for city commuting.
With a full sweep of torque on offer so low in the rev range, the Cooper feels lively around town. Sink the boot in and the little engine rewards with effervescent performance.
It’s a low revver too. You could easily run it to the redline if you wanted with little complaint, but its just as appropriate to keep the tacho below 2500rpm and short shift your way to better fuel economy.
Same goes for highway usage - unlike many a small car that will buzz and scream with the effort of 100km/h cruising, the MINI is so smooth and calm that you could almost be fooled into thinking you were at the wheel of something larger.
In gentle hills we rarely needed to downshift to maintain speed, there’s plenty enough left in reserve. Select a lower gear or two though and the Cooper will swiftly overtake is needed.
While ride comfort rests a little on the firm side, at no point does the Cooper feel uncomfortable. Rather, it happily conveys every surface change to the occupants.
That lively communication is also part of the reason the MINI’s handling feels so eager, with a flat cornering attitude and alert steering. That’s one of the main lures of a MINI so we can’t argue with that trade-off.
Optional Mini Driving Mode control, which adjusts steering and throttle response though Green, Mid and Sport modes was, included on the car tested.
While the less-responsive Green-mode is perfectly ok around town, things get better as you work your way through to the spunky Sport mode.
Because MINI is all about ‘that feeling’ behind the wheel, it’s hard to fault the on-road performance.
On the downside, however, the thick A-pillars rob visibility making it harder to thread through tight bends than it should be.
There are also lots of reflections from the instrument cluster, making your own face an unwelcome distraction at times. Or maybe that’s intentional, so you can check out your own grin as you dash about town?
ANCAP rating: The Cooper Hatch has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Standard Cooper safety features include six airbags (front and side, for driver and front passenger and full length side curtain), active bonnet for pedestrian protection, three- point seatbelts for all five seating positions and two ISOFIX child restraint anchorages in the rear. Electronic aids include ABS, EBD, Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Fading Brake Support and a brake drying function.
Available optional equipment encompasses a head-up display, reversing camera (fitted to our test car), park assist with front park distance control, adaptive LED headlights and a comprehensive driving assistant package comprising a camera-based active cruise control and warning with collision and pedestrian warnings with initial brake function and a high- beam assistant for the headlights.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
When it comes to five-door ‘premium’ competitors on a small footprint, options are somewhat limited to the Audi A1, with up-spec versions of the Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo just squeezing in for contention.
Step up a size though and well-equipped versions of everything from the Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308 or the more humble Mazda3 come into play.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Without diluting any of the core values of the more sporting three-door range, the new five-door MINI hatch adds a welcome helping of space and versatility.
Looks are entirely subjective, so we’ll leave the deliberation about the stretched styling up to you. For what it’s worth though, the anoraks at TMR HQ can’t quite cope with the addition of framed door-glass.
If you’re able to overlook that little indiscretion though, the rest of the package will strike a chord with anyone seeking the youthful vibrancy that only MINI can seem to consistently achieve.
And of course, there’s the abundant options list to trawl your way through in the pursuit of a car that’s as individual as you.
If you keep the options light to maintain a bit of value-for-money, there’s a thoroughly decent car underneath just begging for you to kick off your 'metaphoric shoes' and have some fun.
If you ask us, there’s just not enough cars like that out there today.
MORE: MINI News & Reviews
PRICING (includes GST, excludes LCT and on-road costs)
MINI One - $24,500
MINI Cooper - $26,650
MINI Cooper D - $31,800
MINI Cooper S - $36,950
MINI Cooper - $27,750
MINI Cooper D - $32,900
MINI Cooper S - $38,050