2018 Mini Cooper review – retro supermini as polished as ever

The latest Mini Cooper is a very different hatchback to the original R53, but remains fun to drive and is more polished than ever

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Since BMW brought the Mini brand back from the dead in 2001, the Mini Cooper has been a stalwart in the supermini class, combining an immersive driving experience with typically high-quality German build and tech. The current third-generation model has been on sale since 2014, moving to a new set of underpinnings shared with other BMW models.

This decision to move the Mini onto a shared platform with other models within the BMW line-up was made to help spread costs and include high-specification technology, but in the process relegated the sophisticated, but expensive platform of the previous two generations of Mini to retirement.

As of this year, the standard Mini hatch, along with its five-door hatch and Cabriolet variants, have all received a gentle update, upgrading tech, adding new LED lights front and rear (more on those later), as well as tweaked engines to further improve L/100km figures. Question is, does the new Mini Cooper address the issue we had with the pre-facelift model’s fairly staid driving experience?

Mini Cooper: in detail

Performance and 0-100 time – Basic models don’t look great on paper, but feel peppy enough on the road. Coopers have the measure of their closest rivals, while the Cooper S is a near-241kph car.

Engine and gearbox – There’s a wide range on offer, from a naturally aspirated three-cylinder petrol and three-pot turbodiesel, through to a turbocharged three and four. The six-speed manual is more fun than the new dual-clutch auto.

Ride and handling – Ride has improved over the previous Mini, but it’s still as nimble on a twisty road. The five-door only trades a little of the three-door’s precision.

L/100km and running costs – Mini has now moved to WLTP regulations, hence the higher figures than before. L/100km in the 50s isn’t bad at all for the Cooper; S is quoted at 5.6L/100km.

Interior and tech – The retro interior styling remains love and hate, but quality is better than before. There’s more space than before, too.

Design – It’s a Mini – which means it looks like a car from the 1950s inflated to 2018 proportions. But those tail lights… 

Prices, specs and rivals

Prices start at $21,000 for the basic Mini One hatch, opening up the range with a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine with 101bhp. Standard equipment has been improved over the previous model, with those distinctive LED lights at the front and rear now standard. Mini now also fits a 6.5-inch colour screen across the range, replacing the previous car’s old dot-matrix screen.

Next step up is the standard Mini Cooper, adding a turbocharger to the three-cylinder engine for a more lively 134bhp. At $23,000, the Cooper’s pricing puts it at around the same as an equivalent Audi A1, but thanks to its recent upgrade in standard equipment, has the edge in value terms. Look outside the premium sector, and the Mini’s pricing also looks favourable to cars like the Suzuki Swift Sport, although the new Ford Fiesta ST’s aggressive $25,100 will need to be a consideration.

Above this you’ll find the Cooper S at $27,300, and the Mini John Cooper Works at $32,300, while diesel options are currently limited to the Cooper D at $24,500.

Performance and 0-100kph time

With the standard Mini One’s move to a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine the new Mini has now totally transferred across to BMW’s modular engine range. The 1.5 is hardly brisk, taking 10.3sec to get to 100kph, but it’s fast enough in town to keep up with traffic, and impressively refined.

Next up is the Cooper, using the same 1.5-litre engine, but adding a turbocharger to the package, lifting power to 134bhp, while torque is up, to 162lb ft. The turbo is felt most in the mid-range, reducing the 0-100kph time to 7.9sec. The sole diesel-powered Mini is the Cooper D, powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine. With 115bhp and a stout 199lb ft of torque, it manages the 0-100kph sprint in 9.9sec.

Adding a pair of doors inevitably dampens things a bit, but it’s marginal, the five-door One adding around 0.3sec to the 0-100kph time. The Coopers, whether petrol or diesel, add between 0.2- and 0.3sec to their sprint times, and the Cooper S a single tenth, but the reality is you’ll be hard pushed to notice on the road. The Coopers top out at 209kph, though all will manage over 160kph, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

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