Engine and gearbox
Unsurprisingly, both the three- and five-door models share the same engine and gearbox choices. All are front-wheel drive, driven through either a six-speed manual or a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The manual is preferable, its shift quick and pleasingly accurate, while Mini’s pedal spacing is such that heel-and-toe accelerator-blipped downshifts are easy to master. The automatic’s swift enough, even if it’s prone to the odd bout of confusion, though you can always take over via wheel-mounted paddles if you want to get more involved.
The new Mini One now utilises the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine as the rest of the range, replacing the older 1.2-litre PSA-derived unit that underpinned the old Mini One. Despite the rise in capacity, the new engine’s lack of a turbocharger does soften mid-range performance slightly, not that the previous Mini One was a particularly high-performance model anyway.
The Cooper’s three-cylinder is a much more effective unit, but works best in the mid-range, as so many modern petrols do. This is not a powerplant that relishes revs, a fact compounded by the Cooper’s impressive refinement, but still makes decent enough progress when hustled. Vibrations are impressively suppressed, and the standard six-speed manual transmission is fast and accurate, even if the throw is a little long.
The four-cylinder in the Cooper S is substantially more powerful, producing 192bhp with 208lb ft of torque. In this application, the Mini’s thick spread of torque makes light work of the Cooper S’ 1235kg weight figure, although again, the engine’s lack of top-end pizzazz means the Cooper S is no longer the stand-out supermini hot hatch it used to be.
Ride and handling
When the first BMW-engineered ‘R53’ Mini hatch was launched in 2001, its nostalgic styling and clever detailing might have made it a hit on the sales charts, but its superb handling characteristics proved that BMW hadn’t cut corners on its first ever front-wheel chassis.
The bespoke platform was a great one, with a low centre of gravity and square stance on the road complemented by the unusual application of multi-link rear suspension. As a result, the Mini had real talent on the road, with a snappy front end complemented by sure-footed handling that always seemed to grip no matter the circumstance. The next-generation Mini, revealed in 2007, was built on this same platform, improving ride quality and refinement along the way.
Unfortunately, with BMW wanting to spread the development costs of the Mini’s front-wheel-drive platform, the third-generation F55 Mini moved over to a larger chassis shared with BMW’s 2-series Active Tourer and X1 crossover, changing not only the way the new model looked, but also softening its driving experience. It’s still very well sorted, and the Mini feels sophisticated underfoot like few, if any other superminis, but that pointed aggression has taken a step back over its predecessors.
Don’t ignore the non-Cooper Mini models. The Mini One is most definitely worth considering, not lacking in any sort of fun factor behind the wheel despite being down on power compared to the rest of the model range. The entire line-up of engines deliver fairly feisty performance and also offer a decent level of economy. You’ve got low running costs, thanks in part to excellent retained values and the option of Mini’s useful TLC servicing packs.
The five-door version loses little to its three-door relation on the road, while the extra practicality it brings is useful, but it’s still not quite as spacious or useful as some less glamorous mainstream supermini rivals. Plentiful option choices allow unrivalled personalisation, but watch those tick boxes; if you get carried away the price heads upwards alarmingly quickly – it’s easy to spend a lot more on a Mini than intended.
L/100km and running costs
Given the Mini was originally conceived as a solution for an oil crisis, the current car really should be a frugal proposition. It proves so, too, as all feature stop-start to cut out any unnecessary idling when stood still. Mini benefits from all of BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology and turbocharging expertise. The result is a choice of cars that avoid the pumps commendably.
No surprises that the Cooper D is the economy champion, achieving a highly impressive 3.2 L/100km on the old NEDC cycle, that backed with an emissions figure of just 102g/km.
Don’t rule out the petrol models on economy grounds, either, as the diesels’ benefits are only really useful on longer runs, while the price differential buys a decent amount of fuel, too. The One achieves 4.5 L/100km and emissions of 122g/km – identical figures to the turbocharged Cooper. Even the four-cylinder Cooper S manages 5.3 L/100km as a three-door – on paper, at least.
Interior and tech
The interior has been just as much a part of the Mini’s retro design motif as its exterior, with each generation improving on quality and user-friendliness. The latest car brings with it a swathe of tech from BMW, including the same i-Drive system, only with re-formatted fonts and menus.
Build quality is impressive compared to many rivals, and although the interior doesn’t quite have the solidity of the Audi A1, its more joyful interior design is an important touch compared to the sometimes dour Audi. Centre to this is the large glowing roundell that sits in the centre of the dash. Now a home for the infotainment screen, the actual dials sit in front of the driver in a floating pod, with a central analogue speedo flanked by an offset rev counter.
Where the interior design has held on to much of the original Mini’s character, the exterior design has been heavily affected by the current-generation R55 model’s move to a shared BMW platform. The place this is most obviously seen is in the extended front overhang, an element that defined the previous Mini’s bluff retro design.
To try to offset this dramatic change in proportion, Mini’s designers applied a large amount of curve at the front of the car, pulling the ends of the headlights and front intakes as far back as possible to try to hide the bulky front end. You can make your own mind up whether you think it’s successful or not, but to some eyes it almost looks like a knock-off of the original, rather than the next-generation model.
Mini Cooper video review
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
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