What is the Mini hatchback Mk 3?
This is the third generation of the modern Mini, and a lot has changed. It’s bigger, safer (according to Mini), more frugal, thanks to a new range of three and four-cylinder engines, and, most significantly of all, adults can at last sit comfortably in the rear seats. The British-built Mini is, technically speaking, a supermini that drivers might consider instead of a Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo. But truth be told, it attracts people from all walks of life, its appeal being the distinct design, classless image and a fun driving experience. The fact that it can be accessorised with the abandon of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on a home makeover TV show has helped hook even more buyers.
Mini currently offers four versions of the new hatchback, which vary according to how fast or frugal you like your Mini driving experience. Kick-starting the range is the One, priced from £13,750. This is an insurance-friendly model and comes with a 101bhp turbocharged three-cylinder motor. This jogs along from 0-62mph in 9.9sec and achieves 61.4mpg. The Cooper hatch costs from £15,300 and features a 134bhp, turbocharged, three-cylinder petrol engine, which delivers 0-62mph in 7.9sec and 62.8mpg.
For maximum fuel economy, look no further than the Cooper D, which can return an impressive 80.7mpg. Priced from £16,450 it is powered by a 114bhp three-cylinder diesel, and can nip from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds. Those who want to turn up the performance will need to spend £18,650 on the Cooper S. It features a new 2-litre, four-cylinder engine developing 189bhp, enough to zip to 62mph in just 6.8sec, yet it manages a respectable 49.6mpg claimed.
Based on those figures and our driving impressions of the Cooper and Cooper S, the regular Cooper appears to be the best buy for the majority of private car drivers. (We’ll update our review as we test the other models in the range.) However, company car users, or those most concerned with low running costs, should consider the Cooper D, which at 98g/km now ducks below the 100g/km CO2 threshold, making it cheaper to run as a company car and exempt from road tax.
You’d imagine that there would be only one way to drive a Mini Cooper S – on the doorhandles. But no, drivers can switch between three Mini Driving Modes (prepare to cringe). First up there is “Green: Low Consumption Driving Fun”. This effectively dulls the response of the throttle to help conserve fuel, lightens the steering weighting and – for versions with an automatic gearbox – decouples the transmission when coasting to reduce drag. Then there’s “Mid: Typical Mini Driving Fun”,which, as its name suggests, strikes a middle ground between having fun and being frugal. Finally there’s “Sport: Maximum Go Kart Feel”. The latter is the most faithful to the car’s personality. The system comes as standard with the Cooper S and is a £210 option on other models (we’d give it a miss).
Ironically, though, the new Mini has lost some of its go-kart feel. A longer and wider wheelbase and new design of suspension (with more travel) mean that the car no longer hops along like someone who’s just stubbed their toe. The handling is assured, and the car covers ground quickly whatever the weather conditions, even with the stability systems turned off. The driver can still instinctively feel how much grip the car has through the seat of their pants.
Progress over every type of road is calmer, smoother and quieter. It all points to a car that had been suffering growing pains. On the one hand, it’s much more pleasant on the motorway; on the other it’s not as much fun on a winding country road – and since when was a Mini Cooper S all about slogging up and down the M1? The engine of the Cooper S has jumped in capacity, from 1.6 litres to 2 litres, but remains a four-cylinder unit. It’s gutsy with lots of torque, which means it will pull effortlessly from 1400rpm. As a result, the Mini overtakes slower traffic quickly and safely. But is it pleasurable? It’s not a distinct or characterful sounding motor. And – unusually for this class of car – it doesn’t thrive on high revs. By 5000rpm it feels like it is suffering an asthma attack. The shift of the new six-speed manual gearbox is a weak point. It has a long and notchy shift action and the rev-synchro match (which blips the throttle when you change down a gear) seems like a pointless gimmick. It’s too slow to deploy, and if you aren’t into the idea of indulging in some heel-and-toe gearchanging, why buy a hot hatch in the first place?
Anyone who has sat in an old Mini will recognise this car’s new interior. It remains faithful to the general look and layout of the last two Minis, but there is a noticeable improvement in the standard of quality and level of technology. Compared with similarly priced cars, it feels special. There’s also more space in the cabin. Passengers under 6ft can just about sit comfortably in the rear seat, behind a driver of a similar height, without fouling their knees on the back of the front seat. And the boot has grown, from 160 to 211-litres; handy, even if it’s still on the small side compared with other superminis.
The speedo now sits in front of the driver, and the rev counter is almost hidden away to the side. It’s reflective of the wider change to the Mini’s mindset. In the past, the rev counter was the main dial facing the driver, because this was a driver’s car. Today the dominant feature is an LED display that wraps around the circumference of the central infotainment display and changes colour according to how you’re driving, with green for sensible and red that fades to white-hot when you’re late for your child’s school play.
Faults? The fuel display looks like something from a Tonka toy and the optional head up display (£375) is a waste of time on a small car like this. And drivers coming from an old Mini will have to get used to further concessions to sensibleness: window switches in the door armrest, like all other cars. What is the world coming to?
The one to buy
Price: From £15,300
Engine: 1998cc, four-cylinder turbocharged
Power: 189bhp @ 4700-6000rpm
Torque: 206 lb ft @ 1250rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.8sec
Top speed: 146mph
Fuel: 49.6mpg (combined)
Road tax band: E
Dimensions: L 3850mm, W 1727mm, H 1414mm