The MINI Hatch 5-Door makes a lot of sense. Particularly in 1.5-litre petrol-powered Cooper guise. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
It's time to get used to the idea of a MINI Hatch with five doors. With this bodystyle, you get a longer wheelbase, quite a lot more luggage space and potentially room for three people in the back. On top of this, there's the third generation MINI model's sophisticated design with underpinnings better suited to longer journeys. Oh and a range of punchy but economical engines. You wanted more MINI? Well you've certainly got it now. Here, we're trying the perky 136bhp petrol Cooper model.
Take a standard MINI, add a dash of length and practicality and you'd have a strong seller. You'd have a car like this, the MINI Hatch 5-Door. There are potentially lots of folk who like the stylish frugality and fun, chuckable, cheeky demeanour of the MINI Hatch 3-Door model but simply can't justify that car's tiny rear seats and restricted boot. Like me perhaps, they've an occasional need to transport up to three kids in the back. And they require a car that won't be daunted by the modest proceeds of a family superstore shop. A car like this one? It's certainly going to be a strong seller for the brand, priced and sized in fertile territory somewhere between Fiesta-shaped superminis and Focus-sized family hatches. You can see why it might appeal. But would you really want one? Let's find out at the wheel of the petrol-powered 1.5-litre Cooper model.
Can a bigger MINI really feel like a proper MINI should? Fun, frisky - up for anything? The brand's Countryman crossover model tried hard in that regard but was a little too heavy - and perhaps even a little too sophisticated - to quite hit the mark. This time round though, buyers get the extra doors and at least some of the extra practicality they were seeking without any dynamic downsides. Or none that I can feel anyway. If the stretched wheelbase of this car has done anything to dent the eagerness of the taut MINI chassis, then I can't feel it. We reckon the 1.5-litre petrol-powered Cooper model on test here represents the sweet spot in the range though, is represented by the variant that'll deservedly be the best-seller, the petrol-powered 'Cooper' model. The engine is actually basically the same unit that assists the electric motor in BMW's i8 supercar. Here, as there, it punches well above its weight, enabling the performance of this third generation version Cooper to at last aspire to the lower-rungs of the hot hatch ladder: 62mph can be dispatched in just 8.2s en route to 129mph, which, I think, will be quite as fast as most will really want to go in this car.
Design and Build
The worst mistake any freshly designed MINI can make is to lose its 'MINI-ness'. And much of that is, after all, tied up in this model's diminutive dimensions. Which, as it happens, aren't so diminutive these days thanks to this third generation Hatch design's small but significant increases in width, height and length. To these enhancements, this Hatch 5-Door variant adds 161mm of length and 11mm of height over its Hatch 3-Door sibling, all of this thanks to a wheelbase stretched by 72mm. But let's focus on what we're here to analyse: the differences that this Hatch 5-Door model delivers over its Hatch 3-Door stablemate. Nearly half of the extra length you get with this variant has gone into providing extra rear seat space, though to some extent, the issue lies in getting to it. The extra rear doors are really pretty small, so squeezing in and out can be tricky. Once you're inside on the rear seat though, the news gets better. Anyone who's ever been crammed into the back of a MINI Hatch 3-Door model for any length of time will be astonished by just how much space has been created here simply by increasing the length of the car by a mere 161mm.
Market and Model
You'll pay from around £16,000 for a 1.5-litre petrol-powered MINI Hatch 5-Door Cooper model. That prices it mid-way between a decent Fiesta-sized supermini and a Focus-sized family hatch. Tempting. The spec's decent too. All models get a USB interface and Bluetooth, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, front fog lamps and an onboard computer. Air-conditioning is available free of charge on all models. Safety equipment includes front and side airbags, as well as curtain airbags for the front and rear seats. All seats are fitted with 3-point seat belts, belt tensioners and belt force limiters at the front. ISOFIX child seat mountings are provided at the rear and the front passenger seat. These can be supplemented with a range of options that includes two-zone automatic air-conditioning, heated front seats, a panoramic glass roof, windscreen heating, rain sensors and automatic light control, a Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system and a sports leather steering wheel. Other options include Park Distance Control, electrically heated and folding exterior mirrors, plus both interior and exterior mirrors with automatic anti-dazzle function.
Cost of Ownership
The third-generation MINI's biggest step forward has undoubtedly come in the area of engine efficiency and the five-door car continues that theme. Go for the Cooper 1.5-litre petrol model and it'll manage 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, with emissions rated at 109g/km. MINIMALISM environmental technologies include a shift-point display function and optimised preheating process on the diesels. Brake energy recuperation and need-oriented control of the fuel pump, coolant pump and other ancillary units feature on all models. The electromechanical power steering and map-controlled oil pumps in all engines are optimised for the most efficient use. There's even an optimised preheating process which delivers a 50 per cent reduction in the energy required to start the diesel engines. What else? Well, residual values are bound to be strong: the three year retention figures you get with MINI models are always well above the class average. That'll also be helped by the way that MINI reliability improves with each generation, something evidenced by falling warranty claims. As expected, there's the usual three year unlimited mileage warranty with the usual BMW-style variable service indicators. And on that subject, almost all MINI buyers opt for the no-brainer TLC package, which, for around £300, gives you comprehensive servicing cover for five years or 50,000 miles, whichever is reached first. This also includes a 'MINI MOT Protect' assurance guarantee stating that in the unlikely event your car should fail its first, second or third MOT test, MINI will cover the cost of repair or replacement on an array of selected parts. Finally, I should mention insurance groups, which are the same as those for the Hatch 3-Door. You're talking group 18E for the Cooper model.
In one sense, it's extraordinary that it took the MINI brand so long to bring us this car. After all, over 70% of all sales in the small hatchback segment are of five-door models. In not offering a conventional MINI Hatch with that option, this franchise was missing out on a significant number of sales. With the extra doors in place and this car in the showrooms, the company's position in the compact hatch sector has changed significantly. After all, in the eyes of many potential customers, the extra versatility of this variant will turn what was previously an un-buyable car into a really credible proposition. Which is exactly what it is in 1.5-litre petrol Cooper guise. This engine is good enough to make you wonder whether there's really any need to trade up to the much pricier 2.0-litre Cooper S. Or indeed whether it's worth finding the premium for diesel power. It's that good.