The third generation MINI 3-door Hatch purports to blend the retro chic of the original with cutting edge technology. June Neary reports
Will It Suit Me?
Let's face it, I don't have a large family to cart about daily. Only a large husband who uses me as a taxi service. So something MINI-sized would suit me nicely. So when I heard all the hype about the third generation version, I determined to try one. When the car arrived at the office in 3-Door Hatch form, I at first thought they'd sent the old one: it really didn't look that much different. Still, the press pack assured me that it was and starting up revealed a very different engine note from that I'd been used to before.
If you remember the original British Leyland Mini, it was an engineering breakthrough, a marvel if you will. In its own way, the first generation BMW-engineered MINI that launched here at the turn of the century also set new standards, becoming a small hatch that executives brought in their droves as a second car runabout. Here was something that really did have big car quality and small car cheek.The MK2 version that followed continued this trend. With this third generation version, the styling doesn't look all that different and you might feel a bit short-changed at this design's lack of head turning ability. It's only when you park it next to an older model that you can see how the styling direction has evolved. The longer, wider and only a little bit taller proportions give it a squatter, more purposeful look, helped by the more tapered glasshouse. Stepping inside, I didn't need the brochure to identify the differences. As you might expect given the more generous cut of its cloth, the MINI hatch is a good deal more spacious inside. There's a lot more shoulder space across the back and bigger footwells. The front seats have been given a wider adjustment range and the base has been lengthened by 23mm for additional comfort and support. Access to the rear is easier and the rear bench seat splits 60:40. Boot volume has been increased by more than 30 per cent to 211-litres. Owners for the British original Mini would thank you very kindly for this amount of travelling space.There's also more interior stowage room, with additional cupholders and storage cubbies. The big centrally mounted circular speedometer has been ditched in favour of a more sophisticated multi function display, with a more conventional speedo flanked with a crescent-moon rev counter in the main instrument binnacle.
Behind the Wheel
The driving experience is a pleasant one, with the steering rack relatively direct, transmitting road feel to the driver. Visibility is good and all of the controls are logically placed and easy to get at - even in the pitch black (undeniably the worst time to take your first drive in an unfamiliar car). Comfortable seats will ensure that even longer journeys are a pleasure and plenty of height adjustment allows even lanky husbands to fold themselves in well enough. The engine range starts with the 102bhp 1.2-litre petrol unit fitted to the entry-level MINI One. Next up is the first of the diesels, a 95bhp 1.5-litre unit fitted to the MINI One D. If you really want your MINI to have a bit of zip though, you'll need to start your search for one at Cooper level, where a 1.5-litre petrol unit offers an eager 136bhp, gets you to 62mph in 7.9s and arguably represents the sweet spot in the range. As before, there's also a Cooper diesel option, this time the 1.5-litre diesel with 116bhp, scuttling you to 62mph in just 9.2 seconds. Then there's the Cooper S, with a 2.0-litre petrol engine putting out a useful 192bhp, a lot of poke for something so small, with 62mph just 6.8s away. MINI customers also get to choose between three different six-speed transmissions. There's a manual 'box and also two automatic transmission options on offer, a conventional auto and an optional sports auto which enables even shorter shift times, features rev matching on downward shifts and can be operated in manual mode using shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The suspension of the latest MINI has been extensively revised, both in design and in materials used, with much of it built from aluminium to save weight. There's also Variable Damper Control. Available as an option, it offers drivers a choice of two distinct set-ups, a more comfort-oriented response or a focused, sporty feel.
Value For Money
I thought this car would be more expensive than it is to be honest - though most owners apparently compensate for that by loading their cars up with pricey extras. Prices have risen by around two per cent across the board, which isn't bad for a bigger and better equipped car. That means for Hatch models, you'll pay just under £14,000 for a MINI One, with a premium of around £1,200 if you want the diesel version. For a Cooper Hatch you'll pay just over £15,000, with the same kind of premium for the pokey Cooper SD diesel. At the top of the range, you'll need to allow a budget of nearly £19,000 for the Cooper S Hatch, once you've allowed for a few well chosen extras. Still, that doesn't seem too much of an exorbitant sum for such a quick and capable car. Equipment levels have risen sharply, with features such as keyless go, ISOFIX child seat fixings front and rear and Bluetooth.
Could I Live With One?
I think I could live with a MINI 3-door Hatch. This car still raises a smile. And that, on a wintry Monday morning, is always a good thing.