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First Drive: MINI Hatch

By / 6 years ago / Road Tests / No Comments

Sector: Supermini Price: £13,750–£18,650 Fuel: 80.7–49.6mpg CO2: 92–133g/km

MINI sold 22,682 units of its Hatch model last year – even though it was on its way out of production – taking the total UK sales since its re-introduction under BMW’s aegis in 2001 to 389,343. So can this new model, with a brand new platform, a new range of engines and a complete redesign keep up the success story?

The design that has won so many hearts (and sales) is still very much in evidence, with the trademark grille, clamshell bonnet, circular headlights and the black edging at the bottom of its body retained, but subtly tweaked.

The new MINI has been stretched slightly, with an extra 98mm added to the length, 26mm to the width and 12mm to the height of the car. These might sound like relatively small increases, but the effects are significant: the interior feels tangibly more spacious and adding 51 litres to the boot capacity helps make it more practical than ever (not something the MINI has ever been renowned for). All in all, the effect is that the MINI hasn’t just grown: it is also more grown-up.

That’s especially true of the cabin. When the MINI was reintroduced in 2001, the quirky pod-like instrument panel was original and appealing, but it has somewhat lost its lustre, especially as the speedometer’s positioning in the centre console was awkward. MINI has therefore thankfully reformulated the steering column-mounted instrument cluster, placing the rev counter, speedo and fuel level together in front of the driver. There’s also an (optional) 8.8-inch TFT display in the circular centre console, below which there are fewer switches – the electric window controls finally having been moved, more conventionally, to the doors.

Another major change is the range of engines. The One and Cooper variants are fitted with all-new three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol units, with the spicier Cooper S getting a four-cylinder 2.0-litre. The Cooper S is an entertaining, fizzy little thing, all pops, bangs and burbles, with the 189bhp making it something of a firecracker (0-62mph is achieved in just 6.8 seconds).

The more fleet-friendly diesel Cooper D also gets a new three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine, which, once it gets going, is superbly refined and responsive, with plenty of low-down torque and enough performance for it to overtake comfortably while cruising on the motorway.

MINI has always made great play of the car’s go kart-like handling, so fans of it will be pleased to learn that it’s now even better. Still nimble, well balanced, with pointily accurate steering and bundles of grip, it is highly engaging to drive. But now the suspension has also been significantly upgraded, so the body is better controlled and the ride is supple and compliant, and able to soak up any scarred and rutted surfaces with alacrity. This is perhaps the most significant way in which the new MINI feels more grown-up, as it is smoother and more comfortable than ever on the road, while retaining its involving handling characteristics.

BMW’s MINI has built on the iconic – an overused word these days, but apposite in this instance – reputation of the original. This latest generation, with its new maturity and levels of efficiency, will take that reputation to another level, its desirability boosting sales figures even further.

Verdict:

The superb handling of previous versions has been not only retained, but improved, as has the suspension, which now makes the MINI a comfortable car to ride in. Add a refined and frugal three-cylinder engine and the MINI Cooper D is the complete supermini package for fleet customers.

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