The most affordable route into the third generation MINI Hatch is with this 1.2-litre three cylinder One model. It's a surprisingly appealing confection. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Bigger, better equipped, more efficient and with a punchier range of engines, the latest MINI moves the game on. The styling is much as before with only subtle differences being apparent to MINI anoraks but the cumulative effect of all those changes is that this is now a far better car than its predecessor. That applies to the entire line-up, but especially to this entry-level 1.2-itre three cylinder petrol-powered 'One' derivative.
You know what? The best way to enjoy this latest MINI is to do yourself a favour and forget the old Mini. Yes, the original, tiny Alec Issigonis one. Put it to bed, consign it to the past and let collectors show and shine them. Times have changed. We want cars that are safer, more efficient, better equipped and, yes, bigger. If you're still hung up on the so-called 'new' MINI, perhaps you need to accept that and move on because be in no doubt, this is now an excellent vehicle and one that has exceeded paymaster BMW's most optimistic expectations when it originally embarked on this project.
The first MINI appeared in 2000 and was an instant hit, despite being powered by some fairly crude engines. That model was replaced in 2006 by the second generation car which got a better chassis and vastly more efficient engines courtesy of a joint venture between BMW and PSA Peugeot Citroen. By 2012, 2.5 million MINIs had been sold and a third generation model was being developed. That's the car you're looking at here. The brief was clear. Better quality, better fuel economy, better pedestrian impact protection, more equipment, more space, more innovation. Has the latest car lived up to its billing? Let's mark its card in entry-level 1.2-litre petrol 'One' guise.
So what's changed in the chassis and engine department? Everything, basically. The chassis is BMW's clever UKL1 platform which will also underpin a number of front-wheel drive BMW models. The engines comprise five powerplants to begin with, starting with the 102bhp 1.2-litre petrol unit fitted to the entry-level MINI One we're looking at here.
This car used to have a larger 1.6-litre engine, but this 1.2 shades its predecessor in almost every way, not least when it comes to the extra pulling power on offer. It's decently quick off the mark too, the 0-62mph sprint occupying 9.9s en route to 121mph. Those are the kind of figures you'd have expected from the hotter Cooper version not so long ago.
Drive the car and if you haven't yet tried a third generation new MINI, straight off the bat you notice that a few things are different. The driving position feels a bit less upright and the fascia is smarter. There aren't so many obvious attention-seeking gimmicks. That massive dinner plate speedometer that used to sit in the middle of the car has been ditched, replaced by a rather more useful multifunction display. Plus I love the starter tab on the centre console. It's just that much more tactile than a boring button.
Design and Build
So to the revised looks. Do they work? With this MK3 MINI, I'm really not sure. There are aspects of it that I love, like the way that the larger size has been so neatly integrated into the new design, but when I look at pictures of the old car and the new car next to one another, I can't help but think that the new one's front end just isn't as pretty. I can't say that can I? Okay, can we settle on more interesting than before?
Talk to MINI's designers and they'll come out with all sorts of worthy reasons as to why pedestrian crash regulations have forced a higher bonnet line and so forth and you'll probably be delighted about that if you blunder out in front of one while playing Candy Crush Saga but I'll leave it at that about the face. All right I will say something else: get yourself some optional alloys to replace the awful-looking standard wheels. There: I've said my piece.
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. 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 so while it's still not what you'd call huge, it's elevated beyond the Point And Laugh category.
Market and Model
Prices open at just under £14,000 for this base petrol-powered One. What does that buy you in terms of equipment? Well, for the sake of argument, let's assume that you're one of those vanishingly rare people likely to walk into one of the company's dealers and hand over the asking price for an entry-level MINI One variant with no options at all. Although the badge on the back, the smaller wheels and the non-contrasting roof won't fool your friends into thinking you drive a Cooper, your 'One' will nevertheless come with front foglamps, daytime running lights, power heated door mirrors, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, power mirrors, a keyless starting system, a trip computer, the MINIO central display with illuminated ring and a decent quality DAB stereo featuring both aux-in and USB sockets. Not bad.
Safety-wise, in addition to ABS anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, cornering brake control with brake assistant, the driving stability control system in the MINI includes a drive-off assistant, brake dry function, fading brake support and dynamic traction control (DTC). This system permits controlled slip at the drive wheels so moving away on loose sand or deep snow is a bit smoother. There are front and side airbags as well as curtain airbags for the front and rear seats, automatic passenger airbag deactivation and front and rear ISOFIX child seat mounts.
Cost of Ownership
The entry-level engines in most small car ranges are usually tired old nails left over from the previous generation and snare unwary customers attracted to the car's low price but unaware that fuel economy will be distinctly old-school. Not so with the MINI One. Its 1.2-litre three cylinder petrol unit will return a combined cycle reading of 61.4mpg and emit 108g/km, though you'll dent those figures by about 5% if you opt for the automatic gearbox.
A further new innovation lies with the MINI Driving Modes, another optional extra. Using a rotary switch at the base of the gearstick or selector lever, drivers can swap from the default MID mode to either SPORT or GREEN. The three choices offer a set-up which is either performance-oriented, comfort-biased or geared towards fuel efficiency. The latter includes a coasting mode when the driver removes their foot from the accelerator pedal. MINI Driving Modes also influence the ambient lighting, shift characteristics of the automatic transmission and the Variable Damper Control - if that extra cost option is selected.
Just because this MINI is a bit bigger in this third generation guise, don't think it's succumbed to a bit of middle-age spread. It's still just as much of an entertainer as ever - even in this baseline petrol guise. If you can't quite stretch to a petrol Cooper variant, then you don't now need to feel short-changed by opting for his more affordable green pump-fuelled 'One' model.
Overall, I like what MINI has done here. The company has made the car feel bigger and classier but where most companies manage to surgically remove the fun factor when they try this, MINI has left it intact and in some cases boosted it. You may argue over the aesthetics and we'll all have a viewpoint there, but in every other respect, this is a massively improved car. It sounds sacrilegious, I know, but when it comes to MINIs, bigger is clearly better.