This third generation MINI 3-Door Hatch has been usefully improved - though not beyond recognition. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Fresh technology, smarter connectivity and sharper looks are amongst the highlight changes made to this revised MINI 3-Door Hatch model. If you liked it before, you'll really like it now.
For a car that's been so successful, the modernday MINI seems to have nevertheless disgruntled quite a few people. "Look at the size of it," snort its detractors. "That's no Mini. It's a front-wheel drive BMW in disguise," they scoff. They might well have a point and if you're to embrace and enjoy the current day 3-Door hatch version of this MINI, it's best you think of it as a car completely different to the original, merely cribbing some of its design cues. That's because the modern era MINI has grown, since it was re-launched at the turn of the century and even more since this MK3 model was first introduced in 2014. That it now measures 3821mm in length and it's 1727mm wide which will have some up in arms, but let's keep a sense of proportion. It's still shorter than a 1990s Ford Fiesta, a vehicle hardly recognised as a leviathan amongst cars.
The key themes in developing this current car have been to retain the look while improving quality, refinement and efficiency. Some smart technology has crept in which is sure to be popular. Although it looks much the same, be under no illusions: this latest model is a massively improved vehicle.
The key update with this most recently revised model is that it's now possible to order it with adaptive damping - an important option given this car's go-kart-like firm ride, especially with larger wheels. Otherwise, it's as you were, all based on a chassis that's BMW's clever UKL1 platform, which also underpins a number of front-wheel drive BMW models. The base model is now the Cooper, where an uprated version of the brand's familiar 1.5-litre petrol unit offers an eager 136hp, gets you to 62mph in 8.3s and arguably represents the sweet spot in the range. You can't now have a six-speed manual gearbox, so the seven-speed Steptronic automatic is mandatory.
Then there's the Cooper S, with a 2.0-litre petrol engine putting out a useful 178hp, a lot of poke for something so small, with 62mph just 6.7s away. The flagship option in the mainstream range is the 231hp John Cooper Works variant. In recent times, the brand says that minor changes have been made to its TwinPower Turbo Technology across the board, improving engine electronics, oil supply, intake air ducting, the cooling set-up and the exhaust system.
Design and Build
The styling doesn't look all that different, but close inspection will reveal a range of subtle updates. The front-view is dominated by a larger radiator grille with a black, hexagonal surround, flanked by the hallmark round MINI headlights. The position lights have been replaced by vertical air inlets to optimise aerodynamics and the central bumper strip is now in body colour, rather than black. The wheel arch has new contours, the side indicators have been redesigned to feature LED technology and at the back of the car, the fog light is now integrated into the rear apron as a narrow LED unit. Otherwise, this third generation MINI 3-Door Hatch retains the basic overall body shape that we all know and love, with its squat, purposeful look, helped by the tapered glasshouse.
It's a touch larger than you might expect inside too - or at last it is provided you haven't been consigned to a rather cramped seat in the back: if that's an issue, you ought to be considering the alternative five-door version of this model - or perhaps the MINI Countryman SUV. Still, access to the rear isn't too bad and the rear bench seat splits 60:40. Boot volume is a supermini-like 211-litres. There's also decent interior stowage space, with cupholders and storage cubbies.
Interior updates include the standardisation of MINI's largest 8.8-inch centre touchscreen display and Piano Black high-gloss surfacing. Chrome elements have been significantly reduced throughout the interior with the two outer air outlets framed by black panels. The internal air vents have been completely redesigned and are now embedded to be flush with the interior surface. Plus the sports leather steering wheel has been redesigned and conventional analogue instrument dials have been replaced with a digital display.
Market and Model
MINI these days offers four distinct spec packages with its models - 'Classic', 'Sport', 'Exclusive' and 'Resolute Edition' - and you have to have automatic transmission. Prices have risen a lot, which means that the entry-level MINI Cooper in 3-door form will cost you from around £22,500 (about £700 more than the 3-Door Hatch model); there's no longer a base MINI One or a diesel version. For a Cooper S Hatch 5-Door, you'll need around £26,000 as a minimum.
Equipment levels across the range feature items such as ambient lighting, auto headlamps and wipers, ISOFIX child seat fixings front and rear and Bluetooth. The MINI hatch buying proposition has always been about tailoring the car to your personal tastes, so you might well indulge in extras like body stripes, a John Cooper Works spoiler and contrasting mirrors. You can also choose from technology such as a head-up display, a MINI Navigation System, MINI Connect telematics and traffic sign recognition.
The MINI Touch Controller allows you to write individual letters that the system then recognises when you're trying to input a sat nav destination for instance. MINI has standardised its bigger 8.8-inch central colour infotainment touchscreen, plus auto headlamps and wipers and two-zone automatic air-conditioning. Options include a new multi-tone roof. And heated front seats, a panoramic glass roof, a visibility package including windscreen heating, rain sensors, automatic light control, a Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system and a sports leather steering wheel. You can also spend your money on Park Distance Control, electrically heated and folding exterior mirrors, and an automatic anti-dazzle function for the interior and exterior mirrors. As you can see, the base retail price is just an opening gambit.
Cost of Ownership
Manufacturers can't launch a car these days without trumpeting on about lighter weight, lower emissions and better economy - and so it proves with the latest MINI. The MINI Cooper registers up to 51.4mpg combined cycle economy and up to 125g/km of CO2. The punchy Cooper S is fitted with a bigger engine but even here, combined cycle economy is rated at up to 45.6mpg and up to 133g/km of CO2. It's also worth noting that the automatic gearboxes don't impose a huge penalty in efficiency.
A further 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.
So what's happened to this MINI hatch? It's become better finished, the adaptive damping option is welcome and there are a great many more high-tech options to select from. That said, despite changing so much under the skin, it feels very much a case of as you were, the brand perhaps a little cautious of alienating either existing owners or potential new customers with something radical.
Don't let that make you think we're underwhelmed by this MINI. It's still a great hatch and the latest changes give it some legs to continue the success story. The prices look very reasonable at the moment, but to get the best from this car, you'll probably want to throw a few of those high-end options at it, so budget accordingly and take that into account when you're calculating your cost of ownership numbers. The MINI might have grown up but it doesn't look as if it's lost its sense of fun.