"The MINI hatchback makes every corner a joy to drive, but it's not the most comfortable hatchback to ride in, and options are expensive."
If you include special editions, there are currently 12 – yes, 12 – different specifications for the MINI hatchback. There's the budget model First, original entry-level One, then One D diesel, Cooper, Cooper D, sporty Cooper S, Cooper SD, performance model John Cooper Works, Goodwood, Bayswater, Baker Street and the John Cooper Works GP, aka “the sportiest MINI ever”. It's pretty safe to assume that there is a model of the funky MINI to suit just about anybody with enough cash to buy one. Suffice to say that the MINI is as enduringly popular as ever, retaining much of the charm and appeal of the 1959 original but now wrapped in a high-quality – and expensive – shell that looks equally at home in the suburban driveway or adorning the grounds of a stately home. Plus, the ranging selection of optional extras at the MINI buyer's fingertips makes it a car so easy to personalise that you’ll never have to worry about seeing someone in a MINI that looks exactly like yours. And if you feel constrained by the hatchback dimensions, you can branch even further out and buy a MINI Coupe, a MINI Convertible, an estate (the Clubman) and even crossovers (the Countryman) – as long your pockets are deep enough. Since the modern MINI first made a splash, the number of manufacturers who’ve to jump on the success bandwagon have steadily increased – most notably, the Audi A1, Citroen DS3, Fiat 500 and now the Vauxhall Adam. Few – if any – have matched the MINI for sheer driving pleasure, quirky-yet-mainstream style and excellent resale value.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Thankfully, even if the MINI is expensive to buy, it's nowhere near as costly to run one. The MINImalism fuel-saving measures built into all MINIs across the whole range on offer means they are surprisingly economical on a day-to-day basis. The diesel models - the One D and Cooper D - both emit only 99g/km in CO2, making them both tax free, and the more powerful Cooper D should also return fuel economy of 72.4mpg. Even the sporty Cooper S manages to return a decent 48.7mpg. The MINI therefore has relatively low daily running costs throughout its life, which added to the excellent MINI TLC package covering the first five years of service costs makes the MINI begin to look like a pretty good investment.
Interior & comfort
Precisely because the MINI makes such short work of the corners is why it makes quite the fuss about the bumps. Drive the MINI on rough roads and you could find yourself being bounced about and jiggled around. It's not massively uncomfortable, but it is a bit draining after a time. And, as you’d imagine, the sportier the model, the worse the passenger experience. Thanks to its bigger alloy wheels and sportier suspension, the JCW can become quite uncomfortable on particularly bad UK roads (which are getting more common). However, the interior feels luxurious, with the signature large central speedometer present and correct – you’ll never be able to claim that you couldn’t see how fast you were going. There's lots of space in the front for driver and passenger, but those travelling in the back may feel fairly cramped, especially if they’re taller than most. It's admirably quiet inside though, with wind, road and engine noise barely disturbing anyone, even at motorway speeds.
Practicality & boot space
Even though the MINI is pretty far from living up to its name – or the small dimensions of the original classic car – there's no getting away from the fact that the MINI hatch is not a practical car. Anyone interested in a MINI probably doesn’t or shouldn’t care about that, but it is worth knowing that the boot is only 160 litres in capacity, well below the class average and only enough to fit a few bags of shopping in with any ease – even the weekly shop might spill out when you open the boot at the other end. You can fold down the split rear seats to open it out to 520 litres, but that's more than 450 litres smaller than the Citroen DS3 with its seats down. Then there's the fact that the back seats themselves are not the easiest to get into or get comfortable in once you have managed to squeeze yourself in there. Tall passengers will have to slouch in the low headroom – and they’ll have their legs up round their ears thanks to the cramped legroom. If practicality is high on your list of priorities, skip the MINI hatchback and head straight for the MINI Clubman or MINI Countryman, which give you a (little) bit more space.
Reliability & safety
While owner BMW ranked 15th in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's manufacturers rankings, MINI itself could only manage 28th (out of 32), which is a drop of seven places. None of its cars made it into the top 100, and the MINI hatchback limps in at 141st (out of 150). This is mainly down to a lack of practicality, which anyone interested should already be aware of. Built in Oxford, the MINI has a few problems, particularly with its electrical components, but the dealer network has proven quick and nimble in dealing with any such issue and customers have reported that they were well looked over. It's designed and engineered by BMW – how bad can it be? It's well made from high-quality materials to exacting standards, which should give some owners greater peace of mind. Safety standards are high, too, as you’d expect from a premium product like this. It secure the maximum five stars from the Euro NCAP crash safety tests back in 2007, so, even though the tests were recently made more stringent, it should be as safe a car as you can buy. Every MINI comes with electronic stability control and a large collection of airbags fitted as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The classic MINI cliché is that it has “go kart-like handling”, so it was important that BMW's MINI engineers retained that feeling when they revamped the car - and they did it in spades. The steering feels precise, responsive and immediate without feeling nervous or jittery. Corners are cruised round with almost no body roll. It is enormous fun, but the suspension settings are quite hard, made worse by the larger alloy wheels available, so the ride is always firm and occasionally uncomfortable. Plus, the sports suspension makes it bouncy over rough surfaces and the drive jittery at times. But avoid these options and the ride is arguably better than the Fiat 500 and certainly no worse than many of its rivals. Engine choices go from the 75bhp 1.6-litre petrol in the bottom-of-the-range First, up to a powerful 208bhp turbo 1.6-litre petrol in the John Cooper Works (JCW). The 75bhp does feel a little sluggish and its 0-62mph time of 13.2 seconds does make that feeling go away, whereas the John Cooper Works feels every bit the speedy hot hatchback. Whichever model you go for or whatever you want out of a car, the MINI is always fun to drive.
Price, value for money & options
The days of a MINI being cheap are long gone. The modern era model is fairly expensive to buy, especially if you are won over by the appealing list of extras and personalisation choices available to you. Even the base budget model, the MINI First, starts at just over £11,000 and it has hardly any equipment compared to the rest of the range. Throw in a few thousand more and you can jump to the range's most popular model, the 1.6-litre petrol Cooper, which comes with air-conditioning, heated mirrors and a DAB digital radio. Performance model JCW is nearly twice the price of the Cooper and adds an upgraded stereo and leather sports seats, but that's hardly generous given the price. You can choose options packs that bundle together the most popular ones to make your life easier, but don’t get carried away or your wallet will go with you. Fully loaded, even the modest Cooper can soar way above £20,000. MINIs are always popular, so expect the best resale values in its class on the used car market when you come to make a deal to sell.