"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."
The modern MINI retains much of the charm and appeal of the 1959 original but has built on that to become a high quality - and expensive – car that wouldn’t be out of place on either the driveway of a stately home or a suburban semi. There are now six models in the hatchback range, starting with the First and ending at the performance-focused John Cooper Works, so there's probably a model that suits all desires, if not wallets. And if that isn’t enough, the wide range of options makes the MINI a car that you can personalise so much that you'll never have to worry about seeing someone driving a car that looks the same as yours. And if the wide choice of hatchback models doesn’t suit you, there are a now MINI coupes, convertibles, estates (the Clubman) and crossovers (the Countryman), as long as your pockets are deep enough. Since the launch of the first of the modern MINIs, a number of other cars have tried to copy the success story, most notably the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3, but few - if any - match the MINI for driving pleasure, excellent resale value and style.
The original MINI was known for its go-kart-like handling and with the new MINI the engineers tried to retain that feeling. What a success they made of it, too. The steering feels immediate and precise without feeling too twitchy or nervous. Corners are dealt with easily with almost no body roll, but the downside to that is that the car has some very firm suspension settings. The ride is therefore quite hard, especially on the larger alloy wheels, and sports suspension can make the car jittery and bouncy over rough surfaces. Avoid these options, however, and the MINI rides no worse than many of its rivals and arguably better than the Fiat 500. Engine choices range from the 75bhp 1.6-litre petrol in the bottom-of-the-range First model to a roaring 208bhp turbo 1.6-litre petrol in the John Cooper Works (JCW). The 75bhp feels a little sluggish and its 0-62mph time of 13.2secs backs up this feeling whereas the John Cooper Works feels every bit the hot hatchback. Whichever model you go for or whatever you want out of a car, the MINI will be fun to drive.
The ability to make short work of corners means that the MINI doesn't make such short work of bumps. Rough roads in particular can set the MINI off into a rough bounce that jiggles the occupants about. Its not uncomfortable, but it is a little tiring after a while. The sportier the look of the car, the worse the experience. Bigger alloys and sportier suspension settings can make the JCW quite uncomfortable on certain roads. The interior feels luxurious and the large central speedo is useful and easy to read. Front-seat occupants get generous amounts of room but those in the back may feel a little cramped, especially if they're taller than average. The car is admirably quiet at motorway speeds with acceptable levels of wind and road noise intruding into the car and engine noise at a minimum.
The Oxford-built MINI is not free of problems, particularly in its electricals, but its dealers have proved themselves to be quick and ready to repair the problems and customers report that customer care seems to be their priority. Overall, the MINI is a reliable car made from good-quality materials and built by a dedicated workforce. Backing this up is the fact that the MINI is a BMW and all cars are built to their exacting standards, which will give some owners greater reassurance. Safety is also good, as you would expect in a premium product like the MINI. The hatchback was awarded five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests and each car comes with stability control and a large collection of airbags.
There's no getting away from the fact that the MINI lacks a lot in terms of practicality. The boot is only 160 litres in capacity, which is well below the class average and you can really only fit a few bags of shopping in it with any ease. The rear seats do split and fold to give another 520 litres of space for luggage, but even this is well below the Citroen DS3's 980 litres with its seats down. The rear seats themselves are not the easiest to access or get comfortable in once you have managed to get in there. Headroom is tight for taller passengers and everybody will be short of legroom. If practicality is important to you, the MINI hatchback is not the model for you, but others in the MINI range - like the Clubman and Countryman - provide a little more.
Value for money
The MINI is not a cheap car to buy, especially once all the options and personalisation choices are taking into account. The cheapest model, the MINI First, can be had for just over £11,000, but for that you get little in the way of equipment. A few thousand more gets you into the most popular 1.6-litre petrol Cooper model and you get air-conditioning, heated mirrors and a DAB radio. The top-of-the-range JCW is nearly twice the price of the Cooper and does include an upgraded stereo and leather sports seats, but even then the equipment is hardly generous. There are packs that bundle the most common options to help ease the pain to your wallet but get carried away with ticking the options list and even the modest MINI Cooper can set you back over £20,000.
Even if the MINI is an expensive car to buy, it's not an expensive one to run. Thanks to the MINImalism fuel saving measures built into all MINIs they are very economical to run. The Diesels, the One D and Cooper D both emit just 99g/km in CO2, making both eligible for free road tax, and the more powerful Cooper D should return 72.4mpg. Even the sporty Cooper S model returns 48.7mpg. The MINI therefore attracts relatively low daily running costs throughout its life, which added to the MINI TLC package covering the first five years of service costs and the best resale value of any car in its class, and the MINI begins to look like a pretty good investment.