“The MINI hatchback is stylish and has lots of character, plus it’s cheap to run and enjoyable to drive. It’s a bit cramped in the back, though”
- Efficient and powerful engines
- High-quality interior
- Great fun to drive
- Firm ride
- Expensive to buy
- Cramped rear seats and boot
Since the MINI was resurrected in the early 2000s, it has traded on its characterful, retro design, customisation options and what is often described – both by MINI itself and by those who drive its cars – as go-kart handling.
The latest MINI was introduced in 2014 and has all of these characteristics and more, including a high-quality interior, more interior space than ever before and a line-up of efficient yet powerful engines. A facelift for 2018 has kept the styling and handling broadly the same, but has added improved technology and novel features, such as Union Flag rear lights, as well as extra personalisation options.
These days, the MINI hatchback is offered in the traditional three-door layout or as a MINI five-door hatchback, which we've reviewed separately. There are three petrol engines on offer: a 1.5-litre three-cylinder called the One, a more powerful version called the Cooper and a turbocharged 2.0-litre called the Cooper S, plus hardcore John Cooper Works (JCW) models for real driving enthusiasts. Diesels are no longer available, but the MINI Electric is now on sale with up to 145 miles of range between charges.
A dual-clutch automatic gearbox with seven gears has replaced the old self-shifting six-speed transmission. It's impressively smooth around town and offers almost imperceptible changes at higher speeds – while also boosting fuel efficiency.
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Once you've chosen an engine and gearbox, you then pick between standard Classic trim or the more expensive Sport and Exclusive. No MINI is sparsely equipped, with air-con, automatic headlamps and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen standard across the range, as well as neat touches like a MINI logo projector built into each door. The Sport and Exclusive options cost the same, with the former introduces an aggressive body kit and alloy wheels, and the latter boasting a luxurious leather interior and chrome exterior trim.
No matter which combination you choose, you don’t have to be driving quickly to enjoy the MINI. It still has quite a firm ride – especially on models with larger alloy wheels – but the trade-off for this is a very involving driving experience thanks to very little body roll and quick, precise steering.
Inside, there’s more space than before with plenty of space in the front, but the rear seats remain more cramped than rivals such as the Audi A1 and Ford Fiesta, plus the boot is one of the smallest in its class. However, if you’re choosing a three-door MINI you probably won’t be too worried about practicality, as there’s now the MINI five-door hatchback and MINI Clubman estate for that.
The dashboard is still packed with character, although a central display screen now takes the place of the speedometer and rev counter - these have moved to be in front of the driver, which we prefer. You can personalise the interior until your heart’s content, just like you can with the exterior. It all looks and feels solid and well built, too, with many components shared with BMW cars – including the interface for the standard 6.5-inch display and iDrive controller. You also get LED exterior lights now, as well as Bluetooth and a DAB radio from the off.
The MINI is pretty well equipped then, but we’d go for the Cooper because it also comes with fashionable alloy wheels as standard. Many owners also add-ons like parking sensors, cruise control, a sports steering wheel and upgraded wheels. Be careful if you want to add extras, though, as the list is very long and getting carried away can become incredibly expensive. Stick to the MINI’s packs and you shouldn’t spend too much over the list price.
The upside of the MINI’s high list price is its strong resale values – MINIs hold their value very well thanks to a desirable image and what appealing interior. Euro NCAP awarded the MINI four stars out of five in crash safety tests, while it finished 57th out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2018 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. Too few owners took our survey in 2019 for it to be included, but MINI as a brand finished 18th out of 30 manufacturers.
Ultimately it’s the image, the style and the driving experience which will matter most to buyers considering a MINI, and the hatchback delivers on all these fronts. The Cooper S model is a genuine rival for the Ford Fiesta ST. Speed isn’t everything, though, and any MINI hatchback is as much a pleasure to drive in the city as it is on the open road.