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In-depth reviews

MINI hatchback review - Engines, drive & performance

Nimble with sharp steering, the MINI hatchback lives up to its ‘go-kart’ billing

Carbuyer Rating

4.1 out of 5

Owners Rating

4.4 out of 5

Read owner reviews
Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.5 out of 5

To sum up how the MINI feels from behind the wheel, it offers a lot of the driving fun of the original, but with a slightly more grown-up personality. It’s more usable every day, too, as MINI has softened the suspension to soak up bumps around town. Unfortunately, this means it can bounce around a little on the motorway; MINI has done its best to keep out most road noise, though.

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While all models can put a grin on the driver’s face, the fun really starts on Cooper S models and above thanks to the extra power on tap. Every MINI feels small and nimble and there’s a huge amount of grip. The entry-level One was discontinued in 2022, and even this version had little body roll and felt purposeful to drive, but sadly its 101bhp engine couldn’t really deliver enough performance for you to properly enjoy the chassis.

Some people find that the immediate response from the steering (a traditional MINI characteristic) is too much to feel comfortable with, and turn instead to more sedate rivals such as the Audi A1, but it’s hard to match the MINI’s character.

Besides the very firm JCW models, the Cooper S is the sharpest of the bunch, turning into bends as soon as you flick the steering wheel. There's loads of grip and unlike some rivals, you can feel exactly what the tyres are doing. The other cars in the range pull this trick off to a lesser extent, but there's certainly enough to keep most drivers interested in the MINI across the board.

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As of 2023, MINI only sells its beloved hatchback with an automatic gearbox; we loved the old six-speed manual offering as it was satisfying to use and added to the overall sense of involvement on a twisty road. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic may not offer quite as much fun, but it’s incredibly smooth nonetheless and even provides grin-inducing pops and bangs from the exhaust when you change gears during a spirited drive.

Petrol engines

Now the entry-level 101bhp MINI One has been discontinued, there are just three engine variants to choose from: Cooper, Cooper S and the high-performance John Cooper Works. For most buyers, the entry-level Cooper makes the most sense; its 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine produces a peppy 134bhp and can get the MINI from 0-62mph in eight seconds. Despite being a three-cylinder, power delivery is relatively smooth, and the engine even makes a surprisingly fruity growl under acceleration.

If you want to make the most of the MINI’s finely-tuned chassis, we recommend stepping up to the Cooper S. With 176bhp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, the Cooper S cuts down the 0-62mph sprint to just 6.6 seconds. While the four-cylinder in the Cooper S may not quite sound as exotic as the three-pot in the standard Cooper, it's certainly louder and exudes plenty of satisfying crackles from the exhaust.

Finally, there’s the John Cooper Works (JCW) version, which has 228bhp and reaches 62mph in 6.1 seconds – faster than some more powerful hot hatchbacks. If that’s still not enough, you may be interested in the super-exclusive, track-focused 302bhp JCW GP version, although this is no longer found in showrooms.

MINI discontinued the hatchback’s diesel lineup a few years ago; company car drivers looking for a new MINI are best off looking at the plug-in MINI Electric, which we’ve reviewed separately.

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