It might not look much different from the car it replaces, but this is the all-new 2014 Mini hatchback.
On sale in March, the latest take on the 1959 classic is designed to be more grown-up and easier to live with than any of its predecessors, without losing the agility that’s always made the Mini such great fun to drive.
Prices have risen by around £400 over the outgoing model, but these are largely offset by extra standard kit and a range of more efficient engines, which promise better fuel economy and lower tax bills.
What’s the 2014 Mini like to drive?
First we tried the regular Cooper model, which is the first car to get BMW’s newly developed three-cylinder petrol engine.
The 134bhp 1.5-litre turbo is a real gem, pulling strongly across the rev range without any of the annoying steps in the power delivery that often characterises three-cylinder engines.
It’s also remarkably refined; you feel barely any vibration through the steering wheel or pedals, and a faded offbeat thrum is all you hear unless you really put your foot down.
Meanwhile, with 189bhp to call on from its 2.0-litre turbo engine, the Cooper S delivers proper hot hatch pace. True, you have to fight with the steering wheel a bit when accelerating hard as it tends to tug one way then the other, but the engine sounds great and 0-62mph takes just 6.8 seconds.
Less impressive is the optional six-speed automatic gearbox; it just doesn’t respond quickly enough when you make use of the steering wheel-mounted paddles and is also rather jerky at low speeds.
Both the Cooper and Cooper S handle corners just like you’d expect a Mini to, with sharp turn-in, loads of grip and precise – if slightly artificial-feeling – steering. Find a smooth, quiet road and you’ll have hours of fun.
On rougher surfaces, however, the Mini starts to struggle. The whole car tends to hop sideways whenever you encounter mid-corner bumps, while the front wheels seem determined to follow every rut and camber – especially when you’re accelerating out of corners.
The new Mini is also pretty unforgiving over sharp-edged bumps around town, and potholes send jolts through the cabin. However, our test cars were fitted with larger-than-standard 17-inch alloys, which probably didn't help matters.
Refinement is improved over the outgoing Mini, though; there’s still some road noise at 70mph, but wind noise is well suppressed.
What’s the 2014 Mini like inside?
The previous Mini's interior was full of retro charm, but it was also an ergonomic nightmare. The latest model manages to retain plenty of character but with a much clearer layout.
True, the dashboard still looks rather higgledy-piggledy, with lots of different coloured and textured materials, but the controls are now much more user-friendly.
The air-con system, for example, is easier to use and more conveniently positioned, while the electric window switches have been moved from the centre of the dashboard to the door armrests, making them simpler to find when you’re driving.
The speedo is easier to read than before, too, because it now sits in a binnacle directly above the steering wheel, rather than in the centre of the dashboard. Even the optional infotainment system is more intuitive, thanks to its large rotary dial and selection of shortcut buttons.
Rear space remains fairly poor by the standards of the class, but slightly improved head- and legroom means you can at least carry four adults – they just won’t be very comfortable on longer trips.
Boot space has increased to 211 litres, which is still poor compared with the luggage room offered by many rivals – including the Audi A1 and Citroen DS3. However, there are a few practical touches, such as the ability to raise and lower the boot floor (to maximise space or reduce the lip you have to load items over), while the rear seats fold completely flat.
Standard equipment on the regular Cooper includes 15-inch alloys, air-conditioning, keyless start, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a USB socket. The Cooper S, meanwhile, adds 16-inch wheels, sports seats and a sports leather steering wheel.
As with the outgoing model, there's a seemingly endless list of options, including sat-nav, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and a 20GB hard drive to store your music on.
Should I buy one?
The latest Mini betters its predecessor in nearly every area that matters – it’s bigger, faster, more efficient and has a much improved interior.
Being a Mini, it’s also predicted to hold on to its value extremely well, which makes up for the relatively high prices, while some of the gadgets available put other small cars to shame.
True, there are much more practical cars available for similar money, and it’s a pity the ride isn’t a bit more forgiving. Still, if you’re after something small, fun and stylish, the latest Mini is a great choice – especially in regular Cooper form.
What Car? says…
Engine size 1.5-litre turbo petrol
Price from £15,300
Torque 162lb ft
0-62mph 7.9 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 62.8mpg
Specification Cooper S auto
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Torque 207lb ft
0-62mph 6.7 seconds
Top speed 145mph
Fuel economy 54.3mpg