Mini review

Category: Small car

Section: Performance & drive

Available fuel types:petrol, electric
Available colours:
Mini 3-door hatchback 2021 rear cornering
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RRP £16,605What Car? Target Price from£15,971
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

The entry-level Mini One uses a 101bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that needs to be worked hard – something that can be tiresome on long journeys. The Cooper gets a 134bhp version of that engine and is our favourite in the line-up. It knocks the 0-62mph time down from 10.3sec to 8.2sec (or 8.1sec with the automatic gearbox) and pulls strongly across the rev range.

The Cooper S's 176bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine delivers very impressive performance with a sporty-sounding exhaust note, but it pushes the price up considerably and its best 6.6sec 0-62mph time isn’t quite as quick as the Ford Fiesta ST. The 228bhp John Cooper Works (JCW) is the fastest Mini but can’t hold a candle to the overall performance offered by the best hot hatches. The Toyota GR Yaris doesn’t cost a great deal more, yet is much quicker.

Suspension and ride comfort

Every Mini rides pretty firmly over typically undulating British roads. Thankfully, well-judged damping stops the car feeling like a pogo stick. In fact, the only time it gets uncomfortable is over a particularly vicious pothole or if you encounter mid-corner bumps at speed.

When you drive in towns, you’ll find yourself jostled around a bit on roads that the VW Polo would smother far more effectively. The Mini is affected a lot by the choice of wheels you go for. The 17in and 18in designs look good but won’t do the ride any favours, so we recommend sticking to smaller wheels for the best ride comfort.

If you are tempted to splash some cash on big wheel rims, consider the optional adaptive dampers that are standard on Sport trim or optional on Exclusive and John Cooper Works. They don’t have switchable modes, but do take the edge off all but the most abrupt ruts and bumps. It's certainly preferable to the fixed sports suspension of the overly harsh John Cooper Works.

Mini 3-door hatchback 2021 rear cornering

Handling

The Mini’s trademarks have always included darty handling and a tight turning circle that makes manoeuvring around town a delight. While that's still the case with today’s models, the march of progress has complicated things a bit, with selectable driving modes standard on all but One and Cooper versions of Classic trim.

The system introduces three variable settings that you can engage depending on your mood. In Default mode, the steering is well weighted and quick off the dead-ahead, but can feel slightly nervous on the motorway and tends to self-centre a bit aggressively as you exit tight, low-speed corners. By contrast, the Sport setting seems unnecessarily heavy.

Corners are taken in true Mini style with sharp turn-in and decent, if not outstanding, grip, especially in the wet. The Cooper actually feels a touch more nimble than the Cooper S and JCW, thanks to its lighter engine, but all of them wash wide in a fast corner sooner than you might expect of a car with the Mini’s sporting pretensions. The Audi A1 Sportback, for instance, has slightly more grip at the front and will resist scrubbing wide through a corner for longer than the Mini.

Noise and vibration

The engine in the Mini Cooper is remarkably smooth and quiet. You feel hardly any vibration from it through the steering wheel and pedals, and you need to really put your foot down to hear more than a muted thrum. The Cooper S and JCW do sound suitably sporty, though, thanks in part to a system that directs engine noise into the interior. Wind noise over the windscreen and A-pillars is very noticeable at motorway speeds (and an irritating trait across the Mini hatchback range). There’s also plenty of road roar, especially with big wheels fitted.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox is a bit notchy and has a heavier shift action than you might expect of a small car. However, the light clutch makes it easy to drive around town and is matched with accelerator and brake pedals that are appropriately sensitive and easy to judge. The Cooper S and JCW get a rev-matching system to ensure the engine speed suits your chosen gear when you downshift. It works extremely well and makes for very smooth gear changes, even during hard driving.

The optional seven-speed Steptronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox is very smooth, providing slick shifts and coping equally well with smooth town driving and faster A-road trips. It’s available with all engines and trims but adds a considerable premium to the asking price. An eight-speed automatic 'box is available on the JCW, but we’d recommend sticking with the manual if you’re looking for that degree of sportiness.

Also consider

Ford Fiesta

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Brilliant to drive and a thoroughly good all-rounder

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Vauxhall Corsa

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The Vauxhall Corsa is competent but not outstanding...

Volkswagen Polo

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A fine all-rounder and one of the very best small cars.