Mini hatchback long-term test

The Mini hatchback is consistently among the UK's best-selling small cars, but is a recent update enough to help it challenge the class leaders? We've got four months to find out...

Mini hatchback long-term test
  • The car Mini Cooper 3dr
  • Run by Darren Moss, deputy editor
  • Why it’s here To see if a recent facelift is enough to elevate the Mini to small car class honours
  • Needs to Make urban commuting a joy, while also being comfortable and practical enough for longer motorway trips

Price £18,210 Price as tested £24,820 Miles covered 1089 Official fuel economy 54.3mpg Test economy 40.1mpg Options Navigation Plus Pack (£2000), Comfort Plus Pack (£1600), automatic gearbox (£1400), 17in Cosmos alloy wheels (£1000), darkened rear glass (£250), Mini driving modes (£200), piano black interior trim (£160) 

28th September 2018 – the Mini hatchback joins our fleet

Thinking about its target market, I am exactly the sort of person who should be driving a Mini hatchback. I’m young (29th birthday pending), I aspire to own premium products (payslip pending) and I don’t need a whole lot of space (girlfriend pending).

I have to admit, too, that every time I see that cheeky grille on the road, I wonder why I haven’t bought a Mini with my own money before. And you do see plenty of Minis around. In fact, in the first half of 2018, more than 25,000 Mini hatchbacks were sold in the UK. To put that number into context, though, more than twice that number of Ford Fiestas have found owners in the same time.

Still, the Mini is a popular car and I’m excited to be driving one. And a recent mid-life facelift has added new styling features and new technology to better help it face down both premium rivals such as the Audi A1 and Volkswagen Polo, but also our reigning champion in this class, the Seat Ibiza.

Mini hatchback long-term test car

So, what have I gone for? Well, the car you see here – in striking Chili Red paintwork – is the biggest-selling Mini hatchback of them all: the 1.5-litre petrol-powered Cooper.

But what’s this: an automatic gearbox? Oh yes, while I’ve deviated from What Car?’s recommended spec by dispensing with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, it’s a decision born of the nature of my weekday commute, which is usually nose-to-bumper traffic. Time will tell whether the £1400 needed to specify the seven-speed unit was a wise investment.

What about other options? It’s no secret that most Mini owners add at least one of the packs the brand offers, and it’s a good idea to do so, since without them your car would look quite spartan. I’ve opted for two.

First is the Navigation Plus Pack (£2000), which means I have real-time traffic information as part of the sat-nav, along with Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity and a larger infotainment screen. Because Mini’s infotainment system is based on the iDrive set-up of parent company BMW, I’m expecting it to be exceptionally easy to use, too.

Second is the £1600 Comfort Plus Pack, which brings luxuries such as dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and Park Assist for parallel parking. 

Early impressions are mostly positive. As someone who needs to shop both big and tall, I was nervous about packing my rather sizeable dimensions into the Mini’s figure-hugging seats, but so far they have been both comfortable and supportive. It’s annoying, though, that, just as I found with the BMW X2 I ran previously, adjustable lumbar support isn’t standard. In fact, it's not available at all – not even as an option.

Mini hatchback long-term test car

Impressive, too, is the amount of head room on offer in the front seats, and shoulder room is decent, too. I’m pleased that the Navigation Plus Pack also brings with it a front armrest that, joy of joys, is height-adjustable, offering both somewhere to rest my elbows and a space for my phone.

But let’s not kid ourselves: the Mini is no Tardis, and getting adults into its diminutive rear seats is a chore. There’s no way I could 'sit behind myself', for example.

The boot is small, too – smaller than what you’ll find in either the A1, Ibiza or Polo. That said, I’ve found I can get a generous weekly shop or a couple of carry-on suitcases in there without any trouble. The Chili Pack also gets me a variable-height boot floor, so there’s no annoying lip at the boot entrance.

We’ll cover the Mini’s interior in more detail down the line, but at the moment I’m duly impressed; from the LED light ring around the centre console, which changes function and colour depending on what you’re doing, to the backlit 3D-printed Union Jack motif on the dashboard, it all looks suitably premium.

When it comes to driving the Mini, I’m enjoying how easy it is to dart in and out of city traffic. Peppy is exactly the right word to describe the 134bhp 1.5-litre engine. It’s strong across its rev range, and the accelerator response is well judged. My car also has selectable driving modes, allowing me to choose between Sport or Green, as well as a more balanced middle ground.

Switching to Sport has quickly become part of my entry procedure for the car, such is the change in character it brings. The accelerator response is so much sharper – useful for nipping away from traffic lights or for joining busy traffic. And then, when I’m cruising along, I can slip into Green and see how much fuel I’ve saved via a handy readout in the instrument cluster.

I’ve also been surprised by how comfortable the Mini can be as a long-distance cruiser. The journey from my home in Sunbury to my parents’ house in Kettering usually takes just less than two hours. Several accidents en route recently lengthened that to closer to three hours, yet my lower back didn’t suffer at all. And thanks to some ad hoc route planning from the sat-nav, I missed most of the major blockages.

So far, so good, then, but the test here will be how much of the initial ‘new car shine’ rubs off over the next few months, and if this facelifted Mini has enough substance to back up its cutesy style. For the answer, stay tuned.

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