Mini Hatchback Review
When BMW first resurrected the Mini name, the German company can surely only have dreamed it would be such a success. Popular with customers from every walk of life, the retro-styled hatchback has become a phenomenon, merging fashion and motoring without ever feeling pretentious or superficial. Behind the lines that manage to be classic yet modern and cute yet muscular, there’s a very well-sorted little car.
Select's rating score* - 3.9 / 5
Style and fun are the Mini’s big selling points, with inspiration taken from the original Minis, which became a symbol of the 1960s. The design is a modern take on that, and those familiar with the original will recognise the current car’s round headlights and upright windscreen, as well as the round dials and the classic toggle switches.
While the Mini has grown over the years – and become safer in the process – it hasn’t lost its sense of fun. It drives like a puppy that’s excitable but well trained, desperately following its owner’s commands as quickly as possible to earn a reward. That’s true even in the basic models, but the faster Cooper S and John Cooper Works models are even more lively, teaming the direct feel with powerful 2.0-litre engines.
Yet you don’t need that performance to enjoy the car. Every model gets bucket loads of equipment, with keyless start, air conditioning and automatic windscreen wipers all featuring as standard. Climbing the range gets you more power and slightly more kit, while the Classic, Sport and Exclusive ‘styles’ play a large part in determining the athleticism of the looks.
The Mini Hatch was given a refresh in 2021, so you can spot the most up-to-date cars by the black headlight surrounds and larger grille, which now drops down to the bottom of the front bumper.
Personalisation is perhaps the stand-out part of the Mini experience, with a bewildering range of options on offer. Not only can you muck about with various colours and interior trim options, but you can choose a contrasting roof or bonnet stripes, and you can get little Union Jack designs on the door mirror caps.
Other neat – and very premium – features include the LED mood lighting that comes in 12 basic colours and 700 shades, giving you 8,400 possible lighting settings. That’s no expensive option, either; it’s standard. As is the Mini Excitement pack, which gets you illuminated door handles and lights that project the Mini logo on the floor when you open the doors at night.
And that’s before you get to the optional extras, which include a head-up display to make you feel like a fighter pilot, a digital instrument cluster and even Alexa personal assistant technology. You can get clever navigation systems, too, as well as an automatic parking system that analyses available spaces to find something suitable, then controls the steering to help you into the selected gap.
Times have changed considerably since the original Mini hit British roads, and the tiny engines of old are gone. The Mini is bigger and heavier than before, so even the basic One gets a 1.5-litre petrol engine with 102hp. That’s enough for a 10.3-second sprint to 62mph and a top speed of 120mph, regardless of whether you choose the manual or automatic gearbox.
The Cooper, meanwhile, comes with a more powerful 1.5-litre engine, producing 136hp, which is noticeably faster, while the 2.0-litre Cooper S takes the Mini into hot hatchback territory with 192hp and a sub-seven-second 0-62mph time. The daddy, however, is the John Cooper Works, which comes with a 231hp 2.0-litre engine. With the manual gearbox fitted, it’ll do 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds, but that drops to 6.1 with the automatic transmission.
Regardless of engine, and indeed the number of doors (five-door models are marginally slower than their three-door counterparts), the Mini is an absolute hoot to drive. As with the original, you sit low down and look through an almost vertical windscreen, so visibility isn’t always brilliant and the cabin can feel quite dark, but it does give you a sense of being at the heart of the machine.
More importantly, though, you get an enormous sense of directness from all the controls. The steering is sharp and alert, and the response is instantaneous. Yet despite the agility and lightness, the car feels solid and substantial, without a hint of fragility. The ride might be a little too firm for some, particularly in the faster John Cooper Works models, but the sporty suspension settings only add to that sense of directness when you’re going fast.
By and large, every version of the Mini is relatively economical, although the company has removed the old diesel engines from the range. That means the days of 50 or 60mpg are gone, but the 1.5-litre petrol engine in the basic three-door One will still return between 47.9mpg and 49.6mpg with the manual transmission. Opting for the automatic or the five-door body shape will harm that, though. Still, it isn’t as harmful to the economy as opting for one of the faster 2.0-litre cars. The Cooper S will still do something between 40 and 45mpg depending on the specification (oddly, the automatic gearbox is more efficient than the manual when paired with the 2.0-litre engine), but the most efficient version of the John Cooper Works will only just top 40mpg on the official test. With a little restraint, you’ll probably be looking at the high 30s.
As you might expect, the 1.5-litre engines are the weapons of choice for those concerned about what comes out of the exhaust. Officially, the three-door One will pump out between 130 and 136g/km, depending on the specification, meaning a company car tax rate of 29 or 30%. That’s reasonable, but it’s worth noting that the more powerful Cooper model is barely more polluting and comes with an extra 34hp. That equates to a notable increase in performance, but the most efficient variants still slot into the 29% tax bracket.
If you’re really worried about costs and environmental effects, Mini has recently launched an electric model that’s based on the Hatch. The range isn’t massive, at up to 145 miles, but it’s completely free of tailpipe emissions and won’t attract company car tax until the 2021/22 tax year.
As with the exterior, the Mini’s cabin is a stunning example of how old-fashioned styling can be modernised without completely spoiling its character. The round dials and big toggle switches hark back to Minis of old, without ever feeling behind the times. It’s still a thoroughly modern interior, with a central screen and a digital instrument display as standard, as well as LED lighting everywhere and some chunky design features.
The Mini’s steering wheel used to be a particular highlight, with its thick rim and big buttons that make it feel innocent and mature all at the same time. However, the 2021 overhaul has updated the wheel with piano black capacitive buttons that are much harder to use than earlier models. It’s a bit of a shame, but doesn’t ruin the driving experience.
Another catch is the lack of light. The small windscreen and dark roof lining make it a bit dingy in there, particularly for those in the rear. However, you can add a panoramic glass sunroof as an option to make things brighter.
Minis from 2021 onwards get a 8.8 touchscreen infotainment system, and a digital driver’s display in place of traditional analogue dials. It’s not a bad system; easy to navigate around and quick to respond, although drivers who’ve been in previous Minis might miss the old control dial that was used to operate it. The new system is touchscreen only.
Should you want Apple CarPlay or satellite navigation you’ll need to fork up extra for the Navigation Pack. This is a bit of a shame when plenty of cars offer CarPlay as standard. Android Auto wasn’t available at the time of writing, which is also a glaring omissions compared to rivals.
If you go for the Navigation Plus pack, you can also get a head-up display, which projects driving information onto the windscreen in front of you, meaning less glancing down at the driver display.
If there’s a weak point for the Mini, it’s a lack of space in the rear. Whichever model you go for, you’ll have plenty of room in the front two seats, but things get a little cramped further back. Three-door cars in particular lack rear legroom, and the five-door version is only marginally better. The boot isn’t huge, either, measuring 211 litres for the three-door and 278 litres in the five-door. Admittedly, space in the five-door is on a par with the likes of the Ford Fiesta, but the three-door is noticeably cramped back there. In fact, even the tiny VW Up! has more luggage space.
Fold the back seats down and the numbers don’t improve much. With the rear bench lowered, even a five-door car’s boot will only measure about 700 litres, whereas the Fiesta’s luggage bay will expand to more than 1,000 litres. And if you want to know how much difference those 300 litres will make, that’s more space than you’ll find in the back of a Honda Jazz.
The Mini was crash tested by Euro NCAP back in 2014, when it achieved a respectable four-star rating. At the time, the car was largely let down by its driver assistance technology, but Mini offers an option pack incorporating all the usual safety gizmos. That means you get Pedestrian and Collision Warning, which alerts the driver to a potential collision and can apply the brakes automatically if required.
The pack also includes automatic high-beam assistance, designed to prevent other road users being dazzled, and cruise control that can maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front. More traditional ‘passive’ safety features include Isofix mountings for child seats in the front and rear, as well as a fleet of airbags and hazard lights that come on automatically under very heavy braking.
The range looks daunting at first, but it’s quite simple once you get the hang of it. The main body of the range is made up of two body shapes – three-door and five-door – and three core models: One, Cooper and Cooper S. Most of those come with a choice of three ‘styles’, named Classic, Sport and Exclusive, although the entry-level One is only offered in Classic guise. The names give you an idea of what’s on offer, with the Classic marking the entry point, while the Sport and Exclusive give you more racy or luxury-orientated looks and equipment.
Going for a base-spec, three-door One Classic, though, is not an exercise in self-deprivation. You might get steel wheels instead of the more desirable alloys, but you also get keyless start, automatic wipers and LED headlights, and air conditioning. You get an 8.8-inch infotainment screen too, and audio controls on the steering wheel. It might be the cheapest Mini, but it isn’t a basic car.
To unlock the Sport and Exclusive styles, you have to go for the Cooper, but that’s no hardship. You get more power for your money, and Cooper Classic models already benefit from alloy wheels. Opting for the Sport, meanwhile, gets you a sporty body kit, bigger alloy wheels and sports seats, while the Exclusive offers a silver roof and mirror caps, and leather seats.
The range continues like so, with the Cooper S simply adding bigger wheels and sportier looks in Classic guise, as well as posh seats and some performance-related goodies. But the pinnacle of the Mini line-up is the John Cooper Works. The fastest model in the range, it comes with 17-inch black alloys and black exterior trim pieces, as well as a sport exhaust and performance brakes. It gets part-leather sports seats, too, and stainless-steel pedals. However, it’s only available as a three-door.
Whichever model you choose, arguably the most important addition is the Comfort Pack, which includes automatic climate control, heated seats and rear parking sensors on the Classic model. If you want, however, you could instead choose the Comfort Plus Pack, which gets all the Comfort Pack’s goodies, plus a reversing camera, front parking sensors and parking assistance technology.
If you want pretty much everything in one huge option Pack, though, we’d recommend the Navigation Plus Pack, which includes the Comfort Pack, a head-up display and satellite navigation, as well as Apple CarPlay and internet-based connected services, which you can access via an app as well.
In addition, you can pick from a huge range of paint colours, alloy wheel designs and interior upholsteries, and a vast array of accessories to make your Mini your own.
The Mini Hatch has a wide range of rivals, from the more conventional and more practical hatchbacks, such as the Volkswagen Polo and Mazda 2, to the smaller, ultra-chic models like the Fiat 500. Of course, all these cars are quite different and wouldn’t necessarily rival each other, but they all cross the Mini’s path at some point. Hatchbacks such as the Polo have the same solid, premium feel, but offer a bit more room – particularly when compared with three-door Minis. The 500, meanwhile, has the same youthful looks, but misses the Mini’s space.
If you love the Mini look then nothing else will do, but the Mini is more than just a pretty face. At home in the car park of any luxury hotel or bargain basement supermarket, it’s a premium car that’s still very much ‘of the people’. Sure, it isn’t the most practical car on the road, but as a family runabout or fashion statement, it’s more than up to the job. The fact it’s a hoot to drive and really solidly built only makes it an even savvier choice.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the MINI Hatchback
**Correct as of 01/09/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1,524.10 - Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.