MINI Cooper 3-Door Hatch Review
The Mini 3-door is a small car that looks cool inside and out, and is a hoot to drive – but it’s not very comfy and options are expensive
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Is the Mini three-door Hatchback the very definition of small but perfectly formed? It certainly looks good and drives brilliantly, so you’re more likely to get out of it with a grin than a frown – at least until you try to get stuff into the tiny boot. Not quite perfect then.
This generation of the Mini three-door originally went on sale in 2014, but it was updated in 2018 with new headlights, Union Jack tail lights and the option to have custom 3D-printed trims fitted in various places.
It also introduced a brand new ‘Mini’ logo, as well as some new engines and gearboxes to choose from, but otherwise, it’s all business as usual. That means you get a well-made interior that oozes retro charm, but can also be fitted with plenty of modern touches such as a circle of lights around the central infotainment screen that changes colour.
Far more useful is the Mini’s excellent infotainment system, which is controlled through a 6.5-inch screen by a BMW-style knob and shortcut buttons on the centre console that help you use it safely while driving. If you want satellite navigation, you’ll have to pay for it as a pricey option, although that does include Apple CarPlay and various ‘Mini Connected’ services, such as Real Time Traffic Information.
Then again, if you are tempted to do that, you might be better off stumping up even more to upgrade to the top-spec Navigation Plus Pack, which (alongside a host of other extras) includes an 8.8-inch screen, which is sharper, faster and has 3D maps.
Less high-tech is the access to the Mini’s rear seats: anyone wanting to sit back there will need to be a champion gymnast to work their way through all the necessary contortions. Admittedly, once you’re safely in place, there is enough room for a couple of adults, but you should consider the Mini five-door if you’ll need to use the back seats regularly. To make matters worse, the Mini three-door’s boot space is absolutely tiny – it’s even smaller than a tiny VW Up’s load space!
The updated Mini’s Union Jack tail lights look like a throwback to Britpop – they’re an oasis of cool among boring-looking alternatives
Okay, so the Mini’s not that practical, but where it truly excels is in how it drives. It darts into corners with really direct steering, and very little body lean. The downside of the latter is that the firm suspension highlights bumps in the roads, which gets tiring if you do lots of town driving on potholed roads. At motorway speeds you also get more tyre noise in the cabin than in an Audi A1.
Wherever you drive, the Mini’s best engine is a 1.5-litre petrol engine that you can get in Cooper models. It sounds sporty, accelerates well and is cheap to run. You get a 2.0-litre petrol in faster Cooper S models, but while you’ll enjoy its performance you’ll not enjoy its higher running costs.
Whichever engine you pick, the Mini’s a safe car, and an optional safety pack adds automatic emergency braking to keep you and your pride and joy safe.
And you’ll want to, because few other small cars make you feel as good about owning them as a Mini does. And so long as you can put up with its small boot and relatively firm suspension then it’s a fantastic, charming and fun small car.
There may be plenty of room in the front, but it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t even consider a Mini for your next car if space and practicality are anywhere near the top of your wishlist
No matter how tall you are, you won’t struggle to get comfortable in the front of the Mini. Headroom is good for a car of this size and the front seats move back far on their runners so you’ll fit even if you’re really tall. All models come with a height adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel that moves up and down, as well as in and out so it’s easy to get everything just right.
There’s a central armrest which you can adjust up and down to perfectly suit your driving position, but in its lowest setting you can’t reach around it to access the rotary click wheel for the infotainment system or, more worryingly the hand brake. If you do manage to reach the handbrake, lifting it actually bumps the armrest out of position – somewhat of an oversight.
The Mini’s back seats have a few ergonomic issues of their own, namely getting into the back seats in the first place. If you plan to regularly carry four people and have your heart set on a Mini then buy the five-door car. The bulky front seats on this model don’t slide forwards far enough to leave a decent gap for an adult to easily squeeze through, so getting in is awkward if you’re flexible, and nigh-on impossible if you’re not.
Once you’re in the back seats, though, it’s actually not too cramped. Big rear windows mean the car feels airier inside than the claustrophobic Audi A1 and the back seats are more reclined so you don’t feel like you’re sitting bolt upright. Kneeroom is just about bearable, but the bad news is that the bottom of the front seats rubs your shins. That can be sorted by raising the height of the front seats, assuming the passenger seat has that option fitted. It’s worth noting that the three-door is a strict four-seater, whereas the five-door version has seatbelts for five people.
As you can imagine, fitting a child seat to the Mini is a bit of a pain, although the back seat has two Isofix points. The Mini’s low body means you have to bend your back as you squeeze the seat and base through the tight space behind the front seat, although the clearly marked Isofix points mean it is relatively easy to locate from there.
The Mini has storage areas in all the usual places but, well – they’re mini. The space under the troublesome front centre armrest is particularly small, and the door bins and glovebox are also smaller than in other small hatchbacks. You do get a couple of cupholders in the Mini’s centre console, though, as well as a tray for your phone, complete with a USB plug to wire it up to the car’s stereo.
The Mini’s 211-litre boot is small even when you compare it to cars of a similar size. If you want to carry everyday items such as a baby stroller or a set of golf clubs, you’ll have to fold down one side of the 60:40 splitting rear seats.
If you want to get the best of the space, buy the optional but reasonably priced storage pack. This adds a number of extras such as a storage net in the front passenger footwell and a 12V power socket in the load bay, but the most useful addition is the adjustable boot floor. With it, you can raise the floor so there’s no load lip, and that means that loading bulky items, such as a mountain bike with both its wheels detached, is much easier.
With both back seats folded down and the adjustable boot floor in its raised position there’s no annoying step in the Mini’s load bay. As a result, it’s pretty easy to slide heavy boxes right up behind the front seats.
The Mini is a lively little machine on twisty roads, but over long distances its bumpy suspension and noisy cabin can wear you out
Buy a Mini and you can choose from four petrol engines or one diesel. Pick of the lot is the 136hp 1.5-litre petrol three-cylinder fitted to the Mini Cooper. The very definition of a great all-rounder, it always feels quick and sounds sporty, but it costs buttons to run. Mini quotes fuel economy of 56.5mpg but, you should be able to get almost 50mpg in everyday driving.
It’s not just great in town, it’s surprisingly quiet on a motorway cruise. Sure, it’s not the most economical engine for long journeys, but it doesn’t produce an annoying high-speed drone like most petrol-powered small cars.
Further up the range, the Cooper S and John Cooper Works both come with a 2.0-litre engine that was revised as part of the 2018 update. The John Cooper Works gets from 0-62mph in just 6.3 seconds – half a second faster than the Cooper S, which already feels a properly quick little car across country. In that respect, it’s helped by pulling at its strongest from below 1,500rpm, which means it responds very quickly when you put your foot down. This engine also sounds perkier than the three-cylinder 1.5-litre unit, and produces a serious of charismatic pops and bangs every time you accelerate hard and lift off the throttle.
The only downside is that the 2.0-litre engine is relatively heavy and that makes all these models feel a little less nimble than the Cooper. They also cost more to run, so unless you really must have hot hatch performance, there’s little to be gained from choosing one of them.
On the other hand, if you do a lot of miles each year, the diesel-engined Cooper D is worth considering. Officially, it’ll return 72.4mpg, making it comfortably the most economical Mini; and, compared with the petrol model, it sits between the slower One and faster Cooper in terms of performance. With a 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds, It feels pretty nippy to drive, but is noisier than the Cooper petrol.
As standard, every model comes with a decent six-speed gearbox, but the update in 2018 also introduced the option of a new seven-speed double-clutch semi-automatic transmission. It’s a pricey option, but is nice and smooth, with the welcome habit of choosing the right gear at the right time and changing down a gear or two quickly when you ask for extra acceleration. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it also allows every engine to run more economically than with the manual transmission.
The Mini is fun right from the second you start it, because even that is done in a unique way: via a red toggle switch in the centre console that looks like the missile-launch button in a jet fighter. Admittedly, the Mini won’t fly like a rocket, but it’s still a lively little thing to drive: you’ll have great fun chucking it around bends and it grips the road with all the enthusiasm of a puppy gnawing away at its favourite chew toy. It can’t fail to put a smile on your face.
The downside is that the firm suspension means you’ll feel every bump in the road – even ones you can’t see. On really bad stretches, you can feel like you’re strapped to a golf ball bouncing down the road. One solution you could consider is the optional variable damper control. This allows you to choose between a variety of suspension settings but, even at what is supposed to be its most comfortable, the Mini will feel less comfy than other cars of a similar size.
You’ll also find the Mini quite noisy at motorway speeds. Tyre roar seems to echo around the cabin and there’s also quite a lot of wind whistle from the pillar that runs up the side of the windscreen.
On the other hand, you’ll certainly find it an easy car to drive – not least because of its relatively small size. Although the windscreen seems quite a long way in front of you, you’ll have no problem judging where the corners of the car are, so it won’t be a pain to park the Mini. However, you can make the job even easier by adding rear parking sensors, either on their own or as part of the Comfort pack.
The Mini scored four stars (out of a possible five) for safety when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP back in 2014, so it won’t be as resilient to a bump as, say, the five-star Nissan Micra that was tested under 2017’s tougher test conditions.
An easy way to boost the Mini’s safety is to go for the Driving Assistant Pack. It’s good value, because it includes high-beam assist, so the headlights dip automatically when they sense a car in front, and a traffic sign recognition system that flashes up signs, such as speed limits, on the infotainment screen. However, the pack’s real selling point is the automatic emergency braking (part of the rear-end collision warning system), which can stop a collision by applying the brakes at speeds between 6 and 37mph.
The Mini has one of the smartest interiors in the motoring world – it’s retro-looking, but easy to use and well built. Space is tight in the back, though