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.
BMW has always traded on the fact that driving the new Mini will put a smile on your face, just like the original car in the swinging ‘60s
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 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 separately, or as part of the Pepper or Chilli packs.
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, as 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.