This third generation MINI 3-Door Hatch has been usefully improved - though not beyond recognition. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Fresh technology, smarter connectivity, standard-fit front and rear LED lights across the range and an advanced dual-clutch automatic gearbox are amongst the highlight changes made to this revised MINI 3-Door Hatch model. If you liked it before, you'll really like it now.
For a car that's been so successful, the modernday MINI seems to have nevertheless disgruntled quite a few people. "Look at the size of it," snort its detractors. "That's no Mini. It's a front-wheel drive BMW in disguise," they scoff. They might well have a point and if you're to embrace and enjoy the current day 3-Door hatch version of this MINI, it's best you think of it as a car completely different to the original, merely cribbing some of its design cues. That's because the modern era MINI has grown, since it was re-launched at the turn of the century and even more since this MK3 model was first introduced in 2014. That it now measures 3821mm in length and it's 1727mm wide which will have some up in arms, but let's keep a sense of proportion. It's still shorter than a 1990s Ford Fiesta, a vehicle hardly recognised as a leviathan amongst cars. The key themes in developing this current car have been to retain the look while improving quality, refinement and efficiency. Some smart technology has crept in which is sure to be popular. Although it looks much the same, be under no illusions: this latest model is a massively improved vehicle.
Nothing's fundamentally changed engine-wise, though the base petrol unit fitted to the entry-level MINI One has gone up in size from 1.2 to 1.5-litres, increasing torque by 10Nm to 190Nm. MINI also says that minor changes have been made to its TwinPower Turbo Technology across the board, improving engine electronics, oil supply, intake air ducting, the cooling set-up and the exhaust system. Perhaps most significant though is the news that the brand has at last got around to fitting in a proper dual-clutch auto gearbox for those wanting a self-shifter, this now a 7-speed unit. Otherwise, it's as you were, all based on a chassis that's BMW's clever UKL1 platform, which also underpins a number of front-wheel drive BMW models. If you want your MINI to have a bit of zip, you'll need to start your search for one at Cooper level, where a 1.5-litre petrol unit offers an eager 136hp, gets you to 62mph in 7.9s and arguably represents the sweet spot in the range. Then there's the Cooper S, with a 2.0-litre petrol engine putting out a useful 192hp, a lot of poke for something so small, with 62mph just 6.8s away. The flagship option is the 231hp John Cooper Works variant. The suspension of this MINI has been mostly built from aluminium to save weight. There's also Variable Damper Control. Available as an option, it offers drivers a choice of two distinct set-ups, a more comfort-oriented response or a focused, sporty feel.
The styling doesn't look all that different, but close inspection will reveal the addition of standard-fit LED front and rear lights, plus there's now extra scope for all-important personalisation. Get out the tape measure and you'll find that this MK3 design is actually larger than you might think, thanks to a wheelbase exension of 28mm over its predecessor. These proportions give it quite a squat, purposeful look, helped by the tapered glasshouse. It's a touch larger than you might expect inside too - or at last it is provided you haven't been consigned to a rather cramped seat in the back: if that's an issue, you ought to be considering the alternative five-door version of this model - or perhaps the MINI Countryman SUV. Still, access to the rear isn't too bad and the rear bench seat splits 60:40. Boot volume is a supermini-like 211-litres. There's also decent interior stowage space, with cupholders and storage cubbies. Various fresh trimming options are available and a 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen and a multi-function steering wheel are both now fitted as standard.
MINI these days offers three distinct spec packages with its models - 'Classic', 'Sport' and 'Exclusive' - though you'll only get the first of those if you choose the entry-level MINI One. Prices have risen slightly, which means that the entry-level MINI One in three-door form will cost you from just over £16,000; there's no longer a diesel version. For a Cooper Hatch 3-Door, you'll need from around £18,500. Equipment levels across the range feature items such as ambient lighting, auto headlamps and wipers, ISOFIX child seat fixings front and rear and Bluetooth. The MINI hatch buying proposition has always been about tailoring the car to your personal tastes, so you might well indulge in extras like body stripes, a John Cooper Works spoiler and contrasting mirrors. You can also choose from technology such as a head-up display, a MINI Navigation System, MINI Connect telematics and traffic sign recognition. The MINI Touch Controller allows you to write individual letters that the system then recognises when you're trying to input a sat nav destination for instance. You can also upgrade the standard 6.5-inch central infotainment display to a rather more special 8.8-inch colour screen. Other options include two-zone automatic air-conditioning, heated front seats, a panoramic glass roof, a visibility package including windscreen heating, rain sensors, automatic light control, a Harman Kardon hi-fi speaker system and a sports leather steering wheel. You can also spend your money on Park Distance Control, electrically heated and folding exterior mirrors, and an automatic anti-dazzle function for the interior and exterior mirrors. As you can see, the base retail price is just an opening gambit.
Manufacturers can't launch a car these days without trumpeting on about lighter weight, lower emissions and better economy - and so it proves with the latest MINI. The Cooper registers 58.9mpg combined cycle economy. The punchy Cooper S is fitted with a bigger engine but even here, combined cycle economy is rated at 54.3mpg. It's also worth noting that the automatic gearboxes don't impose a huge penalty in efficiency. A further innovation lies with the MINI Driving Modes, another optional extra. Using a rotary switch at the base of the gearstick or selector lever, drivers can swap from the default MID mode to either SPORT or GREEN. The three choices offer a set-up which is either performance-oriented, comfort-biased or geared towards fuel efficiency. The latter includes a coasting mode when the driver removes their foot from the accelerator pedal. MINI Driving Modes also influence the ambient lighting, shift characteristics of the automatic transmission and the Variable Damper Control - if that extra cost option is selected.
So what's happened to this MINI hatch? It's become better finished, the auto transmission option is now at last up to date and there are a great many more high-tech options to select from. That said, despite changing so much under the skin, it feels very much a case of as you were, the brand perhaps a little cautious of alienating either existing owners or potential new customers with something radical. Don't let that make you think we're underwhelmed by this MINI. It's still a great hatch and the latest changes give it some legs to continue the success story. The prices look very reasonable at the moment, but to get the best from this car, you'll probably want to throw a few of those high-end options at it, so budget accordingly and take that into account when you're calculating your cost of ownership numbers. The MINI might have grown up but it doesn't look as if it's lost its sense of fun.