- Published 25 January 2020
- 7 minute read
- By Richard Aucock
The Mini Hatch is one of the most instantly-recognisable cars in the world. This latest version, of course, isn’t anywhere near as tiny as the original Mini. Modern safety rules, coupled with our insatiable thirst for more comfort, power and safety, mean there’s no way a modern Mini could be as small as the Swinging Sixties classic.
Still, as the most compact model in the range, the Mini Hatch is still a mini machine, taking up less road space than a Ford Fiesta, despite being available with features normally found in a big BMW, and some versions serving up performance more akin to a BMW sports car. That’s no coincidence: it was thanks to BMW the Mini was brought back to life. Its compact size means it's a cinch to park.
British car buyers love it. The Mini is often found in the UK's top 10 bestselling cars, and it even outsells other British-built models such as the Vauxhall Astra. Not bad for a car that commands a premium price tag. The fact that so many are willing to spend a bit extra each month to drive a Mini proves how irresistible it is.
Maybe that’s because once you’ve driven it, you’re likely to be hooked. Nothing drives quite like a Mini – it’s one of the most instantly grin-inducing cars on sale. I guarantee that, within minutes of walking into a Mini dealer, the salesperson will start talking about the ‘go-kart handling’, but they have a point, because the Mini is an absolute hoot.
Looks, tech and design
You could probably draw a Mini with your eyes closed. Big round headlights, black plastic wheelarches, simple rounded lines. The design has matured over the years but it's still highly individual, and unlike anything else on sale. A Mini is a Mini, and for many nothing else will do.
It’s pure Mini inside as well. Lots of big round circles, retro toggle switches instead of boring buttons, and a panoramic view out through an upright windscreen and big flat side glass. It feels distinctive and sporty, helped by low-mounted seats and a stubby, snappy gearlever. Most importantly, it feels exciting, and much livelier than most small cars.
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The Mini comes in classic three-door hatchback or a more practical five-door variety. Purists go for the three-door, while the five-door is an option for young families who desperately want a Mini but need rear doors to access baby seats and let hyperactive toddlers hurtle in and out, with Wotsits flying in their wake.
For children older than toddlers, though, it’s probably best to look at other Minis, such as the Clubman. The Hatch is not roomy at all in the rear, particularly the three-door version I tested, which has almost no leg room in the back. The five-door is a bit better, but still decidedly cramped. The boot is weeny too, although it’s easy to fold the rear seats flat and make use of the space that adults will refuse point-blank to occupy.
The company has tried to make it easier to buy a Mini, offering the core car in three ‘styles’, called Classic, Sport or Exclusive. But you still have to choose which model you want – One, Cooper or Cooper S – so it’s hardly straightforward. But then, buying a Mini has always been about picking from a mass of options, so you probably won't be making a decision in five minutes. I certainly couldn't.
However, this is all part of the appeal of a new Mini: customising it to your exact spec. That’s why there are 13 different body colours and 10 choices of interior upholstery. Pick from seven designs of wheel, five feature-laden equipment ‘packs’ and various individual options such as a panoramic glass roof and a crystal-clear Harman Kardon sound system.
These days, even a standard Mini is pretty well equipped. They all come with LED headlights – featuring those distinctive circular LED running lights in the daytime – and the unmistakable ‘Union flag’ LED rear lights. A 6.5-inch screen sits in the round centre of the dashboard, surrounded by an LED mood light strip that you can program to flash and change colour in all sorts of ways: a charmingly naff feature that adds to the Mini character.
There are a couple of tech packs you really need to add on. The Navigation Pack includes sat nav and Apple CarPlay, but also includes the Mini Connected app. This syncs with your smartphone, integrates Amazon Alexa, and even lets you control various functions on your Mini via your phone. Another bargain feature is the Comfort Pack, which brings climate control, rear parking sensors, heated seats and other little luxuries.
Getting behind the wheel is one of the best bits of the Mini experience. It’s such a fun car to drive. I’d almost forgotten what pure driving enjoyment felt like before I got behind the wheel of a Mini. The way it dives into corners, whips through roundabouts and dances around city back roads will bring a smile to the face of the even jaded drivers. It's that good.
Even the standard Mini One charms in this way. The Cooper turns the dial up on the sporty side – the Cooper S, even more so. The ultimate Mini is the John Cooper Works, and this really is able to vie with genuine sports cars thanks to its 231hp power output and race-bred suspension, similar to that used in the JCW racing series.
With less than half the power of the range-topper, the 102hp 1.5 turbo Mini One doesn’t have neck-snapping performance, but it’s eager enough. Most buyers, though, prefer to step up to the Mini Cooper. This still has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine, but produces 136hp, for much punchier acceleration. For me it's the sweet-spot of the Mini range.
The eager, quick-on-its-feet Mini is set up to be exciting, which means it doesn’t smother bumps in the road as smoothly as some. It’s not harsh or uncomfortable, though, and for some the firmness is all part of the character. The Mini is still able to shrug off the harshest surfaces cities can throw at it. This feeling of built-in substance is another reason why owners love their Minis.
Cost and economy
We’ve mentioned that on-the-road prices for the Mini are high, and grow further once you’ve included the must-have options and other irresistible extras. There’s a plus side to the car’s appeal though; it’s much in-demand on the used car market, which keeps secondhand values high.
Add in premium-level service (Mini owners use a special area at BMW dealers) and it all helps keep monthly finance payments in check. You might be surprised at how much Mini you get for a good-value monthly sum.
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Mini no longer offers diesel versions of the three-door Hatch and five-door Hatch. They were rather expensive and the petrol versions are so economical, they were considered unnecessary. The Mini One is the eco star of the range, averaging between 45.6 and 49.6 miles per gallon. But the Mini Cooper isn’t far behind, averaging from 44.1 to 48.7 miles per gallon.
Even the Mini John Cooper Works, which accelerates from 0-62mph in as little as 6.1 seconds, can still manage up to 40.4 miles per gallon, although not if you drive it like that. Every Mini engine can be fitted with an automatic gearbox, instead of the standard six-speed manual, and there’s hardly any fuel economy penalty. This isn’t always the case for small automatics. But I'd still pick the manual as it's more fun.
It’s no wonder the current Mini Hatch is so popular with UK car buyers. It’s utterly charming to look at and sit in, and it drives in an exciting, entertaining and fun way no other car for the money can match. It is unique, and a brilliant example of retro charm brought bang up to date.
It’s certainly not the best choice if you’re after a family-focused little hatchback. I ended up treating the three-door Hatch like a two-seat coupe, because rear space is hopeless. It’s pricier than more practical alternatives too, albeit partly offset in terms of monthly payments by its slow depreciation.
But in the end, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the loveable Mini Hatch. It looks like nothing else, has heritage by the bucketload and is a fine example of modern British cool that it’s almost impossible not to be wooed by. Time to start that Mini adventure.
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