MINI’S range of hatchbacks – both three- and five-door varieties – as well as the drop-top Convertible, have long appealed to youthful motorists, thanks to funky and fresh design.
In third-generation form after Mini’s rebirth under the BMW Group umbrella, the Hatch and Convertible range now gain a mild mid-lifestyle spruiking after four years on the market.
With lightly reworked styling on the outside, it may be hard to tell what’s new, but Mini has double-downed inside on its millennial allure, thanks to heaps of new in-car connected technologies.
Mechanical changes are also limited, but engines are now lighter and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission replaces the old six-speed unit , while flagship John Cooper Works versions gains an eight-speed torque-converter. However, do the updates mess with Mini’s fun and likeable nature?
After four years on the market, Mini has now introduced facelifted versions of its three- and five-door Hatch – as well as the mechanically related Convertible – that wear very little distinguishing exterior features.
New-look headlights that integrate LED daytime running lights into the housing and Union Jack-themed tail-lights are fitted to the Cooper S and range-topping John Cooper Works (JCW) versions while being optional for the entry-level Cooper.
A newly-designed Mini badge also adorns the front bumper, key fob and steering wheel, while new exterior paint colour and wheel options have been added to the range.
Not much for car-spotters to go on when trying to pick out a 2018 Mini from its forebears, then.
But, for tech-heads and millennials, the appeal of Mini’s updated range will likely lie in the much-improved in-car connected technologies.
Wireless Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring is now standard across the board (sorry, Android users), as well as a 4G sim card that enables features such as emergency calling, real-time traffic information and vehicle data monitoring.
It may not sound like much on paper, but in practice the upgrades are amount to a smarter, more connected car.
For example, owners can download a Mini Connected app to see how much fuel is left in the tank before a long trip, or to punch in satellite-navigation destinations while having a coffee before jumping in the car – it’s all very cool, convenient and makes the car a little more user-friendly.
Options are even available for a Concierge Service that will call someone at the push of a button for directions, while Cooper S and JCW grades gain wireless phone charging and a front arm rest with an additional USB port.
However, while the in-cabin tech gets a significant upgrade, storage solutions in the Hatch and Convertible are still sorely lacking.
With small door pockets and cupholders, the Mini’s most-popular model doesn’t leave a lot of space for the phone or wallet.
Kicking the range off at $29,990 before on-roads is the 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder Cooper three-door Hatch, while the more powerful 141kW/280Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol Cooper S ups pricing by another $10,000.
Five-door versions ask another $1250, while the Convertible is priced at $40,900 and $47,900 for the Cooper and Cooper S respectively.
Standard gear on entry-level grades include keyless start, 16-inch wheels, reversing camera, digital radio, six-speaker sound system, and automatic headlights and wipers, with the Cooper S gaining 17-inch hoops, Mini driving modes, wireless phone charging, sports seats and the aforementioned head- and tail-light updates.
If you are after value though, it may be best to look elsewhere, as options can easily blow out the cost of a base Cooper to nearly double its recommended retail price.
At the launch of the new range, for example, one three-door Hatch was kitted out with $17,550 worth of extras, bumping up the price to $47,450, making it more expensive than hot hatch fare with more than double the power, including the $39,990 Hyundai i30 N and $44,990 Renault Megane RS.
Of note, is the fact that active safety is not standard on the base Cooper grade, with forward collision warning, speed limit information and city collision mitigation locked behind the $2500 Active package that also adds wireless smartphone charting and dual-zone climate control.
Adaptive cruise control and tyre pressure monitoring are also optional extras, costing $1800 for the Cooper S and JCW, and $1200 in Cooper form when bundled with the aforementioned Active pack.
With more mainstream competitors in the light-car segment, such as the Mazda2 and Volkswagen Polo, offering some of these features as standard for a lower asking price, the cost of a fully-featured Mini Hatch can seem a little exorbitant.
One of pricier options on the list is also likely to be the most crucial to most – a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that costs $2500 on the Cooper and $2800 on the Cooper S, thanks to a sportier tune.
Although automatic pricing is pretty line-ball with what is available across the industry, the Cooper and Cooper S’ already high base prices don’t help matters here.
Luckily though, even the cheapest Mini Hatch offers plenty of thrills from its punchy, if not powerful, three-pot engine.
Peak power is available at 6500rpm, while maximum torque is available from as low as 1480rpm, making the Cooper an absolute breeze to drive around town with the smooth-shifting automatic transmission fitted.
Gear changes are so smooth they are nearly unperceivable, while twisty mountain roads and freeway overtaking did nothing perturb the smartly-tuned dual-clutch automatic.
The transmission isn’t afraid to hold a gear either, letting us wring out the tiny three-pot engine all the way to redline, getting the Cooper Hatch up to freeway speeds.
Stepping up to the Cooper S sees a suitable step up in performance and fun, with the full 280Nm coming on tap at an even lower 1350rpm, while the peak 141kW of power is also available lower down the rev range at 6000rpm.
The Cooper S is priced right amongst some of the best hot hatch offerings available on the market, though, and will struggle to keep pace with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST.
However, what it lacks in straight line speed the Mini Hatch makes up for in sheer cornering fun.
Steering remains as sharp and direct as ever, and a tug of the wheel will result in the Mini changing direction with eagerness and enthusiasm no matter what speed.
The ‘go-kart feel’ that Minis have become famous for might not be as evident in the current heavier iterations, but the brand still offers what is arguably the most-driver focused and rewarding premium light hatchbacks available.
Convertible body styles, meanwhile, are priced at $40,900 and $47,900 for Cooper and Cooper S engines, but buyers have the option of the automatic at no cost and the base grade also gains wireless phone charging.
While we are usually a sucker for some open-top motoring, our experience in the Convertible Cooper S left us feeling a little cold – and not just because of Queensland’s wet weather.
Although the fabric folding roof means a more prominent exhaust note (yay), we found the cabin is also prone to unwanted road and wind noise intrusion (nay).
The Convertible is also prone to notice noticeable scuttle shake and more pronounced body roll, but the pay-off is unlimited headroom, never-ending amounts of fresh air and a comprehensive facial tan.
There is no denying the stylish appeal of an open-air Mini, and around town the Convertible is near-enough as comfortable and compliant as its fixed-roof siblings, but we’ll leave it up to you whether you think the dynamic downgrade is worth it.
At the other end of the spectrum, the full-fat JCW is on offer for $49,900 in three-door hatch form and $57,900 for the Convertible, with an eight-speed torque converter automatic as a no-cost option.
The JCW’s 170kW/320Nm outputs are much more in keeping with its hot hatch aspirations, and the extra poke is certainly much appreciated.
Adaptive suspension also adds to the JCW’s sure-footedness, while extra equipment, including a head-up display, a larger 8.8-inch infotainment screen and park assist, also help justify its price premium over the Cooper S.
In our opinion ,though, the raucous exhaust note and fun point-and-shoot nature fall just short of justifying its high price point, which puts it right in amongst the most dynamically engaging and well-rounded – not the mention physically bigger and more practical – hot hatches available.
Overall, Mini’s updated Hatch and Convertible range is more of the same. If you didn’t dig the cute and quirky nature of Mini’s best-sellers before, this facelift will do nothing to change your mind.
Actually useful new in-car technologies, though, should prove a boon for those willing to take a plunge on the pricey, but ultimately likeable, Mini Hatch and Convertible line-up.
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