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Car reviews - Mini - 5-door - Cooper

Our Opinion

We like
Usefully roomier, rear-door access, longer-wheelbase ride, punchy performance, potential economy, spirited handling
Room for improvement
Usual Mini price premium, oddball proportions with additional doors, four-star Euro NCAP safety rating

Mini logo27 Feb 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

BLAME the Audi A1.

The pert Ingolstadt baby hatch has really made life hard for BMW’s British icon, outselling it across many lands of late, leading the Bavarians to introduce a 5-door hatch version of the all-new (and substantially better value) third-gen iteration, launched last year.

Sharing nothing with the earlier Minis, the third-gen, F55/6 series is based on the same all-new architecture underpinning the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer wagon thingy (and about a dozen other cars in the Munich pipeline). Only the same basic looks remain similar to the old car.

The 5DR is 161mm longer, 11mm taller and 60kg heavier than the three-door, however all hardware forward of the A-pillar is shared. More importantly, along with the two skinny rear doors, the wheelbase has been stretched about 70mm, benefitting both legroom and luggage space. The premium for all this growth is $1100.

The Cooper 5DR kicks off from $27,750, plus on-road costs, and brings to the table six airbags, anti-lock brakes, brake assist with cornering brake control, dynamic stability and traction control, rear parking sensors, cruise control with braking function, active pedestrian protection, 15-inch alloys, air-conditioning, auto lights and wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric windows, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and a tyre inflation kit (that is, no spare wheel).

Note there is also no reversing camera unless the optional enhanced infotainment system is chosen.

In typical Mini fashion, our test car is optioned up with kit including 16-inch alloys, anti-dazzle mirrors, Mini Driving Mode that provides Green, Mid and Sport responses for the steering and throttle, and something known as Mini Visual Boost – bringing ‘enhanced’ Bluetooth streaming and a centre armrest.

Total cost? $30,490 plus ORCs as-tested. That’s not bad value, since this car looks and feels far more upmarket than most equivalently sized B-segment hatches.

Of the other 5DR Coopers, the D (diesel) costs $32,900, while the S commences from $38,050.

Interior

The same, but also different, the F55’s interior banishes most of the twee aspects of the earlier BMW-era iterations, for a far higher-quality and more grown-up presentation.

So while the oversized central screen that harks back to the 1950s Austin and Morris days of British cars carries through again, at least the preposterously large speedo has been replaced by a far-handier central screen display. It’s now very German and logical in operation – much like any other BMW product, in fact.

Perched on the multi-adjustable steering column is an analogue speedo and tacho cluster, backed up by an auxiliary digital readout for speed, range, consumption and other operational data. It’s all clear and easy.

Still, the vibe remains Mini, with the fat upright pillars, letterbox-style windscreen, high waistline and upright driving position all putting you in that frame of mind.

Whether the over-designed cabin presentation impresses you or not, there’s no complaining about the ventilation, seat comfort, ergonomics or storage options.

The 5DR is as practical as the next supermini.

Indeed, the need for smaller front doors (with full metal frames, unlike in the 3DR) boosts practicality, and not just because access to the palpably roomier rear seat is simpler in tight parking spots, the doors don’t have to swing out as widely. That’s a bonus in a city car.

Recent experience with the 10 best-selling light hatches on the market has shown how much more upmarket and cocooning the Mini feels inside.

Even against Volkswagen’s Polo, the materials seem of a higher standard, there’s more legroom, and solidity and strength come across as second-to-none. Adults can sit in confined comfort out back, and while the tiny apertures require some deft leg acrobatics, most people will prefer the convenience of the extra doors.

Only the shallow boot and high-floored folded backrest space disappoint, but there’s more length than in any other standard Mini.

Engine and transmission

This is the engine the Mini should always have had.

It might only have three cylinders, but the perky 1.5-litre turbo-petrol powerplant pumps out a mighty 100kW of power at 4400rpm, and 220Nm of torque at a low 1250rpm, for spirited off-the-line acceleration, followed immediately by a steady stream of mid-range thrust.

As drivetrain packages go, this is one of the more fun ones around, always egging the keener driver to scoot along in ‘Maximum Go-Kart’ Sport setting (although the blue-lit Mid is also pretty lively).

The Cooper is really quite fast and feisty. Certainly, the car seems speedier than the official 8.1-second dash to 100km/h claim suggests.

Only when the Driving Mode is slotted in Green does the Mini lose some of its sparkle, but even then there’s no shortage of tractability or oomph.

Speaking of going green, the (premium unleaded) petrol thirst wasn’t as bad as we’d feared, nestling around the mid-7.0s during heavy urban traffic. The official combined average is 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres.

Another Cooper highlight is the sweet shifting and quality engineered six-speed manual gearbox that manages to feel both substantial and light at the same time. It’s geared exceptionally well to the three-pot turbo’s output characteristics.

Ride and handling

BMW’s engineers have created some more Mini magic here.

Riding on the optional 16-inch rubber, our Cooper 5-door was the very model of response and composure, tipping into corners enthusiastically, maintaining the driver’s chosen line through the turn, and yet still managing to feel glued to the road.

Some might want a bit more sharpness and feedback from the helm, but – again- compared to more mainstream up-spec B-segment hatches, the Cooper feels like a properly zesty little runabout.

Even the ride is better than we had hoped, feeling firm yet controlled over most surfaces. That there’s sufficient insulation from road noise is yet another plus point.

We’re really struggling to find fault with the Cooper dynamically. For the price, it represents a fine balance between fun and refinement. Well done, BMW.

Safety and servicing

The Mini three-door hatch (not the as-yet untested 5-door) has only rated four stars in the European NCAP crash test rating regime – a disappointing result seeing as the previous R56 3DR scored top marks.

Areas criticised as Marginal were the lower part of the bonnet and side parts of the windscreen in pedestrian-impact circumstances. In most other areas the car rated Good or Adequate.

BMW does not offer any fixed-price Mini servicing regime, however the Mini TLC Basic program is proving popular – where buyers can choose an up-front payment of $850 for all scheduled servicing costs for five years or 70,000kms.

The warranty period is for three-years and unlimited kilometres.

Verdict

When the current-generation Mini three-door hatch was launched last year, BMW dropped prices by up to $5000 in order to see off the persistent Audi A1 challenge. Now value is part of the car’s many charms.

Throw in rorty performance, sharp handling, a classier cabin and a solid, safe feel, and the Cooper 5-door is shaping up as one of our favourite sub-$30K buys, period.

Do yourself a favour and drive one before settling on any regular mainstream hatchback. Audi’s A1 definitely has some catching up to do.

Rivals

Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Attraction, from $29,900, plus on-road costs
Elegant, solid and a joy to drive, the A1 Sportback has really pulled BMW’s head back in, and for that we’re grateful. VW Polo-based, it drives more sweetly and feels more upmarket, but bigger wheels ruin an already borderline ride quality.

Citroen DS3 DSport, from $29,990, plus on-road costs
Distinctive, fast and quite a lot of fun around corners, the underrated DSport in some ways shows up the Germans with a try-harder attitude enmeshed in a classy interior. But please, avoid the slow DStyle automatic at all costs.

Alfa Romeo MiTo Distinctive, from $28,000,plus on-road costs
Weird styling and a hard ride undermine what could have been a real contender against the A1 and Mini, however the perky 1.4-litre turbo and appealing cabin are high points. Our advice is, if you really want a MiTo, buy the base TwinAir and save (and smile).

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