Car reviews - Mini - 5-door - range
Retro fashion statement hides thoroughly competent, likeable car, sparkling performance even in base guise
Room for improvement
Options list long and expensive, reversing camera not standard
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12 Nov 2014
By TIM ROBSON
SHARING a similar spec to its three-door stablemates, the 5-door range kicks off at $27,750 for the three-cylinder turbo petrol Cooper. You’ll pay a $1100 premium for the extra doors and length, but it’s still a sharp $3900 cut from the previous generation three-door.
It’s distinctly New Mini. Indeed, from 10 paces in front of it you could be forgiven for thinking that little has changed between generations.
The bulbous headlight cowls, upright windscreen and domed roof pay homage to the 54-year-old origin of the species – though when you get around to the side, you’ll see a silhouette that only existed as a sketch in the style book of the designer of the original Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis.
Just 161mm longer than the diminutive hatchback, the first test of the 5-door is always going to be those back seats. Ingress proves awkward and restrictive for full-size adults, with a small, squared-off aperture and high sills.
Once on board, though, the rear is surprisingly habitable, with an adequate amount of headroom even for six-footers. Foot space is just okay, but it’s unlikely that adults will use the back pews for long periods – there are belts for three, but the middle passenger won’t like you very much. ISOFIX baby seat mounts are standard.
With 278 litres of cargo space on offer (67L more than the three-door), its rear luggage room is only just sufficient, though the rear seat backs can be ratcheted up to stand vertically, allowing box-shaped items to fit in behind.
The seats can, of course, be split-folded out of the way entirely allowing for 941 litres of space.
Behind the leather-wrapped wheel that’s standard across all three grades, the Mini’s unique character remains buoyantly abundant, though it’s been cleverly rejigged for this third-gen iteration.
The speedo at long last moves from the centre console to be in front of the driver. It’s attached to the steering column, so will move as you adjust the wheel. The tacho sits to its right, and a digital speed readout, though tiny, is welcome.
The aircraft switch-mimicking toggles thankfully remain, though the window switches are now on the door cards, and the toggles themselves are larger and much more clearly marked.
A 6.5-inch colour screen dominates the centre console on the upper-grade cars, while the base car makes do with a much more rudimentary arrangement. The A-pillars are thick and the windscreen is narrow, but thankfully the comfortable front seats are mounted low enough in the car that visibility isn’t overly affected.
The 100kW three-cylinder petrol Cooper is quick to put a smile on your face, with its frankly astonishing 220Nm-strong band of torque convincing you that there must be more pistons hiding up there somewhere.
The standard six-speed manual is a little notchy underhand, but its ratios are well-spaced. On its plus-one 16-inch rims with 195/55 R16 tyres, the ride is a bit busy on dimpled tarmac, and the electric steering disappoints with its lack of feel and modulation, but other than that, the base Cooper is a real livewire.
Gone is the previous Mini’s mid-corner edgy nervousness and brittle feel, replaced by a feeling of solidity that belies its 1145kg weight figure. While tautly wound, the chassis imparts an air of sophistication that lifts the package a large notch.
The Cooper D’s three-cylinder turbo-diesel outputs even more torque than its petrol counterpart, making 85kW and 270Nm, and returns the best economy figures of the range at a claimed 3.8 litres per 100km (manual) and 3.9 litres (auto).
The engine is 10kg heavier than the petrol version, and our tester is equipped with the heavier six-speed auto box to boot.
Performance is more subdued, but it’s still happy to be rowed around in manual mode whenever the mood strikes you. Slotting the lever into Sport mode will do the job for you, however, with shifts arriving right when they’re needed.
Trying the sat-nav system in the D proves meddlesome and fussy, though the BMW-sourced iDrive system does become more intuitive with regular use.
The firecracker of the range – for the moment, at least, until the John Cooper Works version is released – is the Cooper S, with its direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine. With technology previously only seen in BMW M3s like variable valve and cam timing, a variable-geometry turbo and more, it serves up 141kW between 4700 and 6000rpm, and 280Nm of torque from 1250 to 4750rpm.
Distinctively classic centre-mount twin exhausts serve up an exaggerated pop and crackle on throttle overrun, especially with the Cooper S’s Drive Mode switch – cleverly located at the base of the gearshift – in Sport.
The S, at $38,050, can also be specced with electronically adjustable dampers that tie in with the Drive Mode system to firm up both compression and rebound damping to stiffen the car’s chassis further. Each Cooper is tuned differently, by the way, and the S is noticeably busier and urgent in the tight stuff. Its optional 18-inch wheels do the ride no favours, though.
The sweetest spot in the three-car line-up may well be the entry-level Cooper.
The little three-cylinder turbo petrol engine is a genuinely stunning unit, and its handling and ride balance is the best of the three.
It does suffer in the basic equipment stakes – Mini’s option sheet is long and, in some cases, expensive – but it has the cheek and the talent to overcome any accusations of style over substance.
The omission of a reversing camera in the Cooper 5-door range is an unfortunate one. It can be optioned in the D and S for an additional $470, but in addition the base model needs the $975 Visual Boost upgrade.
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