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Mini Cooper review - retro hot hatch is as fun as ever
Now in its third generation the Mini has matured into a more comprehensive range. The three-door hatchbacks are now joined by a bigger, slightly more family-friendly five-door model that gains a bit of practicality for those needing it, without losing any of the unique Mini charm. They’re all fun to drive too; even the entry-level models are agile enough to raise a smile, while the Coopers - either petrol or D - add to that with even greater performance. Real thrill seekers are offered the Cooper S models. A broader range, but no less brilliant, Mini has found a winning formula and stuck with it.
Don't ignore the non-Cooper Mini models. The Mini One is most definitely worth considering, not lacking in any sort of fun factor behind the wheel despite being down on power compared to the rest of the model range. The entire line-up of engines deliver fairly feisty performance and also offer a decent level of economy. You've got low running costs, thanks in part to excellent retained values and the option of Mini’s useful TLC servicing packs.
The five-door version loses little to its three-door relation on the road, while the extra practicality it brings is useful, but it’s still not quite as spacious or useful as some less glamorous mainstream supermini rivals. Plentiful option choices allow unrivalled personalisation, but watch those tick boxes; if you get carried away the price heads upwards alarmingly quickly - it's easy to spend a lot more on a Mini than intended.
Mini has become a real mainstay in the supermini sphere, bought by those needing relatively inexpensive, cool transport as much as those wanting something that’s an engaging and appealing drive. It's a premium choice that rivals have yet to really take on; Audi’s A1 lacks the Mini’s outrageous charm, while Citroen’s DS3 is not as fun to drive. Omnipresence does dent the Mini's appeal a touch, but there are so many options to individualise your Mini there’s a good chance your car will be unique.
All the engines over-deliver, both in performance and economy, which fits with the philosophy of the original Mini. They’re all entertaining to drive too, with accurate - if a touch lifeless - steering, fine body control and a ride that’s supple enough to smooth the edges off the poorest tarmac the UK’s road network presents us with.
With the fastest Cooper S, Challenge 210 and Works cars giving the entire range a real boost any Mini is fun, though there are some compromises on space (even with that five-door version) to be made if you’re seduced by the Mini’s enormous appeal.
But the ultimate of this latest generation Mini is the John Cooper Works Challenge. No more power than the standard JCW, but the chassis has had a thorough going over, not just by the talented guys at Mini, but our own road test editor, Dan Prosser and contributing editor, Jethro Bovingdon.
A limited slip differential, adjustable nitron dampers and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are just some of the changes over the ordinary JCW. However, the transformation feels greater than just the addition of some fancy, race derived parts; the entire character of the car has changed. It’s now one of the most exciting hot hatches you can buy, and is almost as dedicated to the thrill of driving than any car available.
Performance and 0-60 time > Basic models don't look great on paper but feel peppy enough on the road. Coopers have the measure of their closest rivals, while the Cooper S is a near-150mph car. Read about the Mini Cooper performance and 0-60 time here
Engine and gearbox > There's a wide range on offer, from a naturally-aspirated three-cylinder petrol and three-pot turbodiesel, through turbocharged threes and fours. Six-speed manual more fun than the auto. Read about the Mini Cooper engine here
Ride and handling > Ride has improved over the previous Mini, but it's still as nimble on a twisty road. The five door only trades a little of the three-door's precision. Read about the Mini Cooper ride and handling here
MPG and running costs > As a modern supermini, the Mini is predictably frugal on paper. MPG in the 60s isn't bad at all for the Cooper; S is quoted nearly 50mpg. Read about the Mini Cooper MPG and running costs here
Video review > Watch our video review of the 5-door Mini Cooper S here