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New MINI Hatch First Drive Review

By raccars Published

It’s here at last – the all-new British-built MINI Hatch. A regular top-10 best seller, nearly 2.5 million new MINIs have been built since 2001. Does the latest car move the game on – and does it still have the vital MINI magic? RAC Cars finds out…

Price: From £15,300 (test Cooper D: £16,450)
Gearbox: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
MPG: 80.7 mpg
CO2: 92g/km
On sale: Now
Insurance group: TBC

Three MINI Hatch facts

  1. 900 MINIs are built every single day
  2. The MINI has a 2.3% market share in the UK – 45% of them are MINI Hatch
  3. Almost 390,000 new MINIs have reached British roads since the car was launched in 2001

What is it?

The new 2014 MINI Hatch really is exactly that – an all-new car for the first time since the model was launched back in 2001. Using a new BMW-developed architecture called UKL, the underpinnings of the new MINI will also be used in other BMW cars such as the future new 1 Series; the first car to get this platform is the 2 Series Active Tourer.

If this doesn’t really sound ‘MINI’, don’t worry. BMW promises the new platform is highly flexible and so can still be used to create a compact and genuine MINI. It also means the latest MINI will pack more technology than ever before, be safer and more refined, use an all-new range of engines and be greener than ever too.

MINI is launching the range in the UK on 15 March with three initial variants – the Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper S. The new engines are extremely impressive, particularly the 134hp 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder in the base Cooper petrol. This can reach 62mph from rest in just 7.9 seconds yet can also average 62.8mpg. The Cooper S, meanwhile, does the benchmark dash in 6.8 seconds thanks to a 189hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo.

RAC Cars drove the MINI Cooper D for its introduction to the new model. This car has a 116hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel, and becomes the first ever MINI to break the 80mpg barrier. It’s not slow though; it can still do 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds.

Styling and interior

At first glance, the new MINI is just like the old MINI. Look more closely, though: it’s actually more different than it first appears and, unlike the difference between first and second generation cars, you’ll have no trouble picking out the 2014 car on the road.

OK, it’s longer overall, due to a slightly longer wheelbase and, yes, that more noticeably longer and bulkier nose. This is due to pedestrian safety regulations and it does change the balance of the MINI a bit – however, as the firm is keen to point out, it’s still the shortest car in its sector. An Audi A1 is a hefty 13cm longer… a Ford Fiesta is 15cm longer.

But you’ll spot the new MINI for other reasons too, such as its more shapely and well-formed side panels, the nicely rounded shoulders and the extra confidence with which the glass area ‘sits’ on the body below. Flattened edges on the wheelarches boost the stance of the car and exquisite detailing abounds, from the big LED rear lights to the iconic headlights which now have a semicircular LED running light pattern in most cars.

Inside, it’s immeasurably better than before. The dashboard design, layout, quality and finish are all leagues ahead of the outgoing car; the MINI now feels truly premium. It’s easier to use too – relocating the dials to behind the steering wheel frees up the big circular dial to carry out infotainment duties… you can even have a full 8.8-inch BMW-grade online sat nav system if you wish, that can hook up to an app on your smartphone and send pre-written tweets and Facebook updates on the move. Ingenious.

The new MINI is roomier, thankfully. Bigger and more supportive front seats are a welcome treat but it’s the extra foot room, knee room and shoulder room in the rear that really stands out. Adult-sized passengers can sit behind other adults in the front in relative comfort now, which they certainly couldn’t do before. The boot is more than a third larger, at 211 litres, and there’s both a split-level boot floor and 60:40 split-fold rear seat.

Performance

All MINI Coopers are faster than before – every one now accelerates to 62mph from rest in less than 10 seconds, says the firm. The MINI Cooper D is the greenest and slowest of the three Coopers, but even this doesn’t feel lacking. That’s thanks to very impressive pulling power of 199lb ft, delivered at just 1,750rpm. In practice, it means the MINI is very strong and flexible at all speeds, even at really low revs.

The three-cylinder engine is mated to a crisp and well weighted six-speed gearbox, which you can rifle through extremely quickly. This means acceleration is very linear, helping you make the most of its 116hp. Only when you go back on the throttle after cruising is there a bit of a delay while the turbo spins up.

Refinement is very good. At in-town speeds, owners of the old MINI will find it spookily, unnervingly quiet, so big is the difference. The engine is smooth and free-spinning as well, only really clattering when ticking over after being started up early in the morning. It soon warms up and quietens down.

Handling

Breathe easily: the MINI still drives brilliantly. Handling is exceptional, with high-end mutli-link suspension all round delivering the sort of dynamics and integrity you associate with BMWs. As the roads get worse, the MINI simply gets better – with enough feedback and dynamic interaction to make using such roads a real blast.

The inbuilt integrity of the chassis is remarkable. It feels extremely robust and well engineered, tracking straight and remaining shudder-free on even the roughest of roads. Where normal cars start to run out of ideas, the MINI keeps on performing – and keeps on delivering fantastic handling.

Although there’s a bit more cushioning around the centre of the steering, and the weighting can be a bit inconsistent at times, the accuracy of the steering is still very impressive, guiding the car with real precision. And the front end grip of the MINI is superb, even cars running on standard-sized tyres. The nose dives into corners and sticks faithfully – it is very reassuring.

The old MINI also handled well, though. What it didn’t do quite as well was ride the bumps smoothly. This one does. It’s not exactly soft and squidgy, of course – it wouldn’t be a MINI if it was – but it is much more compliant over rough roads and far less inclined to stiffly shake occupants about. Even overall noise levels are quieter, from all sources: owners of the old car will be surprised at how luscious the new MINI feels.

Price and value

Prices for the new car are up: the Cooper range starts at £15,300, which bosses reckon is about £300-£400 more than before. However, the new car actually includes around £600 of extra equipment, including Bluetooth, DAB stereo, rear parking sensors and ISOFIX attachments for the front seat (to complement those in the rear). A switch to turn off the passenger airbag is, of course, also included.

With the fuel efficiency savings too, this means the new MINI could actually be better value than the old car – particularly as it’s so much more appealing to drive and so much more modern to look at. No, it’s hardly a cheap car, but if ever a small car felt worth the premium, it’s the latest MINI…

Fuel economy

Even the MINI Cooper petrol does 62.8mpg now, and emits 105g/km CO2. Those are figures that wouldn’t have embarrassed the old diesel MINI – and have meant the latest Cooper D variant has had to up its game too.

It has. As mentioned, it breaks the 80mpg barrier with an average economy of 80.7mpg, and CO2 emissions of just 92g/km CO2. Even the new automatic version of the Cooper D emits less than 100g/km CO2, which bosses reckon will be really attractive to fleets. For a car that offers this much driving fun, it’s hard to think of a model that’s more fuel efficient…

Verdict: New 2014 MINI Hatch

The new MINI Hatch is a winner. It does everything the old car did, and so much more: it’s better to look at, nicer to sit in, more satisfying to use and more comfortable to drive. Indeed, it’s hard to pick out a weak point of the new car, other than the typically premium level prices and, perhaps, a little less driver-pleasing steering feel than before.

Overall, the new 2014 MINI Hatch is one of the best small cars on the market; it’s certainly the best MINI there’s ever been.

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