MINI

The new MINI hatchback is longer, wider and taller - so can it still be a Mini?

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Since the first BMW MINI arrived in 2001 we have loved the four-seater. MINI invented the premium supermini class and has been the one to beat ever since. It is cute, disarming to look at and delivers more grins per kilometre than most cars you can buy. It is great fun to drive and that makes drivers happy behind the wheel.

In 2006 the second-generation MINI arrived, and thankfully they didn't mess too much with Frank Stephenson's design (currently McLaren's design boss). In the music industry they say the third album is the difficult one - so no pressure on MINI's design team then!

Outside, the dimensions have grown, with a longer body and wheelbase plus a wider track. New MINI is considerably bigger than the 10-foot-long design of the 1959 Mini but its size is less dramatic in the 'flesh'. The car is still way smaller than its main rivals and remains clearly a MINI.

MINI hatchback remains a strict four-seater. The interior gets a complete makeover with new features and layout. The speedometer is now behind the steering wheel and the big centre dash dial is home to a circular multifunction LED indicator that can hint at your speed or how economically you're driving.

The seats are new and more comfortable. The front seats offer better support and extended seat bases for greater leg comfort. The cabin is bigger and rear seat passengers will appreciate this. The boot has grown to 211 litres, but the rear seats split and fold for more space.

As ever, there is an abundance of equipment 'packs' and other options to allow buyers customise their MINI into something almost unique. New toys of note include a head-up display that is standard on the Cooper S and a new centre widescreen display and touchpad MMI i-Drive controller as part of a media pack down by the handbrake.

New and much greener three- and four-cylinder engines feature. We took the new 1.5-litre, 115hp/270nm, three-cylinder Cooper D for a test on a variety of roads on the island of Mallorca (the red car). Once we pressed down on the new engine start toggle switch in the centre of the dash, a grin appeared.

Despite the loss of a cylinder, the car is quieter on the open road and geared to help deliver great fuel economy (98g/CO2 and 80mpg on the combined cycle). There is power aplenty, and thankfully the car is still as direct and precise to drive.

Another option features three electronically-controlled drive modes: Economy, Mid and Sport. A small lever at the base of the gearshift lets you select the mode. Each one does what it says on the tin to the steering, engine power and throttle response.

On day two we took the two-litre, four-cylinder, 190hp Cooper S for a blast. With 'Overboost' there is a very healthy 300nm of pulling power available to the front wheels. Cooper S is a refined machine that can induce giggles when you engage Sport drive mode. Power is delivered through the six-speed manual gearbox in a smooth surge. While hard acceleration is delightful, on downshifts in Sport mode the car blips the throttle for you to aid smoother shifts. When you lift off the accelerator there is a sporty burble over-run from the meaty exhaust.

Cooper S is a hoot to chuck about, the mountain roads in the north of Mallorca delivering great motoring fun. The new pop-up head up display was also really useful.

Overall, emissions and running costs are massively reduced, with MINI making it a really tempting proposition.

We expect the petrol-powered MINI Cooper will be a big seller, as it features a new low CO2, 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine with 134hp and 230nm with Overboost.

MINI prices start from €20,500 (on the road) for MINI ONE.

MINI has never been better!

Michael Sheridan


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