New Mini Hatch first UK drive

MINI Cooper S HatchOnly the Hatch versions are the NEW MINI.

This is the third generation of the iconic brand since BMW Group’s production started in 2001 followed by a mid-life refresh in 2006. From March this year we received the all-new MINI Hatch with prices starting from £13,750.

This is clarification of what New means in terms of the British built MINI because New has also been recently applied to the MINI Paceman and the Countryman previewed at shows in China and New York. But in fact these are refreshed MINI Cooper S Hatchmodels using the previous platform so for now when we see the word New associated with MINI it only applies to the Hatch range. All other versions of the MINI line-up such as the Clubman, Convertible, Coupe and Roadster will in due course be built on the new platform with the new generation of Euro 6 engines as and when the time comes for them to be replaced, anywhere within the next three years.

In the UK and globally the Hatch version take 50% of all new MINI sales with the five door Countryman Crossover with 2WD and 4WD versions being the next most popular taking a third of all MINI sales here and globally. Almost 52,000 new MINIs were sold in the UK last year, a marginal increase over 2012. Sales for the first quarter of this year are down by 18% over the same period last year due to customers waiting for the New MINI Hatch to arrive.

As before the new Hatch will continue to be built at the home of MINI in Oxford with body panels being pressed at their facility in Swindon with a new generation of engines coming from their Hams Hall production centre in Birmingham. Paceman and Countryman models are built in Austria. MINI’s new production facility at the former Mitsubishi Motors Nedcar factory in Holland becomes operational in the second half of this year building the new Hatch for export markets but engines and body panels will be supplied from the UK.

The all-new larger MINI Hatch is completely new from the ground up and not only offers slightly more interior space but MINI Cooper S HatchMINI Cooper S Hatchhave improvements in terms of technology, engine efficiency, power delivery, driving refinement and dynamics, acoustic refinement, a noticeably higher quality interior and the revised range of the popular personalisation options. The new front wheel drive platform developed for the third generation MINI will shortly be used for BMW’s first ever front wheel drive models.

The overall visual appearance is an evolution of the iconic MINI design by BMW Group. The line-up consists of the MINI One Hatch and MINI Cooper Hatch with 1.2 and 1.5 three cylinder turbo petrol and 1.5 turbodiesel three cylinder engine options and the MINI Cooper S has a 2.0, four cylinder turbo petrol unit. All have new six-speed manual gearboxes and a new six-speed automatic transmission option is available for each engine. There is also a six-speed sports auto transmission option with faster shift times and can be operated by steering column mounted shift paddles. Over the engines they replace the new Euro 6 units have fuel consumption and CO2 emissions reduced by up to 27%.

The body of the new muscular MINI Hatch is 3,821mm in length (Cooper S is 3,850mm), all are 1,727mm wide and 1,414mm high. This makes them 98mm longer, 44mm wider and 7mm taller. The wheelbase has been extended by 28mm with the front track width increased by 42mm and the rear by 34mm.

The new MINI has a revised suspension system, struts and the front, multi-link at the rear. The components are lighter but torsionally stiffer to retain the famous go-kart handling characteristic. To bring more refinement to the MINI work has MINI Cooper S HatchMINI Cooper S Hatchalso been done to eliminate vibrations entering the car through the suspension system with chassis development done on UK roads. If these changes work on our poor roads they will work anywhere. Going into the well stocked options list there is the £375 Variable Damper Control which offers two settings, comfort and a firmer sporty one.

My first UK sampling of the all-new MINI was with the current top of the range Cooper S priced at £18,650. But the price doesn’t end there as MINI owners always go for options including the popular Pepper and Chili packs and my test car had numerous additions to showcase what is on offer. The final price fully loaded was £25,350, still not too expensive for a car of this quality, even a small one. The price is not out of place compared to a ‘fully-kitted’ Audi A1, Citroen DS3 or a VW Polo GTi.

The exterior of the new MINI remains recognisable with similar proportions of a rising high waistline, narrow in depth letterbox shaped front windscreen and lift up rear tailgate with spoiler. The bonnet appears longer and is certainly chunkier with a large grille flanked by the distinctive large round headlights with under bumper air vents plus fog lights. There are LED circular ‘signature’ daytime running lights and LED lighting stacks at the rear. The overall chunkier, bolder appearance is set off by 16-inch alloys as standard for the Cooper S but my test car had the larger 17-inch ones which is a no cost option.

Inside the evolution of MINI continues but it is much plusher, it’s like getting into a smaller version of a top-spec BMW so it feels much more grown-up. There is definitely more interior space and the rear is less cramped for legroom but it is still not the place for adult passengers. The boot is a little larger than before and now has a useful height adjustable floor. The ‘signature’ large round dial in the centre of the dashboard, which previously housed the speedo, is now used for the navigation, entertainment and communication systems and the speedo has been moved to a conventional position above the steering column. The electrically operated window switches have also been moved to a more logical position on the doors. There are still too many small switches and controls spread around the dashboard, centre console and the roof panel between the sun visors. It all looks very ‘busy’. Just like a BMW there is an i-control unit and buttons positioned between the front seat squabs, not in the driver’s line-of-site, which control the various on-board information systems. BMW’s excellent head-up display system can be migrated to the Cooper S version of the new MINI if you pay an extra £375.

Being the Cooper S version the standard specification is very comprehensive as it needs to be for the price and items range from the start/stop button, to air conditioning, on-board computer, DAB radio, sports front seats, 60/40 split fold down rear seats, Bluetooth and much more. The navigation system comes as one of several upgrades provided in the Media Pack XL for an extra £1,175.

The Cooper S has a revised and slightly more powerful but more fuel efficient EU6 uprated 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. Power output is 192hp but it’s the generous amount of torque, 280Nm delivered from only 1,250rpm, which impresses most. The engine appears quieter and more refined; it is certainly more flexible at low speeds and really responsive mid-range accelerating from zero to 62mph in 6.8 seconds. The top speed is 146mph. Another impressive characteristic given the performance on offer is the fuel economy. Officially the Combined Cycle figure is 49.6mpg and on during my test driving week covering all types of roads, speeds and traffic conditions the average figure was an impressive 36.2mpg. This was not close to the official figure but given the performance of the engine I was more than happy with it. The revised engine and new slick action six-speed gearbox worked very well together.

The MINI has always been renowned for its go-kart handing. The new Hatch does that in part. The steering is sharp enough to make it feel sporty, as does the engine performance but perhaps not as much as before. The car feels heavier and not as agile as before and I found the fun-to-drive element to be less obvious. It is certainly more refined, the ride has been improved and although still firm the revised suspension copes better with our roads and no longer jumps about over bumps and potholes. It feels a more grown up product and less youthful. Perhaps that mirrors the profile of long-term MINI customers.

MILESTONES: New MINI Cooper S Hatch. Price: £18,650 (£25,350 as tested). Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder EU6 turbocharged petrol 192hp, 280Nm (206lb ft) of torque from 1,250rpm, new 6-speed manual gearbox. Performance: 146mph, 0-62mph 6.8 seconds, 49.6mpg Combined Cycle (36.2mpg on test), CO2 133g/km, VED road tax £130, BIK company car tax 19%. Insurance group: 28E. Dimensions/capacities: L 3,850mm, W 1,727mm, H 1,414, boot/load space 211 to 731-litres. For: More interior space, better spec, looks and feels higher quality, more refined with improved comfort and ride quality. Against: Perhaps too grown up for the young at heart, less agile, feels heavier and to some extent less fun to drive than past MINIs.   Miles better news agency

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