Bigger and more refined, but the new Five-Door still feels small and playful
HENLEY-ON-THAMES, U.K. – The terrace at Fawley Court, a grand manor built in the 1600s and once occupied by William of Orange, overlooks topiary gardens and a deer park that once stretched all the way to Henley village. It’s easy to picture the lords and ladies who once mingled on the sweeping stairways framed by sculpted balustrades, chamber music floating across the ornamental ponds and formal gardens.
However, the cheeky little cars lined up on the terrace dispatch those romantic ghosts rather quickly. All dressed in Union Jack livery, they span generations of Minis from the 1960s original, to the latest — a five-door version of the Cooper hatch that is the threemillionth “New Mini” to roll off the production line since 2001.
When Sir Alex Issigonis stuffed the first transverse engine between the front wheels of a tiny new British car in 1959, he also turned the automotive world on its axis. The Mini was not only a raging success, it completely revolutionized car engineering conventions. Designers were no longer confined by the traditional long hood, nor to make allowance for transmission tunnels protruding into precious cabin space. Thus, a new generation of small, front-wheel-drive cars was born.
Sir Alec was knighted in recognition of his genius, and lived long enough to see the Mini sell more than five million units.
While the original was born out of necessity, launched during a time of fuel crisis and the need for compact yet efficient transport, its successor, unveiled by BMW in 2001, had a more exclusive appeal. While the new Mini’s characteristic cuteness paid tribute to the original, under its skin it was essentially a BMW.
The new Mini has its passionate devotees, but it has also earned plenty of criticism over the years for sub-par interior quality despite its premium price. While various iterations and sizes of Minis have since appeared, some of which clearly answered customer’s needs, others of which are fading quietly into oblivion, the new Mini Five-Door finally boasts a cockpit worthy of its BMW parentage.
The Cooper Hatch has been a fabulous success, but its characteristic three-door configuration has also proved limiting, in a segment dominated by five-door vehicles.
The Countryman, which sells well here in Canada, is not only much larger, but will only be available as an all-wheel-drive crossover in the near future. Buyers craving the Mini’s legendary go-kart-like handling were either forced to endure the cramped confines of the existing hatch or shop elsewhere, opting for a Ford Fiesta or VW Golf.
With the Five-door, Mini hopes to lure back those customers with practicality and extra room. What’s more, while previous incarnations such as the Paceman or Coupe were incongruously awkward, the newest car manages to look like a Mini.
The Mini Five-door is 161 millimetres longer than the hatch, which gives it 72 mm of extra legroom, and 15 mm of added headroom. Externally, it’s only marginally wider than the two-door model, but the engineers have managed to carve out an extra 61 mm of interior elbow width. Cargo space increases by 67 litres to 278 L, or 941 L with the rear seats folded flat.
While the interior still maintains the whimsical playful character of its branding, it’s light years ahead in design and quality. The signature gigantic round graphic interface remains, but the speedo has been relocated to the more ergonomically friendly gauge pod and the window controls are on the arm rests where you’d expect them to be.
Switchgear feels BMW-solid and well crafted, and upholstery in our Cooper S test car is high-quality leather, while base models are fabric. There are the fun touches we’d expect from a Mini: selecting Sport mode not only quickens the throttle response, but the speedo’s outer ring glows red, and the graphic display reads Maximum Go-Kart Feel. The infotainment system, controlled by a toggle taken directly from the BMW parts bin, includes all the requisite connectivity apps, including, unfortunately, Twitter and Facebook. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
There are several choices of colours and materials available, and the “Mini Yours” program offers myriad additional customization possibilities.
It’s a comfortable and relatively roomy environment, although the company’s claims that the rear will seat three is a bit ambitious. Two, certainly, as long as they’re not large people.
We drove both Cooper S and SD (Diesel) variations of the latest Mini, over some pastoral routes between Henley and Oxford. There’s little room for error on those narrow roads, as most of them are bordered by towering hedges and have absolutely no shoulders. From the wrong side of the car, while “lorries” whizzed past disconcertingly mere inches from my right shoulder, I actually gave silent thanks that all of the available press cars were automatic.
While there are six engines available for a variety of markets, Canadian-spec cars will be limited to a pair of twin-scroll turbo-powered gasoline engines: a 1.5-L three-cylinder producing 134 horsepower and 162 poundfeet of torque, and a 2.0-L four-cylinder with 189 hp and 207 lb ft. They’re available with either a six-speed automatic with start/stop technology or a six-speed manual.
On the road, the Five-Door Cooper S exhibits the same romping playfulness that’s made the hatch such a favourite. It doesn’t feel small, but gives the impression that it’s a more solid and substantial premium car.
Over rough, cobbled city streets, and pockmarked country roads, the suspension delivered a supple and controlled ride while in regular Comfort mode. Switching the Dynamic Damper controls to Sport firms up the handling considerably. One thing that is noticeably absent is the typical rattling we’ve come to expect from previous Minis. The interior is put together well and is free of squeaks, noise, and rattles.
After a full day of driving in mostly busy traffic conditions, we averaged 9 litres per 100 km in the Cooper S, and 6.2 L/100 km in the Cooper SD. Unfortunately, there are no plans to bring the diesel Mini to Canada.
The Five-door Mini arrives here in late 2014, priced to start at $22,240 for the threecylinder Cooper Five-door, and $26,740 for the four-cylinder Cooper S.
The all-new 2015 Mini Cooper S Five-Door was designed for drivers wanting the go-kart appeal of a Mini, but requiring some additional passenger and cargo room.