RE­VAMPED MINI HATCH: UP­DATED TECH AND STILL GREAT TO DRIVE

Mini has re­vamped its hatch and con­vert­ible range for 2018, with more per­son­al­i­sa­tion and premium appeal. Tom Wilt­shire heads to Mal­lorca to try it out.

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - FIRST DRIVE BY TOM WILT­SHIRE

UP­DATED MINI HATCH

WHAT IS IT? This is the facelifted and fet­tled ver­sion of the wildly pop­u­lar Mk3 Mini. Hav­ing oc­cu­pied a po­si­tion in the UK’S best­selling cars charts on and off for many years, the Mini has a dedicated and choosy fan base that loves its pas­tiche of retro de­sign el­e­ments, perky en­gines and sporty driv­ing dy­nam­ics.

With a brand-new Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI and Ford’s Fi­esta ST on its tail, the high-per­for­mance sib­ling that I tested, the Cooper S model, has its work cut out for it.

WHAT’S NEW? The only way this new Mini could shout about its Bri­tish her­itage more is if the horn played ‘Jerusalem’. The lat­est car is ab­so­lutely cov­ered in Union Jacks, with the new LED tail­lights the bold­est im­ple­men­ta­tion of this. Else­where, changes are rel­a­tively small. UK cars now get full LED head­lights as stan­dard, with an un­bro­ken ring of LEDS func­tion­ing as day­time run­ning lights.

Mini’s new, sim­pler logo fea­tures through­out, and in­side there are a few tech up­grades. Per­son­al­i­sa­tion has been ramped up too, with the Mini Yours pro­gram giv­ing buy­ers un­prece­dented lev­els of con­trol over what their car looks like.

WHAT’S UNDER THE BON­NET? The en­try-level 1.2-litre en­gine has been re­placed by a de­tuned ver­sion of the Cooper’s 1.5-litre unit. The rest of the range is iden­ti­cal in power, though fuel econ­omy has im­proved. Our Cooper S model pro­duced a hefty 189bhp. De­spite the Mini weigh­ing a fairly porky 1,265 ki­los, per­for­mance is sprightly, with 0-60mph despatched in 6.6 sec­onds. Top speed sits at 146mph.

The en­gine has plenty of low­down grunt, but doesn’t en­cour­age you to rev it hard. The best progress is to be made in the mid-range, thanks to that tur­bocharged torque. All Minis get an ex­cel­lent six-speed man­ual ‘ box as stan­dard, with rev-match tech­nol­ogy in ‘Sport’ mode.

Most au­to­matic mod­els are fit­ted with a new seven-speed DCT trans­mis­sion, which is smooth to shift but seemed too happy to change down un­nec­es­sar­ily. Hot JCW and Cooper SD mod­els fea­ture an eight-speed torque con­verter ‘ box in­stead.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The Mini Cooper S sticks to the road like glue in hard cornering – Mini says it han­dles ‘ like a go-kart’ and has been trad­ing on this since the brand was re­born in 2001. It’s fan­tas­ti­cally en­ter­tain­ing on a twisty road, and the rel­a­tively stiff sus­pen­sion en­sures the car re­mains flat. The steer­ing is nicely weighted – al­beit slightly too heavy in ‘Sport’ mode, and of­fers bags of feedback.

It’s not a match for re­ally hard­core hot hatches such as the Peu­geot 208 GTI by Peu­geot Sport, but it walks all over the likes of the Audi S1 or Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI. That stiff sus­pen­sion does mean the ride isn’t ideal for longer jour­neys, though. The Mini doesn’t ex­actly crash into bumps and pot­holes – it sort of bounces over them in­stead, cour­tesy of its short wheel­base. stick­ing point, as its retro de­sign hin­ders us­abil­ity to a point. It’s char­ac­ter­ful, but but­tons and switches are scat­tered about the cabin. The small gauge clus­ter is hard to read, while the cen­tral in­fo­tain­ment dis­play looks a bit lost within its vast sur­round.

Light­ing is an­other stick­ing point, with an ir­ri­tat­ing strip in the cen­tre con­sole and a gaudily lit panel in front of the pas­sen­ger clash­ing with the rest of the cabin back­light­ing. Space for rear pas­sen­gers and lug­gage isn’t great, but this won’t mat­ter to most buy­ers – there’s plenty of room in the front, with com­fort­able and eas­ily ad­justable seats. Five-door mod­els fix this up to a point. with en­gine spec, but most buy­ers will opt for the ‘Chili Pack’ of op­tions.

This adds rear park­ing sen­sors, au­to­matic lights and wipers, dif­fer­ent al­loy wheels, im­proved up­hol­stery and sports seats. Per­son­al­i­sa­tion is vast and var­ied, and with the Mini Yours Pack, it’s pos­si­ble to have 12 Union Jacks adorn­ing your car. Please don’t spec­ify all of them, though.

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