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The improved third generation MINI 3-door Hatch purports to blend the retro chic of the original with cutting edge technology. June Neary reports
Let's face it, I don't have a large family to cart about daily. Only a partner who uses me as a taxi service. So something MINI-sized would suit me nicely. So when I heard all the hype about the improved third generation version, I determined to try one. When the car arrived at the office in 3-Door Hatch form, I at first thought they'd sent the old one: it really didn't look that much different. Still, the press pack assured me that it was and a seat inside revealed a quality cabin with technology promising much.
If you remember the original British Leyland Mini, it was an engineering breakthrough, a marvel if you will. In its own way, the first generation BMW-engineered MINI that launched here at the turn of the century also set new standards, becoming a small hatch that executives brought in their droves as a second car runabout. Here was something that really did have big car quality and small car cheek. The MK2 version that followed continued this trend. With this improved third generation version, the styling doesn't look all that different and you might feel a bit short-changed at this design's lack of head turning ability. It's only when you park it next to an older model that you can see how the styling direction has evolved. The longer, wider and only a little bit taller proportions give it a squatter, more purposeful look, helped by the tapered glasshouse. This facelifted model gets brighter LED headlights and trendy Union Jack-style LED tail lamps too. Stepping inside, I found I'd forgotten the way that the third generation version of this MINI hatch is so much more spacious inside than its predecessors. Despite the dinky size, there's actually very reasonable shoulder space across the back and bigger foot wells. The front seats have been given a wide adjustment range and a lengthy base for additional comfort and support. Access to the rear can be a bit awkward though, thanks to the low roof, but there's reasonable space for two on the back seat; leg room's a bit cramped, but if you need more, MINI will suggest you look at the five-door version of this design. I don't think I'd need to. The rear bench seat splits 60:40 and there's 211-litres of boot volume. Owners for the British original Mini would thank you very kindly for this amount of travelling space. The big centrally mounted circular speedometer of previous models was long ago ditched in favour of a more sophisticated multi function display, with a more conventional speedo flanked with a crescent-moon rev counter in the main instrument binnacle.
The driving experience is a pleasant one, with the steering rack relatively direct, transmitting road feel to the driver. Visibility is good and all of the controls are logically placed and easy to get at - even in the pitch black (undeniably the worst time to take your first drive in an unfamiliar car). Comfortable seats will ensure that even longer journeys are a pleasure and plenty of height adjustment allows even lanky passengers to fold themselves in well enough. The engine range starts with the 102bhp 1.5-litre three cylinder petrol unit now fitted to the entry-level MINI One. If you really want your MINI to have a bit of zip though, you'll need to start your search for one at Cooper level, where an uprated version of that 1.5-litre petrol unit offers an eager 136hp, gets you to 62mph in 7.9s and arguably represents the sweet spot in the range. As before, there's also a Cooper D diesel option, using a 1.5-litre three cylinder diesel with 116hp, scuttling you to 62mph in just 9.2 seconds. Then there's the Cooper S, with an improved 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine putting out a useful 192hp, a lot of poke for something so small, with 62mph just 6.8s away. A John Cooper Works hot hatch variant tops off the range, using the same engine tuned out to 231hp. MINI customers also get to choose between three different transmissions. There's a manual 6-speed 'box and also two automatic transmission options on offer, a conventional 7-speed dual clutch auto and, on the top JCW version, an optional 8-speed sports auto which enables even shorter shift times, features rev matching on downward shifts and can be operated in manual mode using shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The suspension of this generation MINI has been extensively revised, both in design and in materials used, with much of it built from aluminium to save weight. There's also Variable Damper Control. Available as an option, it offers drivers a choice of two distinct set-ups, a more comfort-oriented response or a focused, sporty feel.
I thought this car would be more expensive than it is to be honest - though most owners apparently compensate for that by loading their cars up with pricey extras. For 3-Door Hatch models, you'll pay just under £16,000 for a MINI One. For a Cooper Hatch you'll pay just under £17,500, with another £1,000 getting you Cooper D diesel. At the top of the range, you'll need to allow a budget of nearly £21,000 for the Cooper S Hatch, once you've allowed for a few well chosen extras. Still, that doesn't seem too much of an exorbitant sum for such a quick and capable car. If you want the five-door body style, there's a premium of around £700. Equipment levels have risen sharply, with features such as keyless go, ISOFIX child seat fixings front and rear and Bluetooth.
I think I could live with a MINI 3-door Hatch. This car still raises a smile. And that, on a dull Monday morning, is always a good thing.
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