Does the Mini 5 door build on the classic formula or push Cool Britannia to breaking point?
The Mini 5 Door opens up a new part of the market for the style-driven youth arm of BMW.
Say what you will — every new Mini spinoff is greeted with derision from some — but adding an extra set of doors and stretching the body of the three-door hatch makes a whole world of sense, if you can shelve the nostalgia and romance for a minute.
Especially in Australia, where five-door hatchbacks in general are the most popular form of vehicle sold. Three-door sales pale in comparison.
It may be built on the same line as its little brother in Oxford — situated close to the UK countryside where we’ve driven the car this week ahead of an Australian launch in November from $27,750 plus on-road costs — but looking at the charts tells you it was made for Australia.
The point is, most people who fancy the three-door will buy the three-door, but that market is small and self-limiting by its very nature. Style-driven people shy away when something becomes ubiquitous, and the car is too pricey to be properly mainstream anyhow.
This 5 Door doesn’t change that latter formula — it is still priced up there with an Audi A1 — but it does provide an option for those who need a little extra room to move, who aren’t married to the idea of a ‘proper’ three-door Mini and who don’t want a more expensive Countryman.
The $1100 premium for the 5 Door over its smaller three-door sibling isn’t excessive by any means, considering the packaging benefits it brings.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. If you’re someone to whom the idea of a car like this is anathema, a person who longs for ‘purity’ from the brand, then that’s entirely fair. This car is not for you and you already know that.
This is of course notwithstanding the fact that Mini made a five-door prototype in 1957 and only shelved it because its resources were stretched too thin. This reviewer thinks Mini has done a decent job with the car’s proportions this time around.
Furthermore, if you separate the mythology from the actual vehicle, and assess the 5 Door as just another small premium hatchback, it scrubs up well. Mini retains its essential character — for better and worse, as we’ll discover — but adds the requisite dose of difference too.
Here are the basics: the 5 Door is 161 millimetres longer than a three-door. It has 72mm more foot space and legroom in the back, 15mm more headroom and 61mm more interior width at elbow height. It also has 278 litres of cargo space with the seats up, a handy 67L more than the three-door.
It is very similar in size to an Audi A1, and also a touch cheaper pound-for-pound. Its dimensions of 3982mm long, 1727mm wide, 1425mm high compared to the A1 Sportback’s 3954mm/1746mm/1422mm.
Mini has, however, pushed those wheels right to the corners — no doubt driven by style considerations, a need for dynamism and allowed by BMW’s flexible UKL architecture — since it has 98mm more length between the wheels than the Audi.
It also has 8L more cargo space, meaning you can fit more than a moderate carry-on roller bag in the back this time. The loading area has some depth, though those corner-mounted arches intrude somewhat.
But those are numbers on a piece of paper. What is it actually like back there in the second row? Not too shabby. We won’t agree with Mini’s assertion that it’s a proper five-seater — it’s a four-plus-one (very tiny) person car at best — but if someone my height (194cm) can squeeze in, it’s doing quite well.
The seat squabs are short but have decent bolstering and padding, and the legroom (the front seatbacks are scalloped) and headroom are both rather good for the class. We drove hundreds of miles in the UK with a 175cm-tall passenger sitting behind me with the driver’s seat in a comfortable position.
There are also a pair of handy door pockets that supplement the single central rear cup-holder.
That said, there’s not much room for your feet under the seat in front, the narrow door apertures make it hard to fold yourself in and out, and the small rear window limits your view outside. Fold those rear seats down and you get a handy cargo area just shy of 1000L, by the way.
Up front, things are signature. A big circular display with an embedded screen (on the up-spec Cooper S and Cooper SD we drove) hovering above a neat trio of digital ventilation dials and a series of aviator-style switches and the coolest starter button in the business.
As in the three-door, small touches such as the series of (extra-cost) coloured lights that react in visual style to driver inputs, and the premium-feeling toggle dial along the transmission tunnel to adjust infotainment and, if fitted, the adaptive dampers and driving modes, give the cabin some panache.
Of course, this is Mini, and nothing extra-snazzy comes cheap. This company has mastered the art of the optional extra. A $50,000 Mini? No problems getting one, sir. Full Australian specifications are not yet available, but the 5 Door will mirror the three-door’s option pricing.
We drove the flagship petrol and diesel models, the Cooper S and Cooper SD. Quite understandably, Mini wanted to show us its full suite of features, turning each into a proper little luxury car. That said, much of these povvo-pack European extras come standard on Australia’s cars.
Our flagship variants were powered by a familiar engine in one case, and an unfamiliar in another.
The Cooper S has a 141kW (between 4700 and 6000rpm) and 280Nm/300Nm on overboost (from a low 1250rpm) 2.0-litre turbo that hustles the car in auto guise from 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds, or 6.9sec for the manual, but is capable of using a little as 6.0L/100km of petrol on the combined cycle.
The 1315-kilogram (EU scale) Mini 5 Door might weigh 65kg more than the smaller three-door, but it remains a snappy and lively little number with a pleasant thrum and — in its sportiest driving mode — an automatic gearbox that pops and crackles on the upshift.
Mini harps on endlessly about its signature ‘Go Kart Feel’, which is annoying but also somewhat accurate. It fidgets more than Audi A1, but also dazzles on a ribbon of tarmac like few other hot-hatches. Nothing much is lost on the transition to five doors from three in this department.
The Cooper S especially turns in as sharp as a razor and has a chassis as nimble as a Russian ballet dancer. It also rides like a go kart on its all-round independent suspension, especially in the sportiest damper setting and on 17-inch wheels, which can be very unpleasant on a back road.
The steering is very sharp on centre and linear, and for a car of this size not lacking in weight. The chunky retro-styled steering wheel is nice to hand, as well.
There is some moderate tyre roar, especially from the rear, and those upright A-pillars make some noise carving through the air at speed. However, this new-generation model feels much more tightly screwed-together than the old squeaky one, and the lengthier 5 Door is no different.
We spent less educational time behind the wheel of the SD, which is not part of the inaugural Australian launch range due here in November, but is understood to be on the radar for later in 2015.
With 125kW of power and a beefy 360Nm of torque from 1500rpm, this little Mini pulls like the Hogwarts Express from right down low, and surfs on a wave of torque as you keep your right foot planted.
The 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in 7.3sec, only five-tenths off the Cooper S, though its real party trick is combined-cycle fuel consumption of only 4.1L/100km. Though it only weighs 10kg more than the Cooper S, it feels more nose-heavy and less eager to tuck-in.
Australian demand is likely to be limited, but if getting ADRs sorted isn’t too expensive, we’d like Mini to bring it here — even if the petrol suits the car better.
We didn’t get the chance to drive what will be Australia’s biggest-seller, the Cooper. But we know from experience with the three-door and the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer that its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine with 110kW/220Nm is a gem, and offers more than enough to raise a grin.
Let’s sum this up. The Mini 5 Door offers few surprises. It’s a roomier version of the existing model with decent rear seat space that maintains the range’s positives — signature sharp handling, cool factor and punchy powertrains — and negatives — largely the fidgety ride and steep option prices.
It really does go without saying that if you love the idea of a Mini but need some extra room, you’ll dig this new entrant. And if you don’t like the look or the concept, oh well.