Few brands are met with the same level of cynicism upon the release of a new model as Mini, and the introduction of its latest spin-off, the Mini 5 Door, is no different.
Traditionalists will scoff probably in much the same way they did when the BMW-owned British car maker released the Coupe, Roadster and Paceman models, which have tenuous links to Alec Issigonis’ 1950s original.
But the 5 Door is different. It makes sense – particularly in Australia where $20,000-$40,000 five-door hatchbacks outsell all other classes of car.
Mini expects the 5 Door to become its most popular model on our shores, eclipsing sales of even the iconic three-door hatch.
There’s precedent for that, too. Key rival Audi dropped the three-door version of its A1 city car – the Mini’s closest competitor – earlier this year due to Australia’s overwhelming preference for the added practicality of rear doors.
And while we’re not expecting the traditional three-door Mini Cooper to disappear anytime soon, it’s hard to ignore the benefits of its new sibling.
Mini has removed any potential confusion by keeping the 5 Door proposition simple: add $1100 to the price of the three-door and you’re done.
That means a starting price of $27,750 for the Cooper, $32,900 for the Cooper D, and $38,050 for the Cooper S. (An entry-level 5 Door Cooper One is also confirmed for early-2015 from $25,600.) The optional six-speed automatic transmission adds $2350 over the standard six-speed manual.
You may ask: are two extra doors – particularly ones as small as the 5 Door’s, which still make getting in and out of the back seat a challenge for most – really worth $1100?
Perhaps not. But fortunately, there’s more to the 5 Door story.
Mini has done more than just squeeze in another two access and exit points. The 5 Door is 161mm longer and 11mm taller than the regular hatch, and significantly has a 72mm-longer wheelbase.
The extra size has been put to good use, too, with every one of those 72 millimetres added between the scalloped front seatbacks and the knees of the rear passengers. The difference is immediately obvious, with the 5 Door allowing a 180cm adult to sit behind their driving position with space to spare.
There’s still a shortage of foot space, however, and the short, flat rear seat base means taller passengers are forced to ride knees-up.
Also unique to the 5 Door is a centre-rear seat. Mini’s designers probably couldn’t have made it any more uncomfortable if they tried – the narrow seat cushion is firm and raised, and passengers’ legs are forced to straddle the large cupholder that occupies the footwell. That said, it’s fine for tiny people for short trips, and we think having the flexibility of five seats is more convenient than not.
Another benefit of its larger dimensions is its bigger boot. The 5 Door’s measures 278 litres, which is more than 30 per cent larger than that of the three-door, and we’re guessing not coincidently 8L bigger than the A1’s. The 60:40 split-fold rear seats can also be angled at 90-degrees to lug square items more efficiently, and pushed forward completely to open up 941L of loading space.
The 5 Door also features C- and D-pillars that are thinner than the three-door’s single broad rear pillar, creating a useful rear window that improves visibility.
That topic leads us to our greatest bugbear with the Mini 5 Door, however.
No variant comes standard with a reverse-view camera – it’s a $470 option in the Cooper D and S, and $1220 in the Cooper after also optioning in the requisite 6.5-inch screen.
Even worse, the Cooper gets Bluetooth phone connectivity but not audio streaming, once again forcing buyers to option in the larger screen for the privilege of streaming music wirelessly.
When both features are standard in a sub-$15,000 Honda Jazz, there’s no excuse for them to be MIA in the Mini.
You’re also required to dig into your pockets for metallic paint ($800), satellite navigation ($1100, standard in Cooper S) and the driver assistance safety package ($1350), as well as dynamic dampers ($700), LED daytime running lights and headlights ($1500), panoramic sunroof ($1900) and leather upholstery ($2400-$2700) if you’re so inclined.
Fortunately, it’s what’s inherently part of the Mini 5 Door that makes it such a sweet city car.
The basic Cooper is arguably the best example of this. Its turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is a sensational little motor. It produces 100kW high up between 4500-6000rpm, as well as 220Nm across a highly useable 1250-4000rpm range, making it addictively quick through its mid range. It’s also nicely refined, with typical three-pot vibrations absent but the characterful thrum retained, and efficient, with combined cycle fuel consumption of 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual and 5.0L/100km for the auto.
Only diesel diehards are likely to favour the 1.5-litre three-cylinder Cooper D. Despite delivering an extra 50Nm (between 1750-2250rpm), the turbo diesel is down on power (85kW) compared with the petrol and is 1.2-1.4 seconds slower from 0-100km/h. It too is refined – impressively so for a three-cylinder diesel – though feels tardy below 2000rpm and runs out of puff beyond 4000rpm. It is very economical, however, with hybrid-rivalling consumption of 3.8-3.9L/100km.
Cooper S fans won’t be left underwhelmed by its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo. Peak power (141kW) is produced between 4700-6000rpm, while its full 280 Newton-metres are on tap from 1250 to 4750rpm. It’s punchy with almost no lag, yet smooth in its delivery, and gets around with a serious growl.
Both transmissions are good though not perfect. The manual feels notchy, but has a lovely light clutch pedal. The auto can be jerky at low speeds, particularly shifting in and out of second gear, but is much better on the go and delivers snappy changes when shoved to Sport mode.
As with the regular hatch, the 5 Door’s ride quality is impressive, offering high levels of comfort and control. Speed humps, potholes and road joins are absorbed with precision. Turning the Driving Mode dial to Sport and firming up the adaptive dampers produces a more fidgety ride, however. The smaller 16-inch wheels and taller tyres fitted to our Cooper provided the most comfortable ride, taking the edge off bumps better than the 17s fitted to the tested Cooper S and D models.
After criticising the Hankook tyres fitted to three-door Cooper and Cooper S test vehicles in the past, we were pleasantly surprised to find multiple 5 Doors wearing Michelin and Pirelli tyres at the launch. Both provided improved levels of grip, though the Michelin Primacy 3 tyres on our Cooper D were a little on the loud side.
Mini says it’s the luck of the draw what tyres its cars come with (the company has also approved Hankook, Dunlop and Kuhmo tyres for the 5 Door), though says customers can specify with dealers if they have a preference.
With good rubber, the Mini 5 Door is a handling delight. The steering may lack the darty nature of the previous generation, but besides a vacant on-centre patch it’s direct, consistent and nicely weighted.
The car is brilliantly agile, sits flat through corners and remains composed when worked hard.
Plenty of adjustment in the comfortable and supportive driver’s seat and the relocation of the speedometer behind the steering wheel contribute to a great driving position.
The Mini may not offer the immaculate interior finish of the A1, but the abundance of soft-touch plastics, tactile buttons and toggle switches, and highly customisable interior surfaces make it feel more premium than ever before.
There’s a decent-size glovebox and two useful cupholders at the base of the centre stack, though storage options are otherwise cramped.
As with all Minis, the 5 Door is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and is available with the TLC capped-price servicing program, which includes five years or 70,000km of dealer love for $850.
The Mini 5 Door offers all the benefits of the regular hatch – thrilling petrol engines, intoxicating dynamics and individual styling – while adding the extra interior flexibility that Australians love. However, we’re not completely sold on the diesel, nor the length and price of the options list.
To the traditionalists: save your whinging and your $1100 and stick with the three-door. To everyone else: this is one Mini spin-off that’s well worth a look… and a drive.