My wife is an excellent judge of character, especially when it comes to cars. She knows next to nothing about brands, engines or the latest in car trends, but she does know a great car when she sees one.
Now, she often doesn’t like the same cars that I do — big brutish rear-wheel drive V8s and convertible sports cars — but sometimes our sentiments align. The Mini 5 Door driven here was responsible for one such instance.
Some Mini purists shake their heads with each new model that Mini tries on for size. Cars such as the ill-fated Roadster and Coupe were detached from Mini tradition and aimed to carve niches, sometimes where niches didn’t need to be carved.
But when Mini released a five-door hatch, the sensible elements in the motoring world didn’t scrunch up their faces or run for the hills. It was an announcement that made sense and was long overdue.
Starting from $27,750 plus on-road costs, the Mini Cooper Hatch is one of the most affordable five-door European vehicles on the market. The range is available with everything from the entry-level 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol tested here, all the way up to the fire cracking 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Cooper S.
Proportionally, the five-door Cooper Hatch looks similar to the three-door Cooper. It’s not until you get the tape measure out that the 161mm length and 72mm wheelbase advantage over the three-door Cooper becomes apparent.
From the exterior, the Cooper Hatch keeps its ‘Mini-ness’ and doesn’t look out of proportion, which is always the risk when adding or removing doors from an original design.
Part of the reason my wife was so excited about the Mini is due to the interior. It’s not what you expect, which is part of its quirky appeal. A large circular area with an LCD screen sits in the centre of the cabin, while the driver has a similar circular area for the speedometer, tachometer and a smaller LCD display for critical information.
A BMW iDrive-esque dial in the centre of the cabin controls the entertainment screen and generally works quite well.
Little elements of Mini style are strewn throughout the cabin, such as a dipswitch for starting the car, while changes in temperature cause red and blue LED backlights to illuminate around the centre cluster. It’s a creative way to make this entry-level Mini feel more luxe than its price may suggest.
Unfortunately a number of items need to be optioned before they make it into the cabin. A reversing camera ($470), 6.5-inch colour LCD ($750), satellite navigation (from $1100) and Bluetooth audio streaming ($400) are all optional extras that can easily push the price north of the $30,000 mark.
Build quality and fit and finish within the cabin is very impressive. Mini still builds vehicles in its Oxfordshire plant in the UK.
A number of different colour combinations and trim colours can be chosen when configuring your Mini. This market demands customisation and the ability to make a vehicle unique, which Mini delivers in spades.
Leg and headroom up front is excellent. Getting in and out remains an easy task, despite the longer body and requirement for two additional doors. Rear legroom on the other hand isn’t great. The cramped space is made even worse when a tall driver is at the helm and positions the driver seat accordingly.
It’s also cumbersome to get in and out of the rear seats with the small door aperture and the need to step over the door sill to squeeze feet in and out from under the leading seat.
Although he's at the top-end of the height spectrum, I lobbed my six-foot and seven-inch mate in the second row with the driver’s seat in my regular position. His giant feet ended up getting stuck under the driver’s seat. So rear legroom isn’t brilliant, but it’s a space designed for occasional use, so it wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker in a segment where each vehicle will suffer a similar fate.
Another element of the Mini Cooper that isn’t brilliant is its boot capacity. Despite offering thirty per cent more boot space than the three-door Cooper, its 278 litre capacity is a little impractical thanks to a high boot lip and intrusion of the rear seats. With the rear seats down, the capacity increases to 941L.
Surprisingly, the entry-level Cooper’s engine is the car’s most exciting feature. Under the bonnet sits a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that sends torque through the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed automatic ($2350 option) and produces 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque.
Weighing in at just 1145kg, the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic Cooper models manage to dash from standstill to 100km/h in just 8.2- and 8.1-seconds respectively. For perspective, an automatic Toyota 86 does the same sprint in 8.2-seconds. All while consuming a combined average 4.9L/100km of fuel.
Mini has taken first-time manual drivers into consideration with a clever rev-matching system built into the gearbox. On both upshifts and downshifts, the gearbox will increase engine revs to match the next gear change, offering consistently seamless gearshifts. This feature is ideal for customers that buy a manual on a price basis, but may not have a great deal of experience with manual cars.
The Cooper’s direct steering and nimble size makes it fun to throw around. Despite the added length and increased wheelbase, there is still a go-kart-like feel behind the wheel. Everything from zipping around the city to tearing up a mountain pass feels like it happens much faster than it does.
The responsive and sonorous engine features an over-boost feature that increases torque by 10Nm under ideal circumstances. This, combined with genuine seat-of-the-pants feedback, makes the Mini Cooper Hatch one of the best handling and fun cars in this segment.
On the standard 65-profile tyres, the Mini Cooper rides nicely. The ride feels great over bumps and low-quality country roads, while during cornering the body stays fairly flat and poised. An optional dynamic damper package is available for an additional $700, but really isn’t required with the entry-level car.
Starting at $27,750, the Mini Cooper Hatch five-door is a fun, competent and engaging product. Once you tick a few option boxes, it can be a practical city run about that has enough gusto for the occasional mountain blast — to keep life interesting. And, you know what they say, happy wife, happy life.