When the famed MINI brand relaunched in 2002, the range was simple. You could have a three-door hatch in Cooper or Cooper S trim. Then, more variants were revealed. The John Cooper Works was born. After that, the Clubman came along, followed by the Countryman.
Since then there’s been a Roadster, Coupe and Paceman, but they’ve all been consigned to the scrapheap of history… What we’re trying to say is that picking a MINI isn’t necessarily simple.
In this range review, we’re going to take a walk through the 2019 MINI line-up, starting with the car you probably know best.
The three-door hatchback is the miniest MINI money can buy. It’s the car that gave the brand its name, although today’s three-door is much bigger than those that came before it.
Measuring 3821mm long and 1727mm wide, the three-door still makes a Golf look gargantuan. That means it’s ideal for tight city streets and small garages, the likes of which are enough to make SUV owners cry.
It’s actually quite spacious inside, though, provided you’re sitting in the front. I’m tall enough that the idea of driving a MINI – let alone doing a range review – makes people in the CarAdvice office laugh, but the seat drops down to the floor and slides far enough back for even my gangly legs.
Standard equipment includes a leather steering wheel, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, parking sensors and a rear-view camera, and wireless Apple CarPlay, along with ‘cloth firework’ seat trim.
As for the rear seats? They’re very small, but offer enough space for (very) short trips with (very) short passengers on board. And they can be folded, expanding the 211L boot to fit enough gear for a romantic weekend away.
If you’re into antique chair collecting, this isn’t the MINI for you.
Power in the base Cooper comes from a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine making 100kW and 220Nm, put to the front wheels through a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Regardless of transmission, the engine is an absolute peach. It’s light on power, but the sprint to 100km/h takes 7.8 seconds thanks to the car’s skinny kerb weight. There’s always enough torque for a punchy feel on the move, and the engine note is an exciting, thrumming companion to the car’s performance.
Handling is predictably happy. The steering is light enough to make inner-city manoeuvring a breeze, with just enough weight to give you confidence to sweep into corners with enthusiasm approaching reckless abandon. MINI has spent a lot of time and money marketing its ‘go-kart’ feel, and while it isn’t a go-kart, the base three-door hatch best epitomises that ethos.
It’s just a happy, willing little car. You could easily make the argument the three-door is best sampled in base form, although more power never goes astray.
Speaking of which, there is a more powerful option on the menu, in the form of the Cooper S. It gains a cylinder and 500cc of displacement, for 141kW of power and 280Nm of torque. The 100km/h sprint time drops to 6.8 seconds with the four-cylinder engine on board, but the transmission options remain the same.
In news that will shock no-one, the S feels more expensive than cars with the base engine. The three-pot engine’s raspy exhaust note is replaced with a creamier, smoother sound, and the engine’s greater displacement manifests with stronger response throughout the rev range.
The four-pot is also more expensive. Whereas the three-door kicks off at $29,990 before on-road costs with the base engine, the S starts at $39,990 before on-roads. There’s a massive array of options available, from Union Jack tail-lights (cool) to personalised puddle lighting (naff).
Limited-run cars like the Kensington Edition can drift north of $50K, which is big money for such a small car. Still, what price exclusivity?
With that said, our tester was tastefully optioned to $36,500 before on-roads. The dual-clutch transmission accounts for $2500, while black 16-inch alloy wheels ($400), metallic paint ($900), bonnet stripes ($250), piano black interior trim ($250), and the climate package – sunroof, heated seats and tinted windows for $2300 – all play a role as well.
Moving up the range gets you the five-door hatch, a hatch with (you guessed it) five doors. List price is higher, but interior space has been given a bump as well. It’s longer than the three-door, for better rear legroom and 67 litres of extra boot space.
It still looks like a MINI, though, with the same cutesy face and perky rear end we’ve come to love. The same engine options are offered in the five- and three-doors, except for the John Cooper Works engine, which is reserved for the three-door. More on that to come.
When you’re up and rolling, the five-door drives just like its little brother. At 1190kg, it’s just 55kg heavier than the three-door, which makes performance similarly spritely and handling similarly light-footed.
You’ll pay $31,150 before on-road costs for a Cooper with no options fitted, but our tester was optioned to $39,450 before on-roads. As above, the seven-speed DCT adds $2500 to the list price, while the 17-inch wheels you see here are $1500.
Stir in the climate package, add a pinch of metallic paint, and sprinkle stripes over the top to season… The recipe for our $40K five-door hatch tester would read something like that.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the five-door hatch is big, despite its growth spurt. It’s still a small car, and if you regularly plan on using the back seats for adults or middle-school-aged children, there are better options out there. There are also better options in the MINI line-up.
Which brings us rather neatly to the Clubman – a retro-inspired way to pack more people and gear in your modern MINI. First up, it’s a six-door, making it unique among the passenger car market. Are more doors better? I’d say yes.
The current Clubman is my sweet spot in the range, with the right blend of size and practicality.
It’s 4253mm long, or 432mm longer than the five-door hatch, for a handy 360L of luggage space and more rear legroom. It also has a look of its own. The front end is still dominated by rounded shapes, but the roof is longer and the rear-end bluffer.
The tail-lights are horizontally oriented, and the chrome handles for the barn doors help set the Clubman apart from its brethren.
Those doors are the car’s party trick, but they bring a set of unique problems. Visibility is limited because there’s a bar running through the middle of the window, and they need to be closed in the correct order, lest you end up looking a bit stupid. There’s also a long lip on the rear bumper, which is prime for scratching.
The bigger Clubman presents a more refined take on the hatchback’s formula behind the wheel. A circular infotainment binnacle and funky LED lighting ring are still present, flanked by vertical air vents and dual-tone trim pieces. The array of toggle switches above and below the display have carried over, too.
With that said, the transmission tunnel has gained an electric handbrake, more storage, and an altogether more upmarket vibe than that of the smaller, cheaper MINIs. Oh, there are air vents in the rear, and the rear bench folds 40/20/40.
Power comes from the same choice of three- and four-cylinder petrol engines offered in the five- and three-door, making the same 100kW/220Nm and 141kW/280Nm.
Because it’s physically larger and 200kg heavier than the hatch, the Clubman doesn’t have the same pep in its step as its smaller stablemates. The three-pot engine still sounds good, though, and the base Clubman Cooper isn’t what you would call slow.
It’ll hit 100km/h in 9.1 seconds, and comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission. You only get two pedals here, folks.
While we’re talking differences, the bigger Clubman rides with a slightly softer edge than the three- and five-door, and the steering isn’t quite as light. Don’t worry city folks, it’s easy to park.
Although our tester had cloth seats and the smaller, base infotainment system, it’s easy to make the Clubman quite a premium offering with some careful optioning. If you’re not careful at the dealership, though, the price can quickly skyrocket.
The base Clubman Cooper is priced from $37,900 and the punchier Cooper S is worth $45,900 before on-roads. There’s a John Cooper Works option as well, priced at $56,900. Keep holding out for JCW time, we’re getting there.
Of course, not everyone wants an oddball six-door compact. What everyone seems to want, in Australia at least, is an SUV. That’s where the Countryman comes into play.
If you’re a purist, now would be a good time to look away. With a raised ride and chunkier body, the Countryman Cooper weighs 1460kg, offering 450L of luggage space with the back seats in place. Fold those seats, and the load area expands to 1390L.
If you’re into antique wardrobe collecting, or need to carry a bike around, this is definitely the MINI for you. The least mini MINI , or the most MINI money can buy, if you will.
Although it’s bigger than any of its stablemates, the Countryman is offered with the same engine options. That means the entry-level model is powered by a three-cylinder petrol engine making 100kW and 220Nm.
The manual option is gone, with MINI instead offering a six-speed automatic as standard.
It takes 9.6 seconds to hit 100km/h from standstill, which isn’t what you’d call fast, but the 1.5-litre unit has maintained its upbeat character in the transition from Hatch to Countryman.
Jumping to the Cooper S gets you a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, making 141kW and 280Nm. Once again, there’s no manual. This is meant to be a grown-up MINI, and grown-ups tend to like cars with two pedals.
The interior is a scaled-up take on the design from the Clubman, itself a scaled-up take on the Hatch. The family resemblance is strong. You get the same e-handbrake and skinny gear lever as the Clubman, along with the same circular infotainment set-up in the middle of the dashboard, but the vents and trim pieces have been tweaked slightly.
As with the entire range, the driver is faced with a free-standing instrument pod on the steering column. It looks quite small in relation to the bigger Countryman’s interior, but keeps the family resemblance going.
With a more practical focus comes greater headroom, legroom and foot room in the rear seats. They’re easier to access, too, thanks to wider rear doors. Sounds like a small thing, but you’re going to notice it if you’re loading children every day.
Realistically, this is the MINI you’d want to own with a growing family to worry about. The boot has space for a full Costco run, rather than a brief jaunt to the local grocer, and it doesn’t ask the owner to make the same compromises demanded by smaller models.
To drive, the Countryman feels more mature than the wider MINI line-up. The ride is a bit softer, and the engine better suppressed than elsewhere in the range. The steering is slightly heavier here than in the Clubman and Hatch, but MINI hasn’t turned this into a bus.
You’re probably tired of hearing this, but the car still has a relatively compact footprint making it a breeze to drive in town. The steering is light enough your grandma could park one-handed, and you get sensors and a rear-view camera, so there isn’t really an excuse for low-speed scrapes.
Out on the highway, the car feels pleasingly settled. It’s comfortable at a cruise, and has plenty of pep for overtaking at 110km/h. The stereo could use more punch, though. It’s not bad per se, but the more expensive system from the hybrid is better suited to long journeys.
In keeping with the theme laid out earlier, there’s huge potential for customisation with the Countryman.
Standard equipment is relatively generous for your $41,900 before on-roads. A set of 18-inch wheels, adaptive cruise, an electric tailgate, autonomous emergency braking, wireless CarPlay, keyless entry, and keyless start are all standard.
Our tester was worth $44,200 before on-roads, with the addition of black roof rails ($300), bonnet stripes ($200), chrome trim ($300) and the Chili Package (LED headlights and drive modes, $1500) bumping our sticker up.
Pricing for the Countryman Cooper S starts at $48,990, while the JCW is $59,900 before on-roads. There’s also a diesel option, available with all-wheel or two-wheel drive. Speaking of the JCW… Just kidding, keep waiting folks.
New to the local MINI range is the Countryman S E-Hybrid, with a petrol-electric all-wheel-drive drivetrain promising a combined 165kW and 385Nm. The car is all-wheel drive thanks to that electric motor, and hits 100km/h in 6.8 seconds.
Claimed fuel consumption is 2.1L/100km on the combined cycle, but you’ll struggle to match that in the real world. Such is the nature of the emissions-testing beast.
Range is 40km in electric mode, and it takes 2 hours 15 minutes to charge on a home fast charger. It’s up seven hours at a three-pin socket, not that the average owner is likely to plug into a normal wall connection anyway.
On the move, the S E-Hybrid can’t hide the fact it’s the biggest, heaviest MINI on the market, which manifests in slightly doughier handling. Those extra kilograms are hard to hide, no matter how good the suspension and steering tune.
It can sprint like a relative lightweight. With a handy 165Nm of electric torque off the line, the car picks up nicely off the line. Roll-on acceleration is spritely in hybrid mode, and the e-motor offers decent performance in pure EV mode.
Speaking of which, the electric motor can operate alone or in partnership with the petrol engine. When the battery goes flat, the internal combustion engine kicks in to recharge it.
This all sounds complex on paper, but it’s dead simple in practice. The car will take care of its own business, seamlessly shifting between electric and petrol power as required, although those who favour a more hands-on approach can indulge their fiddly instincts and take control.
The car can be toggled into pure-electric mode – battery only, naturally – or save mode, which favours the petrol engine and saves lithium-ion battery charge for later.
In keeping with its higher sticker price, the hybrid comes with more equipment than a standard Countryman. A widescreen 8.8-inch infotainment system, ambient interior lighting, and puddle lighting are all included, although you still pay extra for things like leather trim.
Our car was a pre-production vehicle, specced to the equivalent of $62,900 before on-roads. Metallic black paint, leather seats, 19-inch alloys, a head-up display, panoramic glass sunroof, heated front seats and chrome exterior trim, along with a steering wheel trimmed in softer MINI Yours leather, are to blame.
If you’re environmentally minded, that price is perilously close to the new Hyundai Kona Electric. Sure, the Hyundai is nowhere near as nice inside, but its pure-electric powertrain has both feet in the world of electrification instead of just a toe.
Convertibles account for a tiny sliver of the Australian car market, making them something of a novelty. If you’re after attention, our aquamarine MINI Cooper Convertible will draw eyes like few other cars under $50K.
Under the skin, the drop-top Cooper shares its powertrains with the wider range. That means you can have a three- or four-cylinder petrol engine making 100kW/220Nm and 141kW/280Nm respectively.
There’s even a JCW available. I haven’t driven one, but other journos have said it’s a riot. I believe them.
If you’ve driven a regular Cooper, the Convertible will feel instantly familiar. The cabin is the same, barring the fact your sunroof switch now operates the roof, and the three-cylinder engine has the same distinctive thrum on the move.
With that said, dropping the top does also impact structural rigidity. Bumps and pockmarked surfaces can make the windscreen wobble, and bigger hits send a noticeable shock through the body.
There are more compromises associated with dropping the top. The boot is tiny, with 215L available at its best, and the bottom-hinged boot can be tricky to close. You really need to slam it, lest the rubber weather seals bounce it right back at you, and the aperture itself is tiny.
Pricing starts at $40,900 before on-roads, making the Convertible a whopping $11,000 more than the equivalent three-door hatch. Sure, the drop-top comes standard with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but the equipment list otherwise mirrors that of the more practical hatch.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear our brightly coloured tester cost $48,350 before on-roads. Metallic paint and small trim options account for a small percentage of the price, but the priciest option is the Chili Package, which brings LED headlights, the driver-assist package, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Ignore the price, though. No-one strictly needs a Convertible. By their very nature, drop-top cars are emotional vehicles for people who are willing to compromise on function for a dash of extra style.
No other MINI put a smile on my face like the Convertible, and that has to count for something.
Alright, it’s time. The last MINI on the docket is the heaviest hitter, with pugnacious looks and a powertrain to match. Bring out the John Cooper Works!
Before we get to the driving, we’re going to get pricing out of the way. As the most expensive MINI in the range, the JCW is pricey, especially when you factor in cars like the Golf GTI and Hyundai i30 N.
Recommended retail is $49,900 and gets you a six-speed manual transmission, a set of 18-inch alloys, bigger brakes and a huge array of exterior add-ons, ranging from a (totally fake) bonnet scoop to a wavy rear wing.
Throw in a more aggressive rear diffuser, deeper front splitter and pumped-up guards, and the overall package is something seriously racy. It might be small, but the JCW packs a punch.
With a sticker of $57,850 before on-roads, our tester included Rebel Green paint ($1300), white bonnet stripes ($1950), the climate package ($2300) and convenience package ($1500). The eight-speed automatic you see here is a $2950 option.
The visual aggression is backed up by the driving experience, which is suitably sporty.
It starts with the rorty exhaust note from the centre-mounted pipes, with a tasty burble at low speeds developing into a proper growl near redline. It delivers the right pops, cracks and bangs on overrun, too.
With 170kW and 320Nm on tap, the JCW is fast – bury the throttle from standstill and you’ll be doing 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds. Despite putting big numbers exclusively through the front wheels, torque steer doesn’t rear its ugly head, although traction control gets a workout under heavy throttle.
MINI has beefed up the steering and suspension to cope with the extra grunt, and the effects are noticeable around town. The ride is firm and the wheelbase short, which leads to a bit of head bobbing over speed bumps and potholes, but that’s a small price to pay for an engaging drive.
Sling it into a corner and there’s prodigious grip from the all four corners, although the rear isn’t necessarily keen to join the party when you step off the throttle. It’s an angry little point and squirt rocket, the JCW, and it’s great fun.
The treatment applied to the three-door hatch can be applied to the Convertible, Clubman and Countryman. The drop-top retains the hatchback’s drivetrain, but the larger models get all-wheel drive.
They’re still fun, but the John Cooper Works garnish is best when applied to the three-door. What sports car gets better as it gets bigger? The eight-speed automatic is objectively excellent if your commute is a painful stop/start affair like mine, but there’s still no substitute for a proper compact performance car with three pedals. Buy the manual.
And there you have it. Smallest to largest, bottom to top, that’s the MINI range. Although some of the models mightn’t be all that small anymore, there’s still a link between the three-door and the biggest, baddest Countryman.
MORE: Everything MINI