We’ve loved the MINI hatch for years, but poor access and tight space in the rear seats limited its appeal; now the MINI 5-door Hatch, in Cooper SD guise, combines a fun driving experience, sufficient practicality, impressive performance and good efficiency to warrant a rare 10 out of 10 rating.
It may be the most over-used phrase in the brand’s PR department, but ‘go-kart handling’ has genuinely been one of the key selling points of the MINI. Engineering go-kart handling in a car that isn’t much bigger than a go-kart is one thing, but trying to maintain such a quality in a car as it gets stretched into a small family hatch is more of a challenge – so has the company succeeded?
We’ve already reviewed the new MINI Hatch, in Cooper D, Cooper and Cooper S forms. Although the latest generation of MINI may not look massively different on the outside, areas such as the refinement and the interior have improved significantly.
At the heart of the MINI there remains a small car that is front-wheel drive with small front and rear overhangs. We’re testing the Cooper SD version, which has a new 2-litre turbodiesel engine with ‘MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology’, and in this case it’s mated to an optional six-speed Steptronic transmission.
Inside, the dashboard maintains the creative MINI design style, but it’s now much more functional. The large central screen, which used to be the speedometer on previous versions, is now the infomedia screen. And thankfully the electric window switches have moved from the bottom of the dash to the inside of the doors.
But the big news is that this car has gained two rear doors, and an extra rear seat, making it a five-seater. MINI hasn’t just found a way to squeeze all this in the same length as a MINI 3-door Hatch – the wheelbase is longer, the whole car is stretched, the rear legroom has grown, as has the boot. So compared to the 3 door Hatch, the 5-door is much more practical.
However, the rear doors are small, as is the space in the rear of the car – and the boot is hardly huge. Although the legroom is greater than in the 3-door Hatch, this statement says more about how ridiculously tight the legroom is in the 3-door than how spacious life is in the 5-door.
Climb in the MINI 5-door Hatch and you should be able to find an excellent driving position. Press the red ‘start’ switch and the engine fires up, pull the gear selector into Drive and when you set off you’ll instantly feel how refined, flexible and responsive this new SD engine is compared to the old version, which, in the Countryman, was rough, noisy and very inflexible.
Leave the MINI Driving Mode in the default MID setting and this should suffice for general around-town driving. Our week with the 5-door Hatch took us to the Lake District. We selected the GREEN mode for the motorway trip up the M6 but once in the Lake District it was time to select SPORT mode. With this setting the accelerator pedal becomes more responsive, the steering becomes heavier, the Steptronic transmission keeps the car in gear to higher revs, and as our test car was fitted with Electronic Damper Control, the ride became firmer.
For most driving around the Lakes the automatic transmission worked well, although there can be a slight delay when setting off from standstill. However if you really want maximum control and interaction with the car, you should opt to change gear manually – using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
All the different settings outlined above mean that the Cooper SD 5-door Hatch is easy to live with around town or on the motorway, but it can also transform itself into a really engaging and rewarding driver’s car given the right roads – and if you choose your roads in the Lakes very carefully from an OS map, there are lots of routes where this car simply excels. Many cars are too bulky, too long, and/or too low to be fun in the Lakes. However the Cooper SD 5-door Hatch is a perfect balance – it’s big enough to be practical, small enough to be agile, it has an engine that has good performance and loads of torque to get up the many hills, the direct steering and sharp handling are perfect for twisty roads, and the gearbox can give you all the control you need.
Regular visitors to Green Car Guide will know that we’re generally not fans of front-wheel drive cars that claim to be drivers’ cars – with the exception of MINIs. This is because most front-wheel drive cars have a huge front overhang, with much of the weight of the engine usually sticking out ahead of the front axle – which doesn’t result in enjoyable handling. Helped by its relatively small overhangs, the MINI genuinely does have ‘go-kart’-like handling, which is a fantastic achievement for a 5-door family hatchback.
Apart from a dislike for understeer in the handling dynamics department, the other key reason why we don’t like front-wheel drive cars is the tendency for torque steer. Despite having a considerable amount of torque (360Nm), torque steer never proved to be a problem during our week with the Cooper SD – suggesting that MINI’s ‘torque steer compensation’ technology does actually work.
The ride of MINIs has been over-firm in the past, but life is much better in this latest version. Our test car had the (£375) option of Electronic Damper Control (EDC), which resulted in a comfortable ride in MID and GREEN modes, and a firmer ride in SPORT. Overall, even with very low profile tyres, the ride was generally very good – just mainly getting caught out by potholes, when there was no give in the tyre sidewall to absorb the crashes.
You do feel imperfections in the road surface more in SPORT mode, and one area for improvement is with road noise, which really can be quite pronounced in the interior on poor motorway surfaces.
The head-up display is an option worth ticking (£375), and there are two other elements of the interior that we particularly like. There’s currently a trend for many cars to have touchscreens, which, in the quest for progress, replace traditional buttons. However trying to scroll through a touchscreen menu and touch the correct button at speed on a bumpy road is virtually impossible. Thankfully BMW Group has the iDrive-style rotary controller with a group of shortcut buttons clustered around it, which is a much, much, much better solution than a touchscreen.
Linked in with the touchscreen issue are the temperature controls. Again, some cars today only have the temperature controls on the touchscreen. So when you get in the car you have to wait for the touchscreen to start up, then scroll through various menus to find the temperature controls, then repeatedly press the red or blue arrows to heat up or cool down the cabin. All this can take a long time, during which you could either crash the car due to your lack of focus on the road, or get lost, as you can’t see the satnav screen. In contrast, in the MINI, you simply have rotary dials that you can spin round and go from cold to hot in a fraction of a second. Hooray!
The MINI Cooper SD 5-door Hatch has an official combined economy figure of 68.9mpg and emissions of just 107g/km CO2. For a car that offers such a rewarding driving experience and good performance, these are outstanding levels of efficiency. Of course due to the increasing gap between official and real-life figures we always monitor our own fuel economy, and we averaged 52mpg. As always, this is considerably down on the official figures, but we’re happy with more than 50mpg from such a car. At 70mph on the motorway – the other key item of data that we believe is important – we averaged 55.6mpg.
The Cooper SD 5-door Hatch has the same economy figure for manual and automatic transmissions – but slightly lower emissions for the automatic (107 v 109g/km).
The Cooper SD 5-door Hatch costs £20,050. Our car was laden with many options, including CHILI Pack (£1,900), Media Pack XL (£1,175), 18″ two-tone alloy wheels (£625), Electronic Damper Control (EDC) (£375), and Head-up Display (£375), bringing the total cost of the car to £26,130. This is without doubt expensive for this size of car. However this is the top model in the range, and if you buy the car for this sort of money then you’re likely to enjoy a similar premium when you come to sell it. Also, if you drive it back-to-back with rivals, as we have done, you’ll be happy to pay the extra money to get a car with much better driving dynamics.
The MINI 5-door Hatch range is comprised of the One, One D, Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper S and Cooper SD. So do you buy a petrol or a diesel MINI? The petrol models are excellent, feeling light, agile and responsive – as does the D – but the SD brings lots of extra torque to the party, so if you regularly travel long distances, take one for a test drive before buying a petrol model.
For the benefit of first-time visitors to this site, Green Car Guide exists to search out cars that are great to drive and also efficient. So does the MINI Cooper SD 5-door Hatch satisfy this criteria?
The reactions of a car to the driver’s steering inputs is widely viewed as one of the key qualities of a driver’s car. The MINI 5-door Hatch scores top marks here – turn the wheel and the car instantly responds, with the weight of the steering and other controls being very well judged. Although the 5-door Hatch has grown in size compared to the 3-door Hatch, MINI’s engineers have managed to retain the responsiveness in terms of changing direction that no other 5-door hatchback can match.
The 2-litre SD turbodiesel engine is also powerful, flexible and responsive, and although to date we’ve always preferred manual transmissions in a MINI, the combination of the SD engine and the six-speed Steptronic transmission works surprisingly well. And of course you have the option to drive it as an automatic or as a manual.
Refinement levels are better than in any previous MINI, and the interior remains creative but it is also now much more functional.
For a car that offers so much fun, the official combined economy figure of 68.9mpg and emissions of just 107g/km CO2 are outstanding. Therefore the MINI Cooper SD 5-door Hatch is a great all-round car in our view and it scores a rare Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.