► Life with our Mini five-door
► Cooper trim with 3-cyl turbo
► Read on for our 10-month test
Month 10 running a five-door Mini hatchback: the conclusion to our long-term test
I’ve run all sorts of long-term test cars over the past eight years, from a Clio Cup that lived for summer track days but desperately needed air-con, to a gorgeous Aston DB9 with a thirsty V12 and a temperamental fuel filler cap. There have been a myriad of others, but I truly miss only two: the M3 (an E92 Coupe, with the Competition Pack) and the Porsche Panamera (a pre-facelift GTS). Yes, I know it looks like I’ve been suckered by cars that have big naturally aspirated V8s in their noses, but I do have a legitimate point to make. To that pairing I’d now add a third car I’ll miss: the Mini.
You might scoff. You probably have. But let me explain: it’s about fitness for purpose, and all things considered, for the past ten months I don’t think another car could have dovetailed any better with my life. A move from Milton Keynes to London in late 2014, and a new commute that involved only the train and the Tube (or the bus when the unions strike), meant the number of miles I spent commuting in a car each year plummeted from around 35,000 to zero. Suddenly I needed wheels for leisure purposes and little else.
Enter the Mini, in a fetching shade of blue. From day one it made a potentially tedious task simple, as the short overhangs, thin A-, B- and C-pillars, upright windscreen and tight turning circle ensured it was a cinch to park. If you live in the Capital, you’ll know how important that is. Exploring southwest London looking for a new basketball team was equally straightforward thanks to the frankly brilliant sat-nav and iDrive system (but let’s be honest, you’d expect nothing less from a £1175 option).
Beyond that, it did all the things expected of a BMW-era Mini, like seducing your senses with changeable interior mood lighting, the red glow around the Engine Start toggle switch, and all the little intangibles that lift the ambience over and above rivals. It was damn good to drive too: there are sports cars that don’t seat you this low to the floor; or dart into corners so positively; plus I loved the weighty steering, the slightly knuckly gearchange and the firm pressures required on all three pedals. The little turbo’d three-cylinder engine loosened up nicely too, and I never once found myself wanting four.
The only real downsides can be counted with your thumbs. For one, I always had the nagging suspicion that even this five-door Mini, with an extra 72mm between the wheels over and above the regular three-door hatch, just wasn’t quite big enough. My frame may be partly at fault, as no one could physically sit behind me, but then more often than not, the other half and I also filled the boot and ended up packing onto the backseat whenever we went away.
Fault number two? The stiff ride. My Mini wasn’t specced with the optional run-flat tyres, but it sure as heck felt like it, and more than once I double-checked for markings on the sidewalls.
Despite that, had an Italian replacement not just arrived I’d be browsing PCH and PCP options right about now. Which I hope tells you everything you need to know about how much I loved this Mini.
By Ben Pulman
Month 9 running a Mini 5dr hatch: miscommunications ongoing
This month the Mini and I have been outside London’s city limits and all the way down to Pembrokeshire for the annual Pulman family BBQ and beach-walking holiday extravaganza. The Mini was faultless on the trip, but alas I wasn’t so perfect, being chastised more than once during the week by grandmother for speaking at a pitch that was neither too high nor low for her to easily comprehend. Perhaps last month’s reported issues with the Mini’s voice recognition system could be entirely of my own making…
By Ben Pulman
Month 8 running a new Mini: communication breakdown
My blessed grandparents are getting a little deaf in their old age, but the occasional shouted conversation – subsequently repeated once or twice – is nothing like as frustrating or tedious as ‘talking’ to the Mini’s voice recognition system.
I love almost everything about iDrive – or whatever Mini re-brands it as – and dread the day BMW follows fashion and replaces the functional rotary controller with a damn touchscreen. Yet just occasionally I don’t have enough hands to steer, indicate, change gear and twiddle with that little knob down by my knees, and thus need to talk to my car instead. Problem is, it interprets orders about as well as Ronnie Corbett’s hardware store shopkeeper.
Press a button on the steering wheel and you’re offered a few pre-set inputs to get going. I proclaim ‘Destination Input’ in a booming voice, there’s no problem there, and we move onto the next step.
‘Please say the house number, followed by the street and the place,’ instructs my Mini.
I reply ‘Navigate to Gatwick Airport South Terminal’, knowing full well where Gatwick is, but wanting a route out of south London and the active traffic alerts to go with it
‘Processing your input,’ announces the lady in the dashboard. Then she checks if she’s heard me right: ‘Did you mean Cheltenham, The Gorse, 0?’
I did not, and chastise her politely. She doesn’t recognise my reply and goes quiet, leaving me looking at a sat-nav screen displaying our possible destination in Cheltenham, along with a host of other locations around the UK that don’t sound like Gatwick and definitely aren’t Gatwick. Repeating ‘No’ over and over eventually takes us back to the previous screen and we try again.
‘Please say the house number, followed by the street and the place.’
I do so.
‘Did you mean South Cerney, The Limes, 11?’
I didn’t, and tell her so – with a firm ‘No’.
‘Please say the house number, followed by the street and the place’.
I shorten our destination to ‘London Gatwick’. This time there’s no confusion. Our destination is selected. We’re ready to go… to Gelligaer. Which isn’t Gatwick, but is somewhere between Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons.
I shout a little, then we reconcile our differences and I try ‘Gatwick’.
Up pops one of those multiple-choice menus again, this time listing Rake, Wick, Crayke, Warwick, Lowick, Lairg and Winwick, but not Gatwick.
‘No!’ I then pronunciate: ‘Gat-wick’.
She bings in recognition. But nothing actually happens. We try again. ‘Gat-wick.’ Another bing. Another multiple choice menu, with Gatwick atop. Result!
‘Did you mean Gatwick?’
By Ben Pulman
Month 7 running a Mini Cooper 5dr: Mini and the art of trading places
In any long-term relationship you inevitably start to gloss over your partner’s foibles. Fearing I might be going soft on the Mini then, I sought context from CAR’s long-term fleet. No joy though – I couldn’t find a supermini to compare and contrast with. But, inevitably, Ben Miller’s M3 piqued my interest, so I fired off an email:
Fancy a swap for a week or so? Both our cars are made by BMW. They’re both blue. And mine has half the cubic capacity, half the cylinders, and half as many turbochargers. Is it half the car? You could find out, while I see if your M3 is as good as the M3 I ran a few years back. We could swap next time you’re at Heathrow if that’s easiest. Or I could come to you. Whatever suits.’
Ben didn’t reply for three weeks. And when he did, it was to claim CJ, doyen of the long-term fleet, was threatening to hand him a Skoda instead. ‘Don’t worry,’ he wrote. ‘As soon as I know whether the M3 is mine to give away, I’ll drop you a line back.’
Three months later, with no contact from Ben, and with the M3 running out of its time on the fleet, I have suspicions the swap won’t happen. Never mind – the Mini is about to depart too, so I have a plan. An open letter to CJ…
Heard you’re about to start running a Lamborghini(!). My next car is Italian, and four-wheel drive too, so fancy a swap at some point for a Fiat 500X?’
By Ben Pulman
Month 6 running a Mini 5dr hatch: the slings and arrows of urban parking
I’ve been feeling rather chuffed about the pristine state of the Mini, because despite it living on the street, there are no dents or dings (caused by myself or others). All four wheels are 100% intact too, whereas going on the mottled patina on the edge of every other alloy in my road, neighbours must park more by feel (and the screeching sound of metal) than sight.
So, feeling smug, out I went to take a photo of my unblemished wheels, to find the front left sporting a scrape. F…
By Ben Pulman
Month 5 running a Mini five-door hatch: Sir might need the next size up
I once parked a stretched Phantom outside a Tesco Express and it was wider than the shop front. My Mini, on the other hand, is no longer than the attention span of today’s teens. And so, after careful deliberation, I have decided it isn’t big enough.
How did I come to this startling conclusion? Via a thorough physical examination. The rear doors are too short and stubby, don’t open wide enough, and so the aperture for a sasquatch like me produces the same deflated feeling you get when you find you’re too big to squeeze down the slide at the park.
Inside, headroom is pretty good, but kneeroom, especially if you’re sitting behind me? In a VW Golf: not an issue. In the Mini? Well, the missus and I think of it as a Toyota iQ – more a 3+1 with an occasional jump seat than a full four-seater.
Actually, it has three rear seat belts, but the r&d team was clearly staffed by size-zero models if the width of the central squab is anything to go by. In short, we treat the five-door Mini like a three-door Mini. Perfect for two, but no more.
Yet the moment someone needs to squeeze into the back, those two wee doors mean there’s no need to slide the front seats, or even get out of the car. Which was the case in the Phantom. Arriving at Tesco I discovered the child locks were on, and so, watched by a crowd, I had to get out and open the suicide door, so the missus could get out. That’s yet to happen in the Mini.
By Ben Pulman
Month 4 running a Mini five-door hatch: ergonomic angst
I think Sir Alec Issigonis might have objected to the circular central speedo from his original Mini being beset in the 21st century with a rectangular sat-nav screen – but it is at least connected to BMW’s brilliant iDrive system.
Yes, you do occasionally have to look at the screen, but with the top of the intuitive twist/tilt/prod controller also able to be used as a touchpad, the set-up is nothing like as distracting as a full touchscreen. In short, it’s brilliant.
Alas the location of the controller itself isn’t. The narrow confines of the Mini mean it’s buried down on the transmission tunnel, squeezed in alongside the handbrake. That shouldn’t be an issue, but my Mini has the optional centre armrest. Use said armrest as intended, and not only is it impossible to change gear, but you need a fairground-style claw crane to drop down the thin gap to access the iDrive controller.
Flip the armrest up you say? Tried that, but with every use of the iDrive controller – and every shift into an even-numbered gear – you’ll bang your elbow into the underside of the armrest. This wouldn’t have happened with Mr Issigonis in charge.
By Ben Pulman
Month 3 running a Mini five-door hatch: small car vs big car
Two weeks away means the Mini and I haven’t seen much of each other recently. Not that I initially missed it, as I departed the UK after a tortuous two-and-a-half-hour journey to Heathrow. Nothing too exceptional there – except that forgetting I’m now local to LHR rather than CAR HQ someone in the office accidentally booked airport parking for me. And looking out at the rain one dark Monday morning and not fancying trudging to the bus stop and then traipsing through Hammersmith to catch the Tube, I thought I might as well drive the 13 miles.
Never again. The Mini’s light clutch might have meant I arrived at check-in without an accompanying left-leg limp, but I was still a sweaty, stressed mess that nearly missed his flight. And to keep tipping the scales against the Mini – or rather, any driving within the M25 – waiting for me and the rest of the CAR team at the other end of a ten-hour flight were four of the hottest sports cars of the year. That, and a plan that sent us to Las Vegas on a Saturday night, and then became somewhat loose thereafter…
Don’t feel too sorry for us though, as the budget decreed – especially once a chunk of it had been blown on emergency flares and drag racing tickets – we sleep two-to-a-$50-room in Motel 6s and eat $8 dinners at Denny’s. And, as you’ll know if you’ve read about our trip, then spend the penultimate evening picking up the pieces (literally) after a late-night animal strike on the SRT Hellcat gave new features editor Ben Miller a welcome to the mag he won’t forget anytime soon.
Then all too abruptly the trip was over and I was back in the UK, in a dreary car park, trying to remember where I left the Mini. Yet once the littl’un was found and on the grind back into London, all the V8s, cheap gas and good weather were forgotten as the Mini’s fitness for purpose came to the fore: that light clutch, plus the slick gearbox, deft steering, compact dimensions, decent visibility and (you might have heard this one from me before) punchy little engine make it a great city car. And the high-class interior, posh lighting and all, makes you forget it’s actually a little city car, and instead tricks your mind into treating it as just a great car. Drive a Mini and the size of it ceases to matter.
Since returning home though, the future Home Affairs Minister and I have taken a couple of long forays out of London over the Christmas holidays which have revealed a few hitherto unseen flaws in the Mini, including that both the sports seats and high-speed ride are a tad too firm, and that wind noise around the national speed limit is rather intrusive.
That, and after getting busy with a few calculations, I was dismayed to discover that the cost of fuel in the USA means the Mini is only 3p per mile cheaper to run here than a 707bhp SRT Hellcat is over the Pond. What chance a secondment to California I wonder?
By Ben Pulman
Month 2 running a Mini five-door hatch: the new three-cylinder engine
This month I’ve popped the bonnet on the Mini 5dr – which left it looking like a scalped European settler – in order to satisfy the genetic curiosity that demands every bloke has a good gawp at his engine. Along with removing spiders from the bath with a cup and a bit of loo roll, it’s one of the few ways Modern Man can feel like he’s achieved something significant. Heck, even finding the catch in the footwell and figuring it needed two pulls set the testosterone flowing.
Alas my sense of achievement was dashed when I saw the size of the damn thing. Talk about feeling inadequate – I didn’t expect the titchy triple to be that small. It’s almost dwarfed by the air filter (if, ahem, that rectangular box of plastic is the air filter…).
It’s not all bad news, mind. Proudly emblazoned across the engine cover were the words ‘TwinPower Turbo’! And the 1.5 is actually a cracker – near silent at idle, yet like Pacquiao it punches well above its weight, with peak torque from just 1250rpm. Which, when you never get beyond 3000rpm, out of third gear or above 30mph, is all you need in London.
By Ben Pulman
Month 1 running a Mini five-door hatch: the welcome
For the past three decades I’ve managed to avoid life in London – high property prices, public transport, and the proliferation of other people just put me right off. Now though, I have an SW postcode after following the future Mrs Pulman into the Capital, and that means I’ll no longer rack up 35,000 miles each year, but take the Tube to work instead.
Out with the long-distance cruisers then, and in with a book for the commute, and for evenings and weekends the New, New, New Mini, BMW’s third rejigging of the Issigonis icon. It’s not the Cooper S hot hatch though, as its talents would be wasted in London. And diesel power in an urban area just doesn’t make sense, so that makes the default choice the petrol-powered Cooper and its intriguing 1.5-litre turbocharged triple. I tell myself it’s basically the same three-pot found in the back of the i8 supercar, and fantasise that M Division just welds a pair of them together to create the M3’s straight-six.
The Mini, or at least the German interpretations, haven’t always been practical though, so CAR has opted for the first BMW-era five-door. You may have seen the TV advert where the sleepy owner accidentally climbs in the back seat – no chance of that, as the rear doors are tiny. But while it’s not an out-and-out VW Golf rival, it’s not just a regular Mini hatch with two extra apertures squeezed behind the B-pillars either. The wheelbase is 72mm longer, there’s 15mm more headroom too, a little extra interior width means three seats in the back rather than the usual two, and the boot grows by 67 litres. It doesn’t look as cool as the three-door, but it ain’t a Clubman or Countryman either. At the moment, in Cooper guise, it’s the cheapest five-door variant on sale, and at £15,855 all-in it seems reasonable value too.
Except this is a Mini, which means there are options to splurge on in the pursuit of personalisation. Ours has over £5k of extras, but in the interests of full disclosure (as American motoring hacks are wanton to profess) this is an ex-press demonstrator so I’m not to blame. The immediately noticeable additions are the Electric Blue paint (£475), the white roof and mirror caps (£0), the white stripes (£80) and the 17in ‘Roulette’ wheels (£450). Result? A decent looking hatch, and much more attractive than your average Golf.
Click here to read CAR magazine's Mini five-door road test review.
The real outlay has been inside though, where the 8.8in infotainment and sat-nav screen accounts for £1175 of spend, and the Chili Pack another £2250. The latter brings sports seats (with height adjustment for the passenger), dual-zone climate control, cruise control, dusk-sensing auto lights, LED foglights, a multitude of extra storage cubbyholes, floor mats, white indicator lenses, and a few other odds and sods, none of which appears to have anything to do with ‘Chili’. I’ll detail the rest in a future report.
Meantime, as for impressions, so far I’ve only driven it nine miles back to our flat, stuck a parking pass in the window and left it alone on the mean streets of Barnes – but the engine is punchy and the interior feels genuinely special at night, while the ride is a tad tough (so thank goodness it doesn’t have the optional run-flats) and there’s no way I’m going to get near the official fuel consumption figure around London.
By Ben Pulman