The characterful Mini hatch has been selling in droves ever since BMW took over the iconic British marque in 2001. In fact, one in every 40 cars that was sold in the UK last year was a Mini. But despite the seemingly unstoppable march of the cute family car, it's rare to see two identical Mini's on the road at any one time thanks to a clever personalisation process and the creative nature of its customers. New Mini is bigger and more mature than the two generations that preceded it but has it lost some of its quirky adolescent charms? AOL Cars investigates...
What is it?
A brand new start for the humble Mini, with a hatchback line up that features re-worked underpinnings, brand new engines and a long-awaited avalanche of on board tech that propels it into 2014. Both diesel and petrol engines are offered on the hatchback but we've decided to grab keys to the Mini Cooper S - the most powerful model currently in the range - and take it for a good old blast along the twisty roads of Mallorca.
What's under the bonnet?
A new 189bhp, 2.0-litre turbocharged BMW lump resides underneath the slightly less 'bubbly' bonnet of the new model and we can happily report that it is an absolute peach. Thumb the neat fighter jet style toggle switch and the lively engine awakens from its slumber. Slide the new rotating cuff beneath the gear lever into 'Sport' mode, slip the Cooper S into gear and nail the accelerator for near instantaneous grip and go-kart-like propulsion. The turbocharger whines, the waste gate audibly 'exhales' with every gear change and the sleek twin chrome tailpipes burble, crackle and spit on the overrun. In pure aural terms, the engine is magnificent but it also possesses a bite that suitably matches the bark. There's plenty of pull throughout the rev range and in 'Sport' mode, throttle response is impressive. Fuel consumption was noticeably high when attacking the smooth, twisting switchbacks of Mallorca's cyclist-infested mountain routes but there is a 'Green' mode for those who do not wish to make such swift progress nor visit the petrol pumps every couple of hours.
Previous generations of Mini have always offered a fairly spirited drive but have fallen down in the cabin quality department. Although the funky dials we're pleasing to the eye, they often felt cheap and the same could be said of many of the interior fixtures and fittings. The latest offering has ramped up the premium feel ten-fold and this is highlighted by a fantastic new media system. The 8.8-inch display - that now sits where the jumbo speedometer used to - is an a optional extra that should most definitely be ticked. Surrounding this new display is an LED ring of ambient lighting that does everything from acting as a rev counter to pulsing a cool blue when an incoming phone call is detected on a paired Bluetooth device. Everything inside feels better put together, the seats are more supportive and there's even a little bit of extra head and legroom for rear passengers. Bog standard models don't quite pack the same tech punch as the more expensive machines but they still get Bluetooth connectivity and a whole host of new active and passive safety features. If Mini classes the current Audi A1 as its main rival, the brand can sleep easy safe in the knowledge that the marque now boasts an interior that goes head-to-head with Audi in terms of quality and arguably surpasses it in the fun stakes.
The hatchback and city car market is currently thriving as customers can visit the showrooms of Fiat, Audi, Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen and peruse similar propositions. The compact hot hatch market is a little different, though, as only Fiat and Alfa really offer similar levels of boutique chic and performance in the now ageing Abarth 500 and MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde models. Customers not too fussed about snazzy interiors should try the Ford Fiesta ST, an extremely accomplished and affordable hot hatch in its own right.
What's it like to drive?
Speak to anyone who currently owns a Mini Cooper S and they'll likely wax lyrical about the 'go-kart' handling and grin inducing engine note, but enquire about ride quality and answers will range from 'slightly harsh' to 'spine shattering-ly awful'. The Cooper S has always been firm so an entirely revised suspension system (complete with optional adaptive dampers) is welcome news. The new S hasn't lost the planted nature that allowed it to catapult around corners with little in the way of understeer, but now it crests potholes and blemishes in the road surface without jaw-clattering consequences. The new set-up is well judged and, aided by improved interior noise reduction, actually makes it a comfortable - if slightly thirsty - motorway cruiser.
The AOL Cars verdict
The new Mini may be bigger than ever before (we can hear the groans from classic Mini fans already) but it is also better in every way. The cabin now looks and feels like a proper premium product yet driver interaction hasn't been left by the wayside. Take the Cooper S for a blast along your favourite B-road and don't be surprised if you grin like a loon as the clever rev-matching system blips the throttle on the downshifts and giggle when the exhausts emit a cheeky burble and pop from the rear. It's just great fun from the minute you slide into the driver's seat to the moment you park it up.
Model: Mini Cooper S Manual
Price: £18,650 OTR
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged
Max speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
MPG: 48.7 mpg (Combined)