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Latest report: Mini Cooper 5-Door Hatch long-term test

Date: 27 September 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Mini Cooper 5-Door Hatch
P11D price: £17,825
As tested: £24,760
Official consumption: 51.4mpg
Our average consumption: 43.1mpg
Mileage: 3,436

3rd Report - Taking control

When Mini's parent company, BMW, first introduced its iDrive infotainment system, pairing a multimedia screen with a rotary controller, in 2001, many were sceptical. 'What was wrong with just pressing buttons?', they said - and some would still agree today. However, following the introduction of Apple's iPad a few years later, BMW turned out to have been ahead of the game, as carmakers rushed to equip their own vehicles with tablet-style displays. 

Mini Screen Pic

The downside with many rival systems is they are touchscreen only, making them difficult to operate on the move. In contrast, while BMW's screen can now also be touch operated  - and thanks to the firm's head start on development is one of the sharpest and most responsive on the market - the rotary control is still in place. As fitted in our Mini, it provides the best of both worlds. There's all the convenience of the touchscreen when stationary, but where rivals require you to keep reaching across and jabbing at the screen while driving - which can be tricky and, more importantly, forces you to take your eyes off the road - the rotary control, after not too much practice, allows you to intuitively operate functions you need on the move, like the sat-nav and sound system, with only the occasional glance across. Overall, you spend far more time with your eyes on the road ahead - a real boost for fleets that are rightly worried about driver distractions.

The controller is especially useful in our Mini, as there's plenty to control. With the optional Navigation Plus pack, features include traffic details, Apple CarPlay and Mini Connected. The latter offers news and weather updates, among other things, though these are restricted on the move.

Mini Controller Pic

Unfortunately, there's one feature of our Mini the rotary control can't help with - the front-centre armrest. This is also part of the Navigation Plus pack - presumably as it includes a wireless phone charger - and is the most annoying feature of the car. Fold it down, and it gets in the way of your arm when you use the handbrake or gearlever, and if you fold it away, you elbow it when you put the handbrake on. If this was my own car, I'd be tempted to break out a hacksaw.

2nd Report - Mini about town

Although most small cars these days have no trouble handling long motorway trips, if you're considering one as a fleet car it's likely to be with plenty of urban motoring in mind. Happily, in its first few weeks on our fleet, the Mini has made driving around town a pleasure.

Largely, this is because of the low-speed driving experience. The 136hp engine is enough to go 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds, which would have been considered hot hatch performance not so long ago. It means you can really whizz away from the lights, and there's no trouble nipping into gaps in traffic.

Mini Town

Add in highly agile handling - with suspension that keeps the car nicely flat on those tricky roundabouts - and a sports car-like, quick-throw gear change, and even the most mundane shopping trip can be a hoot, with the car seemingly encouraging you to treat the streets of wherever you are like the Monaco Grand Prix track - within safe and legal limits obviously.

Once you get to the shops, there are rear sensors to help avoid any bumps when parking, although a side effect of the squarish retro windows is good all round visibility anyway, while the mirrors, although small, provide a surprisingly wide field of view. And although the boot, at 278 litres, may be smaller than some supermini rivals, it should be enough for most grocery shops. If you do buy too much, the advantage of having the five-door model is it's easy to place any extra bags on the back seats. 

The only thing to watch out for is when you pull away. There's no collar to lift on the six-speed manual gearbox to engage reverse gear - you just firmly push the lever all the way to the left. The advantage is it's quicker to select reverse when manoeuvring, but the downside is if you forget and go for first in a hurry you could end up shooting backwards by mistake. I've only done this once so far and caught it on the brakes quickly, but what the people behind me at the traffic lights must have thought, I dread to think.

1st Report - Mini makes a big entrance

Since the first BMW Mini was introduced in 2001, it's always been a supermini with a strong emphasis on style. And if you didn't already know that, it likely wouldn't take more than a few seconds with the newest member of our long-term fleet - one of the recently facelifted third-generation models in Cooper 5-Door Hatch form - before you did.

Approach from the front, and you'll notice the distinctive new headlight design, with the daytime running lights forming a ring around the main headlight. Approach from the rear and things are even more distinctive, as the light cluster has been arranged in a Union Flag shape. Then climb aboard, and you'll find eye-catching touches like the overlapping, steering column-mounted retro speedometer, rev counter and fuel gauge, rows of metallic, flight deck-style switches and a large circular ring around the infotainment screen that lights up in different colours depending on what functions are enabled. 

Mini Welcome Side

And that's only talking about standard equipment. Add in the options our test car has come loaded with and things get even more modish. Like the John Cooper Works Chili Pack, which adds exterior features such as a rear spoiler, bodykit and 17in black alloy wheels, with the latter a personal early favourite. This pack also adds a John Cooper Works-branded steering wheel and door sills, and a feature where the Mini logo is projected from the driver's door mirror onto the pavement - which caused me to double-take the first time I unlocked the car at night. Our car also has the Navigation Plus Pack fitted, which ups the screen to 8.8in, and includes, among other options, an illuminated Union Flag motif on the dashboard in line with that on the rear lights.

Add all this together - in combination with the eye-catching Starlight Blue paint - and the overall effect isn't subtle. Put it this way - if you're a private investigator, or a funeral director, or have any job where discretion is required, then this probably isn't going to be the company car choice for you. But if you're OK with a bit of razzmatazz and are just hoping to stand out in the office car park, then it's mission accomplished. And even though my personal tastes tend towards the more discreet, I can't deny that when our Mini first rolled off the transporter it made quite an impression - it'll be interesting to see if it wears off at all as the months pass.

Mini Welcome Interior

Under the bonnet, the Cooper has a 1.5-litre 136hp petrol engine, which sends drive to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. In official tests, this achieves a combined fuel economy of 51.4mpg and of course it will be interesting to see how close our car can get to this figure during our time with it.

Along with a reputation for style, Minis are also known for being good fun to drive, and that's something else I'm keen to test - particularly with the optional adaptive suspension fitted. Another expectation is a high level of build quality, and that certainly rings true on first impressions - everything inside feels very solid. Of course, time will be the judge of that.

The only early note of caution concerns something you may have noticed a lot of so far - optional equipment. This does have an impact on cost. From a basic P11D of £17,825, the extras fitted to our Mini take it close to £25,000, which however you shake it is a lot for a supermini, even a premium one. Can it make sense to pay that much? Well, that's another thing I'm looking forward to finding out over the coming months.

Mini Welcome Rear



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