I still remember the day I first saw the “new” Mini “in the metal”. It was in the brand new Mini section of our local BMW dealership and there was a large crowd of people huddled around it, plus a lot of noses squashed up against the showroom window. Such was the interest in the modern take on one of Britain’s most famous cars.
My first comment was that it looked like the original Mini to which someone had attached an air line and pumped it up to an over-inflated size.
Well, with the latest model, the Mini has grown a little more. At 3.82 metres this Mini is only marginally shorter than a Ford Fiesta. The longer bonnet is camouflaged by mounting the windscreen well forward.
Not only has the Mini grown in length, it has also sprouted two more doors, if you want them. Yes, a slightly longer (161mm longer to be precise) five-door version of the Mini Cooper D is available for a £500 premium over the three-door I tested.
With its bigger size this new Mini does offer more space. But, it is not the packaging miracle that made the original Issigonis-designed Mini famous.
You certainly won’t be constantly banging elbows with your passengers, like you used to do in the original. But, despite its greater dimensions, space in the back is still a bit limited on the three-door car. Ideal for children, it is a bit of a squeeze for bigger adults. The five-door is the option here, as I am told that the extra length really does give you more space in the back.
Luggage space, too – while greater than the previous model – is best described as adequate rather than generous. With the back seats up there is enough space for a reasonable supermarket shop, or for a fun weekend away (the five-door has 32% more space).
Of course, where the new Minis have a huge edge on the original is versatility. That big rear hatch and the ability to fold the seats down means you can expand the luggage space three-and-a-half times when you don’t have rear-seat passengers.
Perhaps the most important attribute of the Mini is fun and the latest model keeps this to the fore. Although new from the ground up, it still has the cheeky Mini looks, despite (or maybe because of) the caricatured giant-sized rear lights. You simply could not confuse this for anything other model.
The interior, too, has strong echoes of the original Mini with features like that big round display in the middle of the dashboard, looking something like the big central speedometer of its famous predecessor. But the real speedometer has moved on this latest model and is now right in front of the driver, with the rev counter neatly integrated into it.
I found the driving position just about ideal with comfortable, supportive seats and the improved layout for instruments. It all works very well, with only one minor niggle. I found it difficult to cancel the return-to-centre indicators without inadvertently switching them on to the opposite direction.
You get the choice of three driving modes, adding “economy” and “sport” to the default settings. In “sport” the car is notably sharper and more responsive, giving something of the legendary Mini go-kart driving style. Here, again, Mini couldn’t resist injecting a bit of humour and, when you select this mode, the graphic on the dashboard shows a picture of a go-kart and a rocket shooting from it! If that isn’t enough, a mood-lighting colour band around the display changes colour, green for economy and red for sport.
If a Mini is all about fun, then it must also be fun to drive and the Mini Cooper D assuredly is.
Although the test car has the new three-cylinder 1.5-litre diesel under the bonnet, it is responsive and really does offer performance befitting the “Cooper” name. As so often with diesels it feels quicker than the 9.2 second 0-62mph time might suggest.
Although it is admirably quiet inside you can just make out, under acceleration, the muffled diesel engine note from under the bonnet. For some that rather less than sporty sound will be a small price to pay for the real-world potential of 50+ mpg and, if you do a high mileage pounding motorways, the diesel will probably make financial sense.
If you clock up less miles, you might find the cheaper petrol-engined Cooper fits the bill with its faster performance (7.9 seconds 0-62 mph) and a still impressive promise of economy.
It really was quite horrible weather on my long-distance drive, but, despite torrential sideways rain, I felt very confident behind the wheel of the Cooper D as it ate up the miles. It was also reassuring that the cruise control was intelligent enough to disengage instantly when I hit a stream of water running over the carriageway and aquaplaned for a fraction of a second.
When the weather moderated, I was able to enjoy the Cooper’s handling and responses on the curves and crests of some favourite hill B-roads. It is hard not to have a spreading grin on your face as the Mini Cooper D just grips the road and turns in with gusto into every twist and turn. It is a really entertaining drive.
Even with the current fall in oil prices, motoring today has to be as much about economy as driving enjoyment. With my foul-weather dual carriageway dash, plus driving around town and on country roads. I clocked up an impressive overall average on the trip computer of 48.2mpg.
It may look remarkably like its immediate predecessors, but this new Mini does take things a significant step forward. It may have lost the original Mini’s virtues of ultra-compact dimensions and wizard packaging, but it still has bags of character and that all-important fun.
There is a definite feeling of maturity about this latest Mini it is more complete and more refined. Combine this with the traditional Mini values and you have a car that is bound to extend the Mini’s popularity around the world.
Mini Cooper D 3-door
Carbon dioxide emissions: 92 g/km
VED band n/a
Combined fuel economy 80.7 mpg
Top speed: 127 mph
0-62: 9.2 secs
Power 116 bhp
Engine size 1496cc diesel
Boot capacity 211/731 litres (back seats up/folded)