Test Drive: Mini Cooper S 5 Door image

Mini – you know, the iconic city car brand introduced by Sir Alec Issigonis in the UK and revitalized by the world’s largest premium automaker, BMW – is in the midst of a critical generational change.

That means the core model – the Mini hatchback – has received its third iteration if we count just the modern incarnations (the original had reached Mk IV and countless variants). And because the German automaker has high expectations from the British life-style marquee, it also complimented just a few months later the core offerings with a never-before seen five-door variant. This particular offering is the subject of our test drive and let’s see if it lives up to its heritage and future aspirations. The Mini hatch 5 door has already been released in its core European region and now just awaits Santa’s month to begin deliveries in the United States.

Design, Interior and Gadgets
Speaking of heritage, let’s start with the bad things, just to get them out of the system. I agree to the necessity of the five-door variant and as a family guy I really think this model could get the edge over the traditional hatch.

What I don’t like is the ongoing Mini procedure – each passing generation is less personal and individual as it tries too much to emulate the original’s “bulldog” stance. Being retro is cool but some sense of passage of time, of evolution is still needed – the exterior design seems to be entrenched in a time loophole. It’s not bad, don’t be judgmental – but in my opinion the One or Cooper variants seem more in touch with the core Mini recipe. While overall the Cooper S is very appealing, my main concern is the front design, where the model should stand out – the lower “lip” seems somehow forced, just to differentiate the sporty variant from the lower-level One. Luckily, the lights have a neat trick up their luminous “sleeve” – the daylight driving lights are integrated in a circular model, with a subtle nod towards the well-known ring motif of the BMW cars.

At the back, no complaints though – the Cooper S has a muscular stance, with the great looking double-tip exhaust sitting in the middle and saying it’s ready for business. From the side, the five-door hatch keeps the usual Mini trademarks – small, upright windshield and the possibility to have a different color for the top. The back doors are smallish and well integrated – in my opinion the designers did here a better job than with the very odd Clubman version of the previous generation. Speaking of which, at 4005 mm in length, the new Mini 5 Door in its Cooper S iteration (there are differences among variants – the One is smaller than the Cooper and Cooper S) is the largest model in the family – it has 72 additional millimeters when talking about the wheelbase and a 161 mm longer body. It’s still not the largest Mini though, an honor bestowed upon the three-door Mini Paceman Cooper S (4115 mm, even more than the Countryman).

That few millimeters translate to the interior of course. And the biggest advantage is that you can (rather) easily use the back seat now. It won’t win any space competitions but the small back doors really ease the access and two adults can sit comfortably in the back. Or if you prefer, you can sit three children that don’t use the special seats anymore. Even as the roof is sloped towards the back, the headroom is more than adequate for persons of average height and if just two adults are seated they won’t have any complaints about interior width either. Knee space is trickier, especially if you have a long driver up front – but as many Mini drivers are beautiful and blonde (or brunette, or redhead) there’s a chance you won’t find this issue a deal breaker. Trunk space is also way bigger than on the three-door (211 vs. 278 liters, that can be extended to 941) and you have a split 60/40 backrest. So, every attribute has been met for the Mini 5 door to also appeal to young families that have a kid (or two). Up front, no problems can be found even by people with a larger than average height, as the seats in the Cooper S sit firmly very low, as close to the ground as possible – giving you headroom to spare. Speaking of the front seats – ours were extremely comfortable and offered a firm lateral grip and although they were rather short, the front part could be extended easily.

The dashboard keeps the now traditional T-shaped appearance and huge circular, centrally-located instrument panel, even though its functionality is now entirely directed towards XXI century features. Coming up to the interior, you’ll immediately notice that it’s never been more crowded than today – especially if you count such new amenities as the head-up display. Some of them are highly functional (such as the latter system) and very useful, others not so much. For example, right at the tip of your fingers (with your palm resting on the gear knob) sits the firefighter red engine start/stop switch – it’s a great position and becomes natural in a few moments. Not so easy to see or interact with are the commands for the infotainment system, even though they were taken with slim modifications from the BMW models – they’re positioned way too low, even below the parking break lever – to use them safely when driving.

On the other side, the airline-inspired switches keep you connected with the Mini heritage among the vast array of modern systems. And boy, they outdid themselves on this one – you even get the touchpad from the latest BMW iDrive or the touch-sensitive one to six radio buttons. While many systems are mere gimmicks, designed to appeal to the younger generation – the huge circular ring doubles as an area where different lights appear to signal different functions – you get a luminous rev counter, a visual feedback when changing cabin temperature, etc. – there are those that would make any family guy/gal choose the car in a heart beat. With Mini being positioned ever-higher on the ladder and with premium status aspirations, you get (not free, of course) perks such as a heated windshield (great during winter times) a head-up display (with colors and a wide range of information) or an adaptive cruise control.

Engine, Transmission and Handling
While the interior can give you mixed feelings – not knowing if it’s directed towards the Gangnam Style generation or wants to appeal to more serious, concerned young families (my guess is it strives to secure clients from both archetypes) – there’s an area that you can’t go wrong with. In the tested configuration – the range topping (except for the John Cooper Works versions) gasoline Cooper S, the Mini (be it three or five-door) hunts those who utterly enjoy driving. Jumping from the three-door One First model that only delivers 75 horsepower, the Cooper S five-door has the go-kart idea stretched to the max, and a little beyond. It gives you a 192 horsepower engine that sends 300 Nm of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed manual, or in our case, a more comfortable and speedy six-speed automatic.

With our test done in the unnatural days between autumn and winter, when the temperature doesn’t know where it belongs to – single or double-digit Celsius degrees, the front tires sometimes struggled to compete with the power and outside weather to find that all-mighty grip. That’s because with the six-speed auto you get to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 6.8 seconds (6.9 for the manual) and with the adaptive setup (Mini now offers “Green”, “Medium” and “Sport”) you can balance comfortable and fuel-efficient city driving with aggressive mountain hill climbs. The small Mini, in its Cooper S is a true chameleon (actually that was valid for the previous generation as well): you can drive your kid to school and then do your shopping in the city, driving relaxed and comfortable (sort off, the suspension setup is on the hard side) and without wasting too much fuel. Then you can go on the racetrack or on a secluded mountain road and let the inner race “devil” out – you just flip the switch from Green to Sport in two moves. I did just that and it’s intensely satisfying to have a car that’s well behaved, a true city dweller and then in just a few instances transform it into a kidney-kicking small bomb. The Medium setting is also great for highway driving – it’s a great compromise between power and fuel efficiency. That latter section is as good as it gets when you have a six-speed auto and almost 200 horsepower thanks to the changes the electronics make when you switch modes – in Green you won’t get all the car’s oomph unless you hit the pedal to the metal. There’s a very sturdy Start/Stop system on board, which further lowers the wasted gas level when you commute.

Mini – well, actually BMW engineers have to do a lot here – is among the few mass-market brands that delivers an adaptive drive system that is… adaptive. When in Green mode everything is serene – you push the gas pedal and it’s reaction is soft, the adapters are more relaxed (not all the way, though, even such mechanical wonders have limits) or the steering wheel is light. Take the gearbox into Sport mode, push the switch for the overall Sport settings and you’ll wake up the storm – hard steering, hard dampers, lightning quick (for a traditional automatic) gear changes and the sweet music of a fast-revving engine. On top of that – when the exhaust is at the nominal temperature you can play with the “gasses” – there’s a voice out there in the back that signals your gear changes, accelerations and decelerations. It makes life so much fun and you can almost imagine yourself in a night rally with exhaust flames. All that without being a rally driver. It’s almost a feeling that I believed to be lost in the never-ending string of technologically advanced cars that encircle you in a protective cushion that kills off all your driving passion. This Mini is filled with technology as well, but for two reasons – to make it very efficient and to make it utterly enjoyable and heart pleasing. It’s a car in which I had more fun than in many advanced vehicles that gave me four or five hundred horsepower.

Likes/Dislikes
Pro: Great chassis, great engine, massive fun overall. The added back doors make it very usable for a small family. The host of systems give you perks that were reserved to the BMW big brother. Good overall fuel economy if we take into account that you’re driving a 200 HP, automated, gasoline bomb.

Against: Price and price of optional equipment. Functionality sacrificed on the altar of retro-like design. The back doors are very small, making it rather hard to enter the car if you’re a six feet (1,85 meters) guy.

Price
Starting price – Mini Cooper 5-Door – 21,824 EUR / Mini Cooper S 5-Door – 26,412
Tested Car – Mini Cooper S 5-Door Automatic w. installed options – 41,503 EUR

Engine: 2L turbo gasoline, direct injection, intercooler (1,998 cc)
Power: 192 HP (141 kW) at 4,700-6,000 rpm
Torque: 300 Nm at 1,250-4,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Dimensions: length – 4,005 mm, width – 1,727 mm, height – 1,425 mm, wheelbase – 2,567 mm
Weight: 1,315 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 44L
Trunk Capacity: 278L / 941L

0 – 100 km/h: 6,8s
Top Speed: 230 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 7,9L/100 km, highway – 4,9L/100 km, average – 6L/100 km

Rating:
4.2 / 5

Photos: Gabi Gogiu