A few months ago BMW brought out a new version of the MINI with a 72cm longer wheelbase and five doors. It’s 161cm longer overall at just under four metres. BMW NZ were kind enough to supply Auto Clique with a five door MINI Cooper for our trip to the 2015 Leadfoot Festival.

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In the car park at BMZ NZ headquarters amongst several black and silver X4s and X5s was the smiling face of a bright red MINI. First impressions are good. It’s recognisably a MINI, but also manages to look modern and fresh. The model tested came with the optional 17″ alloys over the standard 16s. Closer up you start to notice the many details and design touches. Little flourishes here and there, MINI logos, chrome trims. Inside it’s quite different to any other car I’ve driven. Everything is where you would expect to find it, but like the outside there are little extra touches everywhere. The speakers, door handles, instruments and central display screen are all contained in circular housings. The light switches are toggles with little guards in between. The fuel gauge is a series of lights to the right of the speedo, rev counter nestled in to its left. Something I noticed after getting in and out of the car several times is that just for a second after the driver’s door is closed, a little MINI appears on the speedo display, winks its headlight, then disappears. Nice touch! It’s little things like this that endear you to the car.

The ignition is keyless, just have the key somewhere in the car and you’re ready to go. Under the screen is a start/stop toggle switch which glows with a soft red light. Depress the clutch and it glows a little brighter as if to say “press me”.

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In first and second gears the 1.5 litre three cylinder turbo gives a lovely growl as you accelerate. Above that it’s pretty quiet, drowned out by tyre noise on the usual NZ chipped roads. Occasionally you can hear a very faint turbo whistle as boost builds, followed by a little pshhh as it dumps the boost. Quoted power is 100kW, 0-100 in 7.9 seconds. It’s the same engine used in the i8 hybrid and some BMW 2 series models, though their versions have more power.

The ride is firm and the car feels solid and well built. It soaks up the bumps well and is never crashy or harsh, even through the occasional pothole. I headed out to the motorway, changed to 6th gear, set the cruise control to 100kph and cruised along. I’m not sure if the car uses the brakes when on cruise but it certainly holds the speed on the steep hills, both up and down. One thing I liked a lot was the buttons on the steering wheel for adjusting the cruise speed. Press lightly and it adjusts up or down by 1kph. Press a little harder and it jumps to the nearest multiple of 10kph, then press hard again and it jumps by 10. This makes it really easy to adjust speed quickly going into different speed zones, letting the cruise do the work. The cruise control can also be used to set a maximum speed. Try to go over this and it gently limits the throttle, stopping you from jeopardising your licence.

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The steering on the motorway felt a little twitchy – maybe because in anything but sport mode it’s pretty light, but I found myself making little corrections to the wheel quite frequently.

While on the motorway I started tinkering with the controls. The MINI has a large central screen and a control pad in the centre console near the handbrake. There’s a knob which turns and pushes left, right and down, plus a back button and a home button, making it intuitive to navigate through the menu screens. My car didn’t have the $2700 optional sat nav so the options were mainly for the stereo, and turning functions on and off such as daytime running lights.

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The car has three modes: Sport, Normal and Eco, selected by flicking the gear lever surround left or right. Each mode changes the feel of the car and changes the display settings on the main screen, the small screen by the speedo, and the LED central ring. The LED ring lights up in different colours to give information depending on the mode and function being used. In eco mode it glows green when you’re driving efficiently. In sport mode it can be configured as a rev counter. When you turn up the stereo it becomes a volume indicator, and when you adjust the aircon it glows from red to blue to show the selected temperature. This is all secondary to the displays in the controls themselves.

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The MINI also has voice control. Press a button on the steering wheel and talk to the car. I had mixed success with this. 80% of the time it worked but, I suspect because of my Yorkshire accent, it didn’t always get it right and seemed to default to trying to call someone!

As I was just cruising on the motorway, I flicked the car to green mode. This limits the throttle response, forcing gentler acceleration, lightens the steering and changes the displays. It also shows you little symbols like a foot pressing a pedal when you’re being too enthusiastic with the throttle. The MINI tells you on the speedo digital display what gear you should be using for optimum efficiency and gives you a little green bar graph showing how efficient you are. It also tells you how many extra kilometres you’ve gained by your eco driving style. On top of this there’s MINImalist mode. This is a bit of a gimmick but it basically trains you to drive more efficiently. It imagines there is a goldfish in a bowl on the roof of the car and puts this in a graphic on the main display. You have to drive in such a way that the goldfish stays happy. You’re rated up to five stars on acceleration, anticipation and gear selection. Every time you gain a star it appears above the bowl, the goldfish jumps up and eats it, and smiles a little more. For a while I tried to keep the goldfish happy but after a while I got frustrated with it removing stars every time I climbed a hill, and I started to be quite abusive to poor Goldie. I decided to switch him off.

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Finally after a long motorway cruise I reached some twisty roads. It was time to test the famous MINI handling. I put the car into sport mode and immediately the steering felt heavier and the throttle much more responsive. For the first few corners I took it easy, but as I started to get used to the way the car handled I got more and more confident. This car wants you to have fun! It corners beautifully. It’s a relatively tall car but you don’t notice that. You can throw it into a corner much faster than you would expect and it just goes where you want. A couple of times I pushed the car to the point where I expected it to understeer but it never did.

After a short while I stopped thinking about it and just enjoyed the experience, throwing the car into corners and listening to that second gear burble as I used the throttle to pull the car out of each corner. I suddenly realised I had a big grin on my face. When I reached a steep uphill section of road it was just as much fun, but I started to find myself wishing for just a little more power to feed in when coming out of the uphill corners. Going downhill was just as much fun. The brakes are good and didn’t show any sign of overheating after a long and enthusiastic descent. I also realised that I had been putting in a fair amount of effort to stop myself sliding around in my seat, and the seats would benefit from more side support. Cloth/leather sports seats are available as a $2,200 option.

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After the twisty sections I cruised along for a bit then pulled over to take a few photos. When I took my foot off the clutch I discovered the stop/start function.

After another couple of mountain roads I was really liking the MINI, but definitely thinking it needed more power. I pulled up to my accommodation for the night and decided to have had a good look around the car. The boot isn’t huge but it’s big enough for a reasonable amount of shopping. It also has a variable boot floor which can either be removed for more space or left in to create a hidden extra compartment. There’s no spare wheel or jack because the Hankook tyres the car comes with are run-flats. My car had a neat inbuilt warning triangle and first aid kit, which together are a $150 option.

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The rear seat backs fold flat and are 60/40 split. There are hooks in the boot area, lots of loops and fasteners, and a cargo net stored underneath. Front and rear seats have ISOfix mounts for child seats and fasteners for rear straps. There’s an airbag disable switch for the front passenger seat. There are cupholders front and rear.

In the front there’s a USB port, charger port and aux input for your music and a little net which could hold your iPod or phone. There’s also a phone charger pocket in the arm rest. The stereo is good and has decent bass. The only thing I didn’t like about the dash was that the volume knob for the stereo is also a push on-off switch, with the usual symbol printed on it. So when you rotate the knob the symbol is wonky. I know it’s silly but it’s one of those little OCD type things that kept catching my eye.

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There’s ample leg room in the back for me and I’m a fairly average 177cm tall. The car would definitely seat four adults comfortably. As with most cars this size, five would be pushing it.

I was impressed to find that the glove box was cooled by the air conditioning. Rear parking sensors are standard, as well as rain sensing wipers and auto headlights.  Speaking of the lights, they are excellent – really bright and they light up the pitch-black NZ country roads well.

On the way home I took the MINI through some back roads which weren’t as mountainous as the previous day and I started to wonder if I had been wrong about the power. When you’re not going up and down steep hills there’s plenty of power for having lots of fun within the NZ speed limits. Better seats are definitely needed though. I also gave the brakes a very thorough test which saved the life of a small rabbit. They slowed the car quickly with no drama and ABS didn’t kick in.

Brand / ModelEnginePowerFuel L/100km0-100 km/hPrice Highest to Lowest
BMW 116i5 door1.6l 4cylturbo100kW / 220Nm5.78.7 sec$45,000
Audi A1 TFSI Sport (DSG)1.4 4cyl turbo90kW /200Nm5.39.0 sec$43,300
Mazda 3 5 door2.5l 4cyl138kW / 250Nm6.57.8 sec$38,395
Holden Cruze SRI-z1.6L 4cyl132kW / 230Nm7.98.6 sec$37,990
Subaru Impreza 5door2.0l 4cyl110kW / 196Nm7.18.6 sec$37,990
MINI Cooper 5 Door1.5L 3cylturbo100kW / 220Nm4.28.2 sec$37,200
Hyundai i30 5 door1.6l 4cyl88kW / 156Nm6.710.9sec$36,490
Ford Focus hatchback 5 door2.9l 4cyl125kW / 202Nm6.49.1 sec$36,340
Suzuki Kizashi 4 door2.4l 4cyl131kW / 230Nm7.97.8 sec$35,990
VW Golf TSi1.4 4cyl turbo90kW/2090Nm5.29.3 sec$32,990
ProsCons
  • Excellent handling
  • Feels solid and decent quality
  • Enough space to comfortably seat four adults
  • Nice design touches everywhere
  • Trains you to drive more economically
  • Seats need more side support
  • Not a lot of luggage space
  • More power would be nice on hilly roads
  • Steering a bit light on motorways
  • Some of the features a little gimmicky

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What do we think?

Overall this is a great car and I actually started to think about how good it would be as a car for my family. It’s solid and well built, comfortable, decent on fuel, but reasonably quick and great fun to drive. It has some great touches, some gimmicky ones, and some nice details. Over the 650km I did in the MINI this weekend it grew on me more and more. I guess the looks are down to personal preference but it doesn’t look like anything else on the market, which is a good thing in my book. MINI will also sell you a long list of accessories to personalise the car to your taste.

For a family with very young children the boot space would be limiting – I don’t think the vast amount of stuff you need to cart around for a baby would fit. But for most people it’s a great package.

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Vehicle TypeFront Engine, FWD Hatchback
Starting Price$ 37,200 NZD
Tested Price$ 42,200 NZD
EnginePetrol 1.5L 3 cylinder turbo intercooled
Transmission6 speed manual
0 – 100 kph8.2 seconds
Kerb Weight1145 kg
Length x Width x Height3982 x 1727 x 1425 mm
Cargo Capacity278 L
Fuel Tank40 L
Fuel EfficiencyCombined – 4.2 L/100km
ANCAP Safety RatingsNot yet released
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I love everything about cars! Driving, looking at them, modifying. It's great to see what people do with cars, the different car cultures. If I was rich, my garage would be bigger than my house!

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