Trim, taut and terrific: okay, that’s old hat, but nothing could better describe the new Mini Cooper. A member of the 2014 Mini Hatch family, the Cooper, carries the famous name with aplomb.

The new hatchback comes in three versions – Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper S – with the choice of two petrol (three and four-cylinder) and one diesel engine (three-cylinder) attached to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. 

The new Mini Hatch has its ups and downs . . . in the nicest possible way. It is larger than before in every way, cabin space is up, it will take more luggage and prices are down – by $5000 in the case of the Mini Cooper test vehicle at $26,650, plus on-road costs.

More power comes from fewer cylinders of a smaller engine which in turn is cheaper to run – the good news just keeps on coming.

DESIGN 

The Europeans love tradition, so it’s no surprise the Mini Hatch shows all the visual characteristics of the 55-year-old British-born motor car. Our red test vehicle with its black contrasting roof harked back to very early days of the Mini. 

A hexagonal radiator grille, side indicator surrounds, circular headlights, upright rear light clusters and the black detailing around the bottom edge of the body are all classic Mini cues. The radiator grille ribs and a tailgate handle in white aluminium and a high-gloss black bumper strip, as well as chrome trim for the exhaust tailpipe, plus standard 15-inch Heli-spoke alloy wheels pitch a more modern message.

Inside, our Mini came in hazy grey, carbon black and quality cloth upholstery for the four seats. Front seats feature manual adjustment, including height.

The sports leather steering wheel, adjustable for height and rake, incorporates multifunction controls for operating cruise control and audio / telephone system, which is typical of a modern car.

There’s all the latest connectivity kit; including standard Bluetooth hands-free interface, and four-speaker audio system with USB input and an auxiliary jack for external music devices.

The test vehicle also carried an optional visual boost, which included a 6.5-inch display screen for the central information unit and a centre console mounted controller. Functions are controlled via a new knob and buttons in the centre console. Also new is an LED light ring, an option for Mini Cooper, surrounding the display which changes colour depending on the function selected.

ENGINE / TRANSMISSION

The Mini Cooper Hatch three-cylinder 1.5 turbocharged petrol engine puts out maximum power of 100kW between 4500-6000rpm and 220Nm of torque all the way from 1250-4000rpm, the latter up to 230Nm with overboost.

For the first time, Mini TwinPower turbo technology is called on to include direct fuel injection and variable camshaft control on the intake and exhaust side and fully variable valve control in the form of BMW patented Valvetronic.

Power is put to the front wheels via either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The new Mini combines fuel-saving automatic start/stop function with the automatic transmission for the first time. Exhaust emission rating is Euro 6.

SAFETY

The Mini Cooper Hatch boasts a full suite of safety systems such as Dynamic Stability Control with electronic differential lock, ABS, dynamic brake lights and a crash sensor which automatically unlocks the vehicle, switches on the hazard lights and interior lights and disengages the battery in the event of a crash.

Occupants are also protected with standard front and side airbags, including curtain airbags covering front and rear seats. The new Mini also features an active bonnet which rises to minimise the risk of injury in a pedestrian accident.

DRIVING

From cruising the open road to parking in tight spots, manoeuvring is made easy with the standard cruise control with braking function, park distance control and BMW’s Servotronic speed sensitive power steering.

Fuel consumption for the six-speed automatic test vehicle gave us a best figure of 8.6L/100km about town in Drive mode.

This jumped significantly, to 12.0L/100km zipping in and out of traffic using the gearshift manually in Sport mode; 4.8L/100km was the order of the day at motorway speeds. 

Longer, wider dimensions, plus the characteristic ‘wheels at the four corners’ stance plant the Mini Cooper Hatch firmly on the road, producing one of the best dynamic packages available on a vehicle of any price. Anyone who challenges this need only get behind the wheel. It’s a delight to drive.

On the down side is the fact that the hatch has only two passenger doors, which can make getting into the rear seats a chore. Climbing out of the front seats is also pretty squashy in restricted parking spaces because of the extra wide doors. 

Legroom in the back is tight for grown-ups but boot space has improved over the previous Mini with 211 litres to play with, even more with the rear 60:40 seat backs folded flat. 

Lift the false floor and there’s even a hidden compartment. Loading cargo is convenient with a low lip and high-lift gate.