Ford Focus VS Mini Cooper
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
- Unique looks
- Cool cabin
- Great on-road dynamics
- Low on standard advanced safety equipment
- Limited rear legroom
- Small boot
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
I want to hug you. Or maybe we could just high five if you’re uncomfortable with the whole hugging thing. Why? You’re looking at buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible, that’s why. And that’s not a decision somebody makes lightly.
See, Minis are small, but they’re not cheap; and they’re so different looking that if they were a fish many people would throw it back if they caught one. But for those brave enough to buy a Mini the rewards these little cars will give you in return could make you a fan for life.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
If you’re buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible because they look unique and are fun to drive, then you’re doing it for the right reasons. But if you need a small family car then think about the Countryman or something bigger in BMW’s range like an X1 or 1 Series – these are the cousins of Minis and share the same tech but offer more practicality for similar prices.
The sweet spot in the Hatch and Convertible range is the Cooper S, whether it’s the three-door hatch, the five-door hatch or Convertible.
Are Minis the coolest small prestige car out there? Or overpriced and ugly? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
There are those googly eyes, the tiny flat bonnet, the snub nose with that angry mouth grille, those wheel-arches which eat way up into the body and are filled with wheels, and that little bottom. It’s tough and cute all at once, and still has stayed so true to the original look that if you were to push somebody from 1965 into a time machine and take them to 2018, they’d get out and say "that’s a Mini".
The original three-door Mini was less than 3.1m long, but over the years the Mini has grown in size – so the Mini still mini? The new three-door is 3.8m end to end, 1.7m wide and 1.4m tall – so yes, bigger but still mini.
The Hatch comes with three doors (two front and the boot’s tailgate) or five doors, while the Convertible is a two-door. The Countryman is Mini’s SUV and the Clubman is a wagon – both of these are yet to be given the update.
That update is super subtle, however. Visually the only differences between the latest Hatch and Convertible and the previous models is that the mid-spec Cooper S and top-grade JCW have the new LED headlights and Union Jack tail-lights. The entry-level Cooper has halogen headlights and regular tail-lights. That’s it – oh, and the Mini badge’s styling has been tweaked, almost unnoticeably.
On the outside the differences between the grades is obvious. Reflecting its more potent performance the JCW gets the biggest wheels (18-inch) and an aggressive-looking body kit with a rear spoiler and JCW dual exhaust. The Cooper S looks pretty mean, too, with its centre dual-exhaust and 17-inch wheels. The Cooper appears tamer but still cool with its chrome and black grille and 16-inch alloys.
Step inside the Mini Hatch and Convertible and you’re entering either a world of pain or world of awesomeness - depending on who you are - because it’s an extremely stylised cabin full of plane cockpit style switches, textured surfaces and dominated by the large circular (and glowing) element in the centre of the dash housing the media system. I’m quite fond of it all.
Seriously, can you think of another small car on the road which is as quirky as the Mini Hatch and Convertible but also prestigious? Okay, the Fiat 500. But name another one? Sure, Audi A1, but what else? Right the Citroen C3 and (now defunct) DS3. But apart from those can you name any? See.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
The name of this car is a bit of a clue as to how practical the insides are.
In the three-door, five-door Hatch and Convertible the car feels roomy up front, even for me at 191cm tall with good head, leg and elbow room. My co-driver on the launch was my size and there was plenty of personal space between us.
Can’t say the same for the back seats – in my driving position the front seat back is almost up against the rear seat base in the three door and the second row of the five-door isn’t much better.
Now you need to know that the three-door Hatch and Convertible have four seats, and the five -door has five seats.
Boot space is tight, too, with 278 litres of cargo capacity in the five-door Hatch, 211L of luggage space in the three-door, and 215L in the convertible. In comparison, the Audi A1 three-door has 270L of boot space.
Cabin storage for the Hatch includes two cup holders up front and one in the back of the Cooper and Cooper S Hatch, and two in the front and two in the back of the JCW. While the Convertible has two up front and three in the rear. Top down driving can be thirsty work.
There’s not much in the way of other storage places, apart from the glovebox and map pockets in the seat backs – those door pockets are only large enough to slide in a phone or your purse and wallet.
As for power connections Coopers have a USB and 12V in the front, while the Cooper S and JCW have wireless phone charging and a second USB port in the front armrest.
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
If you’d read the section above (Did you? It’s exciting and full of sex scenes), you’d know that the Mini Hatch and Convertible come in three grades – the Cooper, Cooper S and JCW. What I didn’t point out up there was that while this is true for the three-door Hatch and Convertible, the five door is only available as a Cooper and Cooper S.
So how much do Minis cost? You’d heard they can be expensive right? Well, you heard right.
For the three-door Hatch line the list prices go: $29,900 for the Cooper, $39,900 for the Cooper S and $49,900 for the JCW.
For the five-door Hatch you’re looking at $31,150 for the Cooper and $41,150 for the Cooper S.
The Convertible costs the most with the Cooper listing for $37,900, the Cooper S for $45,900 and the JCW for $56,900.
That’s way more expensive than a Fiat 500 which starts with a list price of about $18K and tops out at $37,990 for the Abarth 595 Convertible. But the Mini is more prestigious, higher in quality and far more dynamic performance-wise than a 500. So, unless it’s just about the looks it’s better to compare it to Audi’s A1 which begins at $28,900 and maxes out with the S1 at $50,400.
High in quality, but a bit light-on for standard features for the price is typical for prestige cars and the Mini Hatch and Convertible are no exception.
The three-door and five-door Hatch and the Convertible in the Cooper grade come as standard with cloth seats, velour floor mats, three-spoke leather steering wheel, a new 6.5-inch touch screen and updated media system with 4G connectivity, sat nav, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay and digital radio.
The Hatch has air-conditioning, while the Convertible has dual-zone climate control.
As mentioned in the design section Coopers come with 16-inch wheels, single exhaust tip, a rear spoiler for the Hatch, while the Convertible gets an automatic folding fabric roof.
The Hatch and Convertible in Cooper S form pick up cloth/leather upholstery, JCW steering wheel with red stitching, LED headlights and Union Jack pattern tail lights, and 17-inch alloys.
The Convertible also gains dual-zone climate control.
Only the three-door Hatch and Convertible models are available in the JCW grade, but at this level you’ll get lots more in the form of an 8.8-inch screen with a harman/kardon 12-speaker stereo, head-up display, JCW interior trim, cloth and Dinamica upholstery (‘eco-suede’), stainless steel pedals, and front parking sensors.
There’s the JCW body kit too, along with the upgrade in brakes, engine, turbo and suspension which you can read all about in the Engine and Driving sections below.
Personalisation is a massive part of owning a Mini and there’s a billion ways to make your Mini more unique from colour combinations, wheel styles and accessories.
Paint colours for the Hatch and Convertible include Pepper White, Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, Electric Blue, Melting Silver, Solaris Orange and of course British Racing Green. Only the first two of those are no-cost options, however, the rest cost only $800-$1200 more at the most.
Want bonnet stripes? Of course you do – those are $200 each.
Packages? Yep, there’s a stack of them. Say, you’ve bought a Cooper S and want a bigger screen, then the $2200 Multimedia package adds the 8.8-inch screen, harman/kardon stereo and a head-up display.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
This is simple. The Cooper is the least powerful with its 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine; the Cooper S is the piggy in the middle with its 2.0-litre 141kW/280Nm four-cylinder while the JCW is the hardcore one with the same 2.0-litre engine but tuned to make 170kW and 320Nm.
All are turbo-petrol engines and all Hatches and Convertibles are front-wheel drive.
Okay, this is where it gets a bit messy - the transmissions. The Cooper, Cooper S and JCW hatch come standard with a six-speed manual, but optional is a seven-speed dual-clutch auto on the Cooper, a sports version of that auto on the Cooper S and an eight-speed auto on the JCW.
It’s the other way around for the Convertible which comes standard with those autos as you step up from Cooper to JCW, with an optional manual gear box.
How fast is the hardcore one? The three-door JCW can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.1 seconds which is quick, while the Cooper S is half a second behind that and the Cooper is a second behind that.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
The Cooper’s three-cylinder turbo petrol is the most fuel-efficient engine in the range, with Mini saying you should see 5.3L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.4L/100km in the five-door and 5.6L/100km in the Convertible using an automatic transmission.
The Cooper S’s four-cylinder turbo according to Mini should use 5.5L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.6L/100km in the five-door and 5.7L/100km in the Convertible.
The JCW’s four-cylinder is the thirstiest of the pack, with Mini claiming that in the three-door you’ll use 6.0L/100km while the Convertible will need 6.3L/100km (you can’t get a JCW five-door Hatch).
Those figures are based on driving on a combination of urban and open roads.
During my time in the three-door JCW the trip computer recorded and average of 9.9L/100km and that was on mainly country roads.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
I’m yet to drive a Mini that wasn’t fun, but some are more fun than others. At the launch of the updated Hatch and Convertible I piloted the three-door in Cooper S and JCW form, and the five-door Cooper.
You can’t go wrong with any of these from a driving perspective – all steer precisely and directly, all feel agile and manoeuvrable, all are easy to drive and yup, fun.
But the Cooper S’s bump in power over the Cooper adds the grunt to match the great handling, making it my pick of the bunch. I drove the three-door Cooper S, and to me this is the quintessential Mini – plenty of grunt, great feel and the smallest of the family.
Stepping it up several notches is the JCW, which is sniffing around in high-performance territory with its powerful engine with its JCW specific turbo and sport exhaust, bigger brakes, adaptive suspension and bigger brakes. I drove the three-door Hatch in the JCW grade and loved shifting with those paddles, the barks on the upshifts are awesome, and the crackles as you step down though the gears is, too.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the JCW is a beautiful and fast thing, but the seven-speed sports auto in the Cooper S is mighty fine, as well.
There wasn’t a chance to steer the Convertible this time around, but I’ve driven the current generation soft-top before, and apart from the lack of roof making it easier for somebody my size to climb in, the ‘indoor-outdoor’ driving experience adds to the fun factor.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
The Mini Hatch was given a four-star ANCAP rating in 2015 (that's four out of five), while the Convertible has not been tested. While both Hatch and Convertible come with the usual safety equipment such as traction and stability control, and airbags (six in the Hatch and four in the Convertible), there is a lack of standard advanced safety technology. The Hatch and Convertible don’t come with AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) as standard, but you can option the tech as part of a Driver Assistance pack.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor points in the second row of the Hatch and Convertible.
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.