Mini introduced the F56 generation of its iconic, sporty hatch in 2015, and this year introduces a tech-heavy update that makes an even closer connection between car and smartphone. It also gains a new gearbox that better suits the long-held Mini ethos of being a fun-to-drive hatchback.
Here, we’re driving the cheapest Mini that money can buy, the $29,900 Mini Cooper three-door hatch powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine. This car is the new entry point for the range after an even cheaper version called the Mini Cooper Ray was dropped from the line-up ahead of this “life cycle impulse” – that’s Mini-speak for a mid-life refresh.
- The entire Mini Cooper range now comes with a standard reversing camera. This is a big help, because visibility out of the hatch’s rear window is limited.
- The centre screen that controls the multimedia unit and some of the Mini’s settings is now a touchscreen. It’s a big improvement over the twist-and-click rotary controller that the previous car used.
- The Mini Cooper now comes with an improved digital interface. The British brand is owned by German behemoth BMW, and borrows its software to enhance the user experience. It’s not quite the cutting edge tech that has rolled out in some more modern BMWs, but it’s proven and good. It even has real-time traffic information for the sat-nav system
- It still drives like a Mini. You’ve probably heard of the brand’s go-kart-like handling? It’s still there, even in this base car. If you like driving, you’ll like the way this Mini handles.
- The newly added seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is a pearler. Dual-clutch autos have the benefit of being fast and smooth to change gears at speed, and that only improves the sense of fun you can extract from the Cooper. It’s much better than the gearbox it replaces.
Read next: 2018 Mini Cooper review
- The thrummy, characterful three-cylinder engine is slightly more fuel efficient, but hasn’t sacrificed any performance, producing 100kW and 220Nm.
- It’s still very much a Mini. Updates tend to include tweaks to the body plastics as designers try to improve stance or visual aggression in the eyes of buyers. Little has changed on the exterior of this Mini, and that’s the way customers seem to like it.
- Apple CarPlay is free. BMW generally charges for it, but Mini has decided to chuck it in to every version of the Cooper for nix. And you don’t need a cord to connect to it.
- Every Mini now comes with an inbuilt SIM card that can alert the car maker if you have a crash. It can then feed information back to a call centre letting an operator know how severe the crash was using information such as how many airbags have fired. That information is then passed on to emergency services.
- Straight-line performance is adequate rather than great. Speed builds slowly, and you won’t be winning many traffic light sprints – you’ll have to look good going slow.
- The dual-clutch auto is brilliant when you’re moving, but less so if you’re trying to finesse entering a tight car park. Low-speed manoeuvres are beset with some clutch grabiness, so the car will lurch slightly in response to throttle inputs.
- In-cabin storage space is limited. There’s a small tray in front of cupholders that render the storage space unusable if coffee cups are placed in them. The central armrest can swallow a mobile phone and not much more.
Read next: 2018 Mini Cooper S Cabrio review
- You don’t get paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel to control the gearbox. They’re standard on the $7000 more expensive, and more powerful, Cooper S.
- Mini sells a five-door hatchback version of the Cooper that may be more practical as a family car.
- The interior is not the best in the game. Mini still uses a lot of hard plastics that don’t quite fit the premium feel the brand presents with the exterior.
- The rear seats are very cramped.
- There’s no Android Auto support. Mini says most buyers who visit its website to shop for a car browse using an Apple smartphone, so that’s the direction they’ve taken.
- Prices have gone up slightly. One of the boasts of the Mini Cooper introduced in 2016 was that it was significantly cheaper than the model it replaced. This facelift erodes some of that price advantage. But you do get more for it.
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