Since the MINI was resurrected in the early 2000s, it has traded on its characterful, retro design, customisation options and what is often described - both by MINI itself and by those who drive its cars - as go-kart handling.
The latest MINI was introduced in 2014 and has all of these characteristics and more, including a high-quality interior, more interior space than ever before and a line-up of efficient yet powerful engines. A facelift for 2018 has kept the styling and handling broadly the same, but has added improved technology and novel features, such as Union Flag rear lights, as well as extra personalisation options.
The MINI hatchback offers a choice of engines to suit most tastes, with three petrols and three diesels. For petrol buyers there's a 1.5-litre three-cylinder in the MINI One and MINI Cooper, along with and a turbocharged 2.0-litre available in three power outputs for the nippy Cooper S, even sportier Works 210 and range-topping John Cooper Works model which we've reviewed separately.
A dual-clutch automatic gearbox with seven gears has been introduced, replacing the self-shifting six-speed transmission. This is impressively smooth around town and offers almost imperceptible changes at higher speeds - while also boosting fuel efficiency.
You don't have to be driving quickly to enjoy the MINI, though. It still has quite a firm ride - especially on models with larger alloy wheels - but the trade-off for this is a very involving driving experience thanks to very little body roll and quick, precise steering.
Inside, there's more space than before with plenty of space in the front, but the rear seats remain more cramped than rivals such as the Audi A1 and DS 3, plus the boot is one of the smallest in its class. However, if you're choosing a three-door MINI you probably won't be too worried about practicality, as there's now the MINI five-door and MINI Clubman for that.
The dashboard is still packed with character with a central display - the speedometer and rev counter are now situated ahead of the driver - and you can personalise the interior until your heart's content, just like you can with the exterior. It all looks and feels solid and well built, too, with many components shared with BMW cars - including the interface for the standard 6.5-inch display and iDrive controller. You also get LED exterior lights now, as well as Bluetooth and a DAB radio from the off.
The MINI is pretty well equipped then, but we'd go for the Cooper because it also comes with fashionable alloy wheels as standard. Many owners also add the Pepper or Chili Pack, adding more convenience and aesthetic add-ons like parking sensors, cruise control, a sports steering wheel and upgraded wheels. Be careful if you want to add extras, though, as the list is very long and getting carried away can become incredibly expensive. Stick to the MINI's packs and you shouldn't spend too much over the list price.
The upside of the MINI's high list price is its strong resale values - MINIs hold their value very well thanks to a desirable image and what appealing interior. Euro NCAP awarded the MINI four stars out of five in crash safety tests, while it finished 44th out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK.
Ultimately it's the image, the style and the driving experience which will matter most to buyers considering a MINI, and the hatchback delivers on all these fronts. The Cooper S model is a genuine rival for the Peugeot 208 GTi, and the John Cooper Works version is even faster. Speed isn't everything, though, and any MINI hatchback is as much a pleasure to drive in the city as it is on the open road.
MPG, running costs & CO2
4.5 / 5
A range of great small engines means the MINI Hatch is seriously cheap to run. There are great servicing deals, too
Engines, drive & performance
4.5 / 5
As fun as ever to drive, but also comfortable and refined on long journeys. MINI Cooper S offers serious thrills
Interior & comfort
4 / 5
The MINI's interior has finally come of age: it's clearly laid-out and feels well built
Practicality & boot space
3 / 5
The MINI Hatch has been improved here, but the boot is still too small and the rear seats too cramped
Reliability & safety
4 / 5
The MINI Hatch should prove to be more reliable than the old one thanks to huge investment from BMW
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