Good: brilliant chassis, torquey engine
Not so good: a touch pricey, not that much roomier inside
Quite why it took MINI this long to introduce a proper five-door variant of its hugely successful hatch I'll never know. It seems like a far more logical thing than the MINI Coupé that was styled "like a baseball cap being worn backwards". Anyway, that has been dropped and the 5 door is here and I think on the whole it looks quite smart. Yes, from certain angles the rear doesn't have the same resolved style as the regular Hatch but it still retains the characteristic modern MINI look. A word of warning though; like much of what MINI offers, it is a very spec-sensitive car. Choosing the right body, roof and wheel colour combination plays a big role in making this car look right.
Nonetheless, the MINI 5 door is absolutely no less fun to drive. In fact, I don't think there's another car in this segment of the market that has a chassis as good. It feels very well hooked up and even though the suspension is a little on the firm side for some people's tastes, as a complete package it works. The steering feels surprisingly direct and when you do drive the MINI a bit harder the front axle offers up plenty of grip. It just loves free-flowing roads and between 40- and 70km/h really comes alive, with that 2.0-litre diesel engine putting its 360Nm of torque to excellent use. There's more than enough grunt to pull the Cooper SD along at quite a pace, yet when you drive more sedately it can return up to 4.3 litres/100km, which is respectable enough considering the performance on offer. The six-speed manual gearbox feels pretty good to use too, it has a precise action to it. Fifth and sixth gears are long too, which puts all that torque to good use on motorway journeys, with very low engine speeds when cruising.
The addition of two more doors makes access for passengers easier and the 161mm stretch allows for better legroom in comparison to the three-door model. Space is still a bit tight in the rear though, and the provision of a third seatbelt in the back seems to be a token gesture. However, boot space is improved, which is partly why the rear looks a bit bulky. You get 278 litres of space and this can be expanded up to 941 litres by folding the rear seats forward.
Throughout the rest of the cabin there's no shortage of MINI styling, with toggle switches aplenty, including a large red one for starting and stopping the engine that pulses red when the ignition is switched on. I sort of miss that the large centrally-placed speedometer has been replaced by the infotainment screen, but moving it to a more conventional location ahead of the steering wheel will be welcomed by more people, I suspect. The head-up display is based on a projected reflection rather than the more advanced system seen in some of the BMW range, but it gets the job done. Although the quality of the materials, as well as the overall finish, is of a high quality, the interior still manages to feel a bit cramped and looks quite busy.
With a starting price of just under €30,000, the Cooper SD model is unlikely to be the most popular model in the line-up. The good thing is that the core chassis and setup of this car are very good so choosing a less powerful engine won't detract too much from the overall experience. In fact, doing so could also leave room in the budget for some to configure a really good looking version. Had MINI launched this car two generations ago it could have made the brand even more successful than it has been to date. That MINI DNA is strong in this car and makes it easily one of the best and most fun to drive models in a segment of the market that has healthy competition.