MINI Mini (2013-2021) Expert Review
Bigger and more practical than earlier versions of the MINI, the current model cleverly retains the sense of fun and cutesy styling that have proven so popular over the years. The F56 has taken the MINI in a number of new directions, too, not least with the first variant to boast more than 300bhp, plus the first all-electric derivative as well.
- Three-door hatchback
- Five-door hatchback
- Two-door convertible
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
Now in its third generation under BMW’s stewardship, the MINI remains one of the most alluring hatchbacks on sale. Its proportions have swollen over the years, rather calling into question the car’s very name, but its cute styling and lively handling have stayed true to the original version that first burst onto the scene way back in 1959. The level of personalisation on offer also remains impressive.
Codenamed F56, the current version of the MINI appeared early in 2014. It’s bigger than the model it replaced, arriving with an all-new platform with an equally new range of engines. Several months after it introduced the third-generation model, MINI broke with tradition by launching a five-door version of the hatchback. Six inches longer than the three-door, the five-door is usefully bigger in the rear seats than its notoriously cramped stablemate, although that additional usability does come at some expense – the five-door looks a little ungainly.
The Convertible version of the BMW MINI is technically a two-door, its powered fabric hood opening and closing in 18 seconds. Meanwhile, the engine line-up includes a number of turbocharged petrol units with three or four cylinders, their power outputs ranging from 102bhp in the MINI One to a thumping 302bhp in the MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) GP. There are three turbodiesel engines and, as of 2019, an all-electric model too. (It’s worth noting that the diesel engines were removed from the MINI Hatch line-up in 2018.)
The John Cooper Works GP sits atop a three-strong range of high performance MINIs. At its base is the MINI Cooper S with 189bhp, while the John Cooper Works sits between the two with 228bhp. Those are the MINI variants that could reasonably be described as hot hatches, although the MINI Cooper has sporting pretensions of its own despite its modest 134bhp from its 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, while the diesel-powered Cooper SD with 168bhp is both frugal and surprisingly punchy.
As the car’s dimensions have swollen over the years (the F56 is 44mm wider and 98mm longer than the model it replaced) and pedestrian crash legislation has grown ever more stringent, the MINI’s exterior styling has lost some of its elegance. It's certainly no longer a particularly small car – and you might even say the current model looks a little cartoonish with its oversized rear lights, although there’s still no mistaking the MINI for anything else.
The interior has retained its relatively high-quality feel, the standard of fit and finish and the (mostly) high-grade plastics helping to justify the MINI’s premium hatchback pricing. The driving position is excellent, with plenty of adjustment. The symmetrical dashboard is still dominated by a large circular housing, although whereas this was once home to the speedo, nowadays it’s where the infotainment system and, where fitted, the satnav screen live. The speedo now resides in a more conventional position directly in front of the driver, while the navigation and entertainment systems are controlled via a BMW-sourced iDrive rotary knob down by the gearlever.
In many ways the F56 MINI is the most grown up of the bunch, being physically bigger and therefore more practical, as well as more accommodating in day-to-day use. The rear seats are going to be a tight squeeze for anything other than children, and but at least the hatchback boot is a reasonable size for a supermini. Most important of all, with pin-sharp steering, an agile chassis, a playful balance and peppy performance, the MINI is still arguably the most enjoyable of all supermini-sized hatchbacks to drive. Little wonder it’s as popular as ever.
Three Things To Know
- With an enormous amount of power for a front-wheel drive hot hatch and wild exterior styling, the third John Cooper Works GP in the series is easily the most unhinged yet. It has an eight-speed automatic gearbox where a manual might have been more involving, although given its aerodynamically optimised bodywork, 302bhp power output and 165mph top speed, there’s no doubting its performance credentials. A strict two-seater, the GP is more of a weekend plaything than a practical everyday machine.
- At the other end of the scale, the Cooper SE is perhaps the least unhinged MINI of them all thanks to its zero emissions all-electric powertrain. It does deserve its Cooper S billing, though, because the electric motor, which drives the front axle, develops 182bhp and 199lb ft of torque, which equates to a brisk 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds. The 32.6kWh battery is one third of the size of the battery pack you’ll find in a high-spec Tesla, which explains the MINI’s fairly modest 145-mile range.
- The MINI line-up was facelifted in 2018. In certain variants the old automatic gearbox was replaced by a more sophisticated dual-clutch unit that shifts gears with more immediacy, although that was the only meaningful hardware change. Styling tweaks included LED headlights as standard and new rear lights with distinctive Union Flag motifs, while infotainment systems were updated too. Post-facelift, these could be controlled via a touchscreen as well as the familiar iDrive device.
Which One to Buy
- For low running costs: as long as you can live with the electric Cooper SE’s claimed 145-mile range, it will prove to be the most cost effective model to run. Just be aware, however, that motorway driving in particular will see that range come down quite significantly.
- For fun on a budget: all MINIs are fun to drive, at least compared with most other cars in the class, but the Cooper variants are especially entertaining. The base model Cooper doesn’t have anything like the performance of the Cooper S (which means it won’t cost as much to run either), but its keen steering and agile chassis make it just as much fun to drive.
- For long distance driving: diesel cars only tend to be cheaper to run than petrol alternatives if you cover a substantial number of motorway miles regularly. The basic One D model will be the most fuel efficient MINI, although even the more powerful Cooper SD should return as much as 60mpg in mixed driving. (Since 2018 the MINI Hatch has been petrol or electric only, meaning you’ll have to consider a second hand car if you want a diesel engine.)
- For that wind in the hair feeling: four-seat convertibles are often heavily compromised compared with their fixed roof counterparts in terms of weight and structural rigidity. The MINI Convertible doesn’t give up a great deal compared to the Hatch, though, aside from a good chunk of boot space.
MINIs vary enormously in terms of powertrains, power output, fuel costs and so on, meaning you need to go into MINI ownership with your eyes wide open. Expecting a John Cooper Works GP to nibble away at your bank balance no more greedily than a MINI One, for instance, will only end in tears.
As already mentioned, the cheapest of all the MINIs to run will be the electric Cooper SE. Charging its battery at home will cost around £5 and give you a real-world usable range of something like 100 miles. You would have to spend three or four times that on petrol or diesel to cover the same distance in any other MINI. Charging an electric MINI at a public charging point, particularly if it’s a fast charger, will cost more than charging overnight at home, though.
The most parsimonious diesel MINI should return 70mpg in mixed driving, while John Cooper Works GP drivers shouldn’t anticipate seeing much more than 25mpg. As a rule of thumb, diesel cars will achieve upwards of 50mpg and the more powerful petrol models no more than 35mpg. These high performance variants – the Cooper S and above – will also chew through front tyres much more quickly. A full set of replacement rubber could set you back £300.
The vast majority of buyers specify the TLC servicing package when ordering a MINI. This is transferable from one owner to the next so it’s worth making sure any used car you’re considering has the package, and it’s worth ticking that box if you’re buying a new MINI, too. The TLC package covers the cost of servicing for the first five years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes sooner, meaning that during your time with the car, you could save a significant sum of money (a minor service costs £185 at a main dealer and a major one £285, so you can see how that could add up over a number of years).
Meanwhile, Vehicle Excise Duty, or road tax, will cost between nothing whatsoever for the electric Cooper SE and £540 for the very powerful John Cooper Works GP in the first year, and £150 each year thereafter.
In reliability surveys, MINI as a brand tends to perform averagely – not brilliantly, but not very poorly, either. However, one survey in particular ranked the MINI 19th out of 20 cars for reliability, suggesting there is plenty for prospective buyers of both used and new cars to be mindful of.
The standard warranty lasts for the sooner of three years or 60,000 miles, which was very much par for the course until Hyundai and Kia began offering five and seven year warranties respectively. However, MINI does offer warranty extensions for cars that have covered fewer than 100,000 miles, either for the vehicle as a whole or for specific components such as the engine or gearbox.
Commonly occurring problems include faulty clutches on manual cars, although this tends to be linked to the hydraulics or the pedal return spring rather than the clutch pack itself. Owners have reported their cars jumping out of gear, normally first. This can be resolved quickly and easily at a garage by tweaking the gear linkages.
Oil leaks can be an issue on certain engines, meanwhile. The three-cylinder petrols are most commonly affected, the rocker-cover gasket becoming displaced and allowing oil to escape messily into the engine bay. A new gasket will fix the issue, but if an engine has been allowed to run on low oil for an extended period of time, terminal damage may well have been done.
Similarly, in the case of a used MINI, it’s very important to check that the servicing schedule has been adhered to. Regular oil changes are a must, so make sure you leaf through the service booklet to check the car has been cared for as it should have been.
That applies to all versions of the MINI, but high performance variants especially. It’s worth noting that hot hatches do tend to be driven in a more spirited manner than lower powered MINIs and it’s therefore all the more important they are maintained properly. You should make sure all four tyres match and that they have plenty of life left in them – this is a good indicator of a car that’s been properly cared for.
The CarGurus Verdict
Park a current MINI alongside a 1959 Alec Issigonis original and you’ll question the new car’s right to use the MINI name. Over the years the car has grown in every dimension and become heavier and heavier. That is inevitable, of course, given the evolving nature of crash legislation and the consumer’s voracious appetite for more and more comfort and convenience kit.
So while the MINI isn’t quite so MINI any more, it is safer, faster, more comfortable and more practical than ever. MINI’s designers and engineers have also worked hard to maintain the lively, entertaining handling characteristics that have set all versions of the MINI apart from the competition for so many decades. Even now, it’s really good fun to drive.
The current version is defined as much by its versatility as anything else. You can have a zero emissions all-electric MINI if you, say, live in the city, a Convertible if you love feeling the wind in your hair or, if you get a kick out of the most uncompromising of driving experiences, you can have a two-seat MINI with more than 300bhp. Few cars can truly be described as icons, but the MINI is one.