“I don’t call that a real car,” scoffed my father,
…the first time I turned up at my parents’ house in the 1960s with a girlfriend in her Issigonis Mini. “It’s more like a Matchbox toy on Dinky wheels.”
He was one of the few in that period who did not share the ditzy fad that gripped the entire population of Britain over the Mini. To his eye, it was ridiculously short of space for luggage and passengers, excruciating to get in and out of, uncomfortable and unpleasant to drive.
All of those prejudices continued in my mind when BMW launched their version of the Mini in 2001. Instead of taking the opportunity to produce a revolutionary little car that would match the original genius of Issigonis and the suspension designer Alex Moulton for innovation, they produced an imitation, a pastiche which shared the all shortcomings of the original. I especially despised the soup-plate speedometer and toggle switches for their low-grade impersonation of outdated technology.
For the last 15 years, I have hoped to like a Mini. Now, at last, it has arrived in the shape of the five door Mini Hatch I borrowed last week.
This is a real car. Well, almost.
In addition to the two extra doors, the whole car has been lengthened by 17cm, with 7cm more legroom in the back seats. A third seatbelt has also been added, ostensibly making this car a five-seater; thought you wouldn’t want to try to slot the back row of the scrum into a space that might be more fitting for three elves. Anybody with a shoe size above two and a half would be best advised to cut off their feet before trying to find somewhere to put them in the middle of the back of this car.
Extending the overall length allows the boot to deserve more than a dismissive sneer. It is at least as ample as a Polo’s or an Audi A1’s but less than a Focus’s. You’d struggle to get golf clubs or push chairs in here without folding the rear row of seats.
Everything else about the inside of the five-door Mini Cooper S Hatch is the same as a three-door. Seats, upholstery, trim levels, irritating speedo. It’s good, sometimes great and annoying in equal measures.
The engines and trim ranges are identical, too.
To drive, however, the five door is far more composed and mature than its uneasy, jerky junior cousin. Those extra inches in the wheelbase give this car a settled purpose through corners and a steady ride that makes it a pleasure to drive over short or longer distances.
The cost of these benefits is a mere £600 premium over the three-door, which seems like money well spent. At £19,440, the basic price of the Mini Cooper S Hatch I borrowed, or better £14,535 for the MINI One Hatch, the prices may not be too alarmingly out of line with other five-door hatchbacks; but, with extras, including such allurements as a “Pepper Pack” and “Mini Excitement pack”, the total prices of £21195 or £16290 might put off anybody looking for standard family transport.
It remains true, as it always was with the Mini, that to fancy this car, you need to like the idea of making a fashion statement about yourself for all the world to see and be ready to pay that price.
The benefit of the new five-door Mini, however, is that you might also be able to convince your father that, despite appearances, it is, indeed, a proper car.
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