The 2019 MINI Cooper may look the same as its predecessor, but beauty is certainly more than skin deep.
With the proliferation of MINI variants these days from the 5-door hatchback, to the Clubman wagon, to the successful MINI Countryman SUV, it’s easy to forget that what started off this back to retro craze for the brand was the basic Cooper three door hatchback.
Although the outside may seem similar to the 2014-18 MINI Cooper, the new car is underpinned by parent company BMW’s new UKL platform which has already spawned the second-generation BMW X1, X2, and the latest Clubman and Countryman.
Moreover, UKL has also allowed MINI to develop its first plug-in-hybrid, the Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 plug-in hybrid.
With MINI’s extraordinarily complicated product launch strategy taking years to completely unroll, the core focus of this review is to evaluate whether the centre of the MINI universe, the 3 door hatch, has been sufficiently updated as promised.
Think of it as a cleaning of the palate.
At a starting price of $23,090, this is about as base of a Cooper you can get. This is just a MINI in its essence. Compact, fuel efficient, fun to drive, simple, all wrapped up in a distinctly cheeky package.
Still, despite not having many luxury trappings, the base Cooper reveals itself to be as fun to drive as its predecessor. But more on that later.
As before, the changes to latest generation Mark three MINI hatch are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Keep in mind that Sir Alex Issigonis’ original MINI barely changed its design over four decades anyway.
Dimensionally in its base form, it is 98 mm longer, 44mm wider, and 7 mm taller than before. It’s unlikely though, that a layman would miss such minor differences.
The UKL platform flushes the MINI platform with more high-strength steel, explaining the new car’s greater torsional rigidity, and adds a handy 28 mm to the MINI’s wheelbase.
How does it handle?
MINIs are quirky, full of character, and fun to drive. It may be getting bigger with each new generation, but the latest MINI offers the quality and driver appeal of a baby BMW to the extent that it now truly feels like its own version of a cut-price/cut-size BMW.
The tall gearing means that you rarely have to shift out of the first three gears around town and even at 120 km/hr, revs are a lazy 2,400 rpms.
Sure, it may not be a high-revving Japanese motor, but it feels polished and even makes a little snarl when you drop the pedal to the metal. The optional automatic transmission works very well, but the manual gearbox suits this MINI’s character better.
Performance appeal is a relatively small part of what attracts most modern MINI buyers and this base Cooper hatch proves why that is the case. The ride is still on the firmer side, though less choppy over backroads than ever before.
Some road noise is noticeable, though better noise isolation now makes it more suitable for longer drives.
Like the more powerful versions of the Cooper, handling is nimble and sporty and the MINI’s frisky character and unmatched charm remains intact.
Despite this being a base model, the interior feels well buttoned up with good quality materials throughout. The retro interior styling may remain a love-hate attribute, but quality has never been better before than in this MINI.
Personalisation options have been taken even further, and buyers are able to commission their own interior panels, door sill scuff plates, and more. And that’s only on the inside! Exterior dealer-fitted or aftermarket options are seemingly endless.
Of course, none of this was fitted to my test vehicle as it was supposed to be the base model in its almost purest form.
Indeed, the only options of significance on this tester were the $1,300 Classic Line package, the $590 Chili Red paint, and the $150 white hood stripes. The Classic Line package added a dual-pane panoramic moonroof, heated front seats, and front fog lamps.
With the upright windshield, the short dash allows for excellent forward visibility and the A-pillars are of minimal hindrance. Overall, the MINI feels like a much larger car inside than its predecessors but with little drawback.
The latest UKL-based MINI Cooper hatch also brings with it a swathe of technology from parent company BMW, including the latest generation iDrive with updated fonts, menus, and a high-resolution infotainment touchscreen.
Modern looking graphics and a colourful menu helps to make the whole vehicle experience feel premium, but with the expected MINI flair. The buttons have almost the same feel as a BMW, unlike some lesser vehicles in the same price range but clearly not the same class.
A back-up camera is now standard equipment even on the base car due to Transport Canada regulations mandating that all new cars sold after May 2018 needing to be equipped as such.
Naturally, other modern conveniences such as Bluetooth audio/telephony, and even a very decent sounding standard-equipment sound system are included.
At the end of the day, it’s a MINI, which means it looks like a car from the 1950s inflated to 2019 proportions. With the recent update, the Cooper hatchback continues to deliver one of the best small car driving experiences there is.
If you want a fun little car that won’t break the bank but has with top notch safety equipment, exuberant charm, and excellent fuel efficiency, look no further than the 2019 MINI Cooper 3 door hatch.