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First drive: MINI 5-Door 2021MY. Image by MINI.

First drive: MINI 5-Door 2021MY
MINI does a second facelift on its Hatch, Convertible and Electric models to keep them going into the 2020s.

   



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MINI 5-Door 2021MY

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

MINI facelifts the facelift. Yep, the third-generation family is soldiering on well into the 2020s, despite being launched in 2014, and so a second visual update plus minor tech changes is deemed necessary for the three-door Hatch, the 5-Door, the Convertible and the Electric models. But really, with broadly the same mechanicals and interior, has the status quo of the MINI's place in the class changed with the 'LCI II'?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport
Pricing: 5-Door range from 17,500, Cooper S Sport from 26,550, car as tested 33,285
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, seven-speed DCT Steptronic dual-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door hot-hatch supermini
CO2 emissions: 134g/km (VED Band 131-150: 220 first 12 months, then 155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 52.3mpg
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: 178hp at 4,750-5,500rpm
Torque: 280Nm at 1,350-4,200rpm
Boot space: 278-941 litres

What's this?

Well, this is a new one on us. In BMW-speak, 'LCI' means 'life-cycle impulse'. Which is a posh way of saying 'facelift', of course. But never before have we been aware of a car having an 'LCI II'. Yet that's what has happened here, mainly because MINI has committed to being the first marque within the wider BMW Group to go fully electric. It aims to do this by 2030 (for obvious reasons, especially here in the UK) and has also drawn a line in the sand to say no new internal combustion engines will be developed for the car beyond 2025. Therefore, launching an all-new, Mk4 MINI now would not make much sense.

The company is also bullish about the fact that the current MINI's sales are not tapering off after seven years in the public marketplace, which is normally what happens with any other car and is the reason they get completely replaced by their parent manufacturer. However, last year, more than 46,100 MINIs were sold in the UK against a backdrop of 292,384 unit sales globally - and, as if we could possibly ever forget what 2020 was like, car sales were hardly in the rudest of health last year. So maybe there's credence to Plant Oxford's claim that the Mk3 MINI family can gamely battle on with this LCI II until at least 2023. By which time it will be, to all intents and purposes, a vehicle which is a decade old.

Mind, this LCI II for the main bulk of the range (both the Countryman and Clubman lines are unaffected by this update... for now) comes alongside a milestone for the MINI, which is its 20th birthday. Hard to believe that the first 'R50' rolled off the line at Cowley back in 2001, but that's the truth and so this round of revisions is kind of like MINI giving itself a birthday present of some more plastic surgery to keep the ravaging effects of time at bay.

In all honesty, spotting the differences isn't that easy. The controversial rear light clusters, introduced at LCI I in 2018, are retained, so it's up front where the biggest changes take place. The radiator grille is bigger and it can be bisected by a body-coloured bar, which is the most obvious visual amendment to the 2021MY cars. There are also no front foglights, as they're now incorporated into the headlamps, and you might also espy vertical air intakes at the outer edges of the bumper, although our test 5-Door had the optional John Cooper Works styling kit - which does away with the bumper-bar and the upright intakes, meaning identifying a 2021MY MINI is going to mainly revolve around clocking the 21-plate piece of plastic affixed to its conk.

There are also new body colours, a weird graded roof option on the hard-topped cars that sees the colour segue from blue to black in a completely unique (to each MINI it is specified on) pattern, and some revisions inside amount to revised switchgear, an 8.8-inch infotainment display and the option (option, mark you) to have the five-inch digital cluster pod as already seen in the Electric and racy GP models on any variant of the car. Including our tester.

Essentially, it's much of the same from the MINI Mk3. There's a classy, solidly constructed dashboard and fascia, complete with some nice touches and finished in exceptional materials for the class, and then there's the sub-par packaging of any MINI. Even this 5-Door model is not the roomiest in the back and it sports a somewhat feeble 278-litre boot, and naturally the three-door Hatch and then the Convertible versions are even less accommodating in both disciplines. You buy the MINI, apparently, because you're someone who prefers form to rule over function, rather than to follow it. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you front up to it in the first place - and the slight problem here is that, as regards the exterior form of this particular motor, we've never been the biggest fans of the way the 5-Door MINI looks. If anything, it doesn't resemble Issigonis' revolutionary packaging sensation of 1959, so much as it does another historic BMC/BL confection; as in, it's more Maxi, than Mini.

How does it drive?

MINI has already done away with diesel engines and now sells the updated 2021MY Hatch, 5-Door and Convertible models with petrol power only. Unless you go for the three-door, of course, in which case you can avail yourself of the Electric derivative. Otherwise, there are no changes to the array of 'ICEs' offered, so that means either a 1.5-litre three-cylinder in One (102hp/190Nm) and Cooper (136hp/220Nm) trims, or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill in the more potent Cooper S (280Nm) and John Cooper Works (231hp/320Nm) models.

You'll notice we missed the horsepower figure off the Cooper S in that rundown, and that's because something odd has happened to this particular variant in the period between the LCI I three years ago and this LCI II now. You see, it has lost 14hp. This'll be to do with mysterious things fitted in the exhaust system to make it comply with emissions regs, but at 178hp the Cooper S hasn't had less power since the turbocharged second-gen 'R56' arrived in late 2006. Not that it matters much to the on-papers; with the dual-clutch Steptronic automatic fitted, a 5-Door Cooper S like this will still hit 62mph from rest in 6.8 seconds and go on to 146mph, which is the same as it was when the Mk3 had the 'full' 192hp to play with.

Thank the preserved torque figure for the continuing potent performance of the 2021MY car, and also thank BMW for giving this excellent 2.0-litre engine to the MINI family in the first place. Strangled by tailpipe-cleaning tech it might be, but it remains a strong, willing powertrain that bestows a decent turn of pace on what is a not-so-mini MINI. At 1,300kg and four-metres long, the Cooper S 5-Door is acceptably brisk and muscular with this engine fitted, so MINI fans can rest assured that they won't feel the difference with the reduced power output.

The problem is, this is not a very noisy machine. There's no significant 'THWAAARP'ing from the exhaust and the four-pot is not the most tuneful engine in the world no matter where you are in the rev range. There's a plus point on all the quietness, though, which is that this is by far and away the most refined Cooper S we've driven in all the 20 years of sampling these forced-induction MINIs. It conducts itself with plenty of decorum in towns and on fast-flowing A-roads, minimising any road roar and wind noise that tries to enter the passenger compartment to nothing more than background susurration.

The pay-off for all this refinement is that it's nowhere near as much fun as you think it's going to be. Revised frequency selective dampers (FSDs) are available to be fitted to the 2021MY cars and are standard on the Cooper S, but this Intelligent Adaptive Damping doesn't do much for the playfulness of the MINI's chassis. It's OK; it'll turn in keenly enough, and has masses of both grip and traction to see you through most bends with little difficulty. But unless you turn the traction control all the way off and get really aggressive with your steering inputs and throttle lifts, you'll get next to no joy out of the rear axle. It just trails around doggedly in the wake of the front tyres, which means the MINI is perfectly fast across rough ground - despite a fair degree of tramlining and bump-steering, although nothing like as bad as that experienced on the manic GP3 - but not very involving. It also, never mind those FSDs, too easily and too often betrays the heavy unsprung mass of a set of 18s at all corners, so the ride comfort isn't always the greatest.

In short, you'll get a lot more fun at the wheel of a cheaper Ford Fiesta ST and, considering our optioned-up 5-Door rocked in at a thumping 33,285, then - while it is undoubtedly a wholly different beast - the amazing Toyota GR Yaris makes a far more compelling case for itself at this sort of price point.

Verdict

It looks as if the Mk3 MINI family is going to be with us for a full decade and that seems a daring, possibly risky move on the part of its parent manufacturer, which has made a fortune out of doing zeitgeisty, up-to-date, fashionista-satisfying products for 20 years. Furthermore, aside from the front-end styling and the cost-option digital instrument cluster, not much has changed here that the MINI didn't already do well as a 2018MY car. Therefore, this feels like an update designed to pay lip service to the diehard fans of the MINI marque, who would probably still buy this machine hand over fist if the company were to be selling them in 2043 with yet another sprinkling of new colours in the palette and a subtly redesigned type of 19-inch alloy as their only major changes. The fact is, for everyone else, the MINI is familiar fare: very fashionable, very customisable, very desirable to some... and arguably not the class-leader in any regard, save for interior finishing.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 3 May 2021



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2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.

2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.2021 MINI 5-Door Cooper S Sport UK test. Image by MINI.








 

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