(Pocket-lint) - The Mini Cooper heralds the arrival of the classic small car in its third-generation release since BMW re-imagined the brand back in 2001. A lucky 13 years on and the Mini Hatch is stronger than ever.
That's not down to luck though. It's a car filled to the rafters with quality tech ported from BMW's cars and has had an interior overhaul that elevates the standard with customisable trim options. It's got those familiar quirky looks of its predecessor but is built around a new wheelbase which makes the 2014 Mini Hatch bigger than it's ever been.
Too big or just right? We spent two days in Mallorca driving around the twisting mountain roads and along the motorways to see whether the new Mini Cooper D is a "D for Delightful" drive or a diesel dullard.
We can't really hold our excitement in and leave the question lingering: the Mini Cooper isn't dull. Far from it, it's a hoot to drive. But whether you'll pick the diesel or, indeed, whether you even have the choice, will vary by circumstance.
Our preference would be for something with a touch more pep than the 1.5-litre D offers, but the killer there for many will be CO2 emissions. The Cooper D produces 92g/km which is exactly why it will be the most popular model in the Hatch fleet. And that's probably the exact reason you're reading these words now.
If it's fun with a capital F that you want then we did also spend time in the sporty 2.0-litre petrol Cooper S. It was utterly brilliant but, inevitably, also more money, noisier, slightly bigger again, and less economical.
READ: Mini Cooper S review
Stepping away from the Cooper S and into the Cooper D meant a little less speed and not so much torque, particularly notable from those middling gears, but then this is a diesel and we entirely expected that. Once we got the hang of slipping that 6-speed gearbox into place at exactly the right moment we were flying along and finding ourselves in all sorts of fun. Some slight oversteer on steep corners was the only moan when really pushing it around the bends.
Otherwise the brand new diesel engine's top speed of 127mph and a 0-60 in 9.2-seconds is still respectable. We certainly pushed that to the max to see what we could get out of it and found ample acceleration and performance that remained smooth and quiet on the flats. See, the Cooper D isn't about being the fastest, sportiest motor on the road. It's about personality and comfort wrapped in a fun-to-drive package.
Unlike the Mini's name might otherwise suggest the Cooper D isn't as small as it sounds. The 2014 model is bigger than the previous generation Cooper by 98mm in length and 44mm in width, and while the purists may think an expanding Mini waistline is against the Cooper's very own bloodline, the car is still shorter than Volkswagen Polo. So it's still small, just not 1960s small.
But, conversely, it's positively massive on the inside. In the best possible way.
In the passenger seat we could put the seat back so far that we had more legroom than a first class flight would offer. Admittedly by that point you would have taken the legs off of any passenger behind you, but as a 3-door car we suspect the Cooper isn't going to be treated as a common family outing kind of vehicle.
That extra length does mean you could get the kids in there, but four adults would be a push for anything but a short haul. However, there's still a good 25cm or so to get passengers' legs in behind when sat in a sensible position, and with increased headroom compared to the second-generation model we find the increased size an overall positive.
The seats in the Cooper D trim we had for test were material rather than leather - although upgrade options are available - which were comfy but, oddly, felt too narrow. The leather options on the Cooper S weren't as pressing on the outer thighs.
Cuter than the competition
Visually we think the Mini Cooper D is great. It's not arrow-nosed like the Ford Fiesta and avoids the bizarre facelift look of the Peugeot 208. It's down to personal taste, but we can't think of anything that looks better than the Mini in its class: it's cute enough to suit buyers of a certain sensibility, just about classic enough to appeal to a different audience, but has just the right amount of "mean" about it too. It's a face to be proud to sit behind and it's a little more unusual too.
READ: Peugeot 208 GTi review
There's no aggressive body kit as on the Cooper S, but the Cooper D that we drove did include optional daytime LED headlights that are not just a first in this class but look brilliant too. Every time we caught reflection of them in the panelling of cars in front it gave us a reminder of how much personality the Mini Hatch has.
Those headlights are one of the bigger design shifts compared to the earlier generation model. They're bigger and more bug-eyed and, in our eyes, just look better. More modern. More Mini.
To the rear the Cooper has a sizeable behind but it curves in the right places and the non-symmetrical single exhaust looks neater than the twin exhaust found on the Cooper S. And just look at those black alloy wheels, they finish off the design spectacularly.
Enter The Void
It's the inside that's the real treat though. Sat in the driver's seat and everything makes sense. Yes there's all that space available - and it really does feel like a bigger car than it actually is - but it's the controls, tech and lighting that make everything just that bit more fun.
It's not a psychedelic funhouse of colour, but rather a measured design full of customisable options. In our model we had a red trim with piano black panels and chrome that looked very fetching indeed. We love how the door handles light up when the lights go down and the subtle glows of colour from the panels feel more fighter jet than car. And no, that big red switch in the middle doesn't fire missiles. Instead it fires up the engine, no twist of keys required. But that's still pretty James Bond if you ask us.
Being tech-heads one of the best things about the Cooper is the amount of technology on board. As standard you'll get a giant 8.8-inch circular display centre console, the one that used to house the giant speedometer of the previous two generations of Mini Hatch models.
As you can see from the picture above it's a significant LCD panel that's easy to glance at. Surrounding it is a multi-coloured LED light to display acceleration, speed and efficiency depending on which driving mode you have selected: Sport, Mid and Green. Even though not the most economical we opted for the Sport mode because the rev-matching between gear changes gave that extra bit of push that added to the fun.
A techie treat
One area the 2014 Mini Hatch really excels in compared to its predecessor is its onboard tech. There's technology here that has been ported over from its sister company, BMW, with great success.
The iDrive-style rotational control tucked that's left of the driver's side takes on the "Mini Connected" name in this instance, but feels much like the BMW system. If you've not been fortunate enough to use that then it means easy control and lots of full-colour visuals on the centre screen so you can see what's going on and make adjustments. Simply grab the rotational dial, spin it to cycle through options, and press the button to select - a bit like a giant iPod controller. The only real thing missing here is a touchscreen interface.
There's also a 20GB hard drive built in to store your own music, again a bit like a giant iPod. Bonus.
Whether you use this or want to plug in a phone to the USB port and connect to Spotify or other music services it's all possible thanks to the Mini Connected app.
At launch there will be an updated Mini Connected XL app for the iPhone too (Android will follow, date unknown at the time of writing). This new version isn't something we played with pre-launch, but it promises features such as route planning in advance for set dates - simply plug the phone into the system and watch the data get extracted to set you up on the right day, at the right time.
If you've got the cash there are lots of additional options tech options that can quickly stack up on the bill, some more worth it than others. Our favourite is the height-adjustable heads-up display (HUD). Although the Cooper D on test didn't have this fitted, the Cooper S we drove did, and will work in exactly the same fashion in any 2014 Hatch from the range. The HUD communicates with the central satnav system to give the next turn in easy-to-glance fashion, while on board cameras snap the road signs up ahead so you know where you stand at all times.
It's rare we've used a HUD before - BMW has a slightly better implementation of it, that's not as dark grey - but it exceeded our expectations. We thought it would be distracting, but after an hour of driving it became second nature to glance down at a natural eye position rather than needing to look anywhere else. We missed its presence in the Cooper D.
And when you're treading the perilous roads of Mallorca it's important to stay aware, otherwise a cyclist or sheep will most likely end up over the bonnet. Or maybe both.
For £16,450 on the road the third-gen Mini Cooper delivers stacks of personality and style. You will inevitably need to spend more to spec things to your desired level and then the only qualm will be a price point knocking on the door of £20,000. But even for that there's a whole lot of car for the cash.
If you want a small car with personality then look no further. The Cooper D ticks the emissions box that will be important for many but with the new engine and 6-speed box avoids being the dull drive that it could have been.
One of the biggest things of note in the 2014 Mini Hatch range is the BMW technology that's trickled down into its new Mini home. It's the small things that make the big differences. But as that builds upon an already ace interior and comfortable drive it amasses to a Mini Hatch that feels as close to driving a BMW as it ever has. Not bad going for a small car.
The 2014 Mini Cooper is a tech lovers' dream and the most fun small car on the road right now. It may be Mini by name but it's massive fun to drive.