Skid Marks

MINI Cooper S 5-door is more practical, but just as fun

The Cooper-S 5-door is by far the most well-balanced of the new MINI lineup.

The Cooper-S 5-door is by far the most well-balanced of the new MINI lineup.

MINI, together with its parent company BMW, is a master of creating more niches and sub-classes. The MINI Cooper 5-door is a perfect example, an answer to a question nobody seemingly asked. It looks quite awkward too, and begs the question: how do you differentiate and segregate between this and the Clubman?

We’ll get to that later. Firstly, what you need to know is that the 5-door is usefully 16 centimeters longer than the 3-door hatchback we all know and love, 7 centimeters of which translates directly into added legroom for the back-seat passengers. The 5-door adds a degree of useability, comfort and crucially, versatility versus the 3-door hatch. You get practically everything you get in the 3-door, plus a little more of course: excellent 2.0 liter turbocharged BMW TwinPower Turbo engine that delivers 192 ps and 280 Newton-Meters of torque driving the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. MINI offers drive modes as well, Eco, Mid and Sport modes, one becoming more aggressive after the other.

The centrally mounted instrument cluster has been moved to the more traditional position ahead of the driver, and the Mickey Mouse like center display houses information from the multimedia system, essentially similar to BMW’s iDrive, but with a lot of new and neat cheat buttons that give easy and instant access to various parameters such as the entertainment system, navigation system (where applicable), fuel/trip computer and HVAC settings. I found it difficult to initially connect my mobile media device to the MINI’s infotainment system, but eventually succeded. Syncing thereafter was a breeze. But older Android devices could not connect successfully, which is when the old-school 3.5 mm aux cable came in handy to lay equally old-school rock.

Handsome 17’ allow wheels shod with 205/45R17 Michelin Primacy all-weather touring tires

Handsome 17’ allow wheels shod with 205/45R17 Michelin Primacy all-weather touring tires

Rear seat passengers are up for a treat of course; they don’t need to squeeze in through a small, tight gap between the front seats and the B-pillars. Instead, they get their own rear door now. MINI put in three seatbelts, which means three passengers, but the middle-seat passenger has to sit on a tall hump, same as sitting on your Mom’s lap for a long drive. Plus if your feet are bigger than a size 8 (7 UK), you’ll have a hard time sliding these in underneath the front seats. Knee and legroom are otherwise fine. You can also fold the back seats to increase cargo space, from a modest 371 liters with the rear seats up, to a far more useful and appreciably larger 1,153 liters with the rear seats folded up. In comparison, the 3-door only has 247 liters with the back seats up and 963 liters with them down.

Handsome 17’ allow wheels shod with 205/45R17 Michelin Primacy all-weather touring tires adorn the MINI Cooper S 5-door. Some might say it’s a tad narrow, considering the MINI’s 1,250-kilogram base weight (more depending on options), but it feels just right, giving the MINI a delicate feel as you saw madly behind the wheel, flat-out on your favorite stretch of winding road. More on that as well, later.

The MINI is also a very safe car. Aside from attaining 5-star crash safety rating from independent test body Euro NCAP, the MINI bets front, side and curtain airbags, traction/stability control and ABS-EBD brakes as standard. And as with any finely honed driving tool from the BMW stable, the electronics work unobtrusively, making you feel like the next driving god on really tight roads.

And finally, we get to the driving. I’ve been quite critical of MINIs in the past, but the new, larger maxi-MINI impressed me. I had driven the Clubman previously, and that felt very different. But the 5-door felt very much like the 3-door, with a bit of delay particularly in turn-in. The answer lies in the platform. BMW’s UKL1 platform underpins the MINI 3-door, MINI 5-door and MINI cabriolet/convertible. The larger UKL2 platform underpins the Clubman, recently launched Countryman, and BMW’s X1 and 2-Series Active Tourers. Then it all makes sense. The UKL2 underpinned vehicles are larger, heavier, taller and wider, thus affecting handling and response while the UKL1 vehicles still feel light and sprightly .

2.0 liter turbocharged BMW TwinPower Turbo engine

2.0 liter turbocharged BMW TwinPower Turbo engine

To paraphrase, if you’re looking for a little bit more practicality, but don’t want to stray far from the original go-kart-like handling MINI feel, then the Cooper S 5-door is your best bet. You’re probably young (or feeling young), single, recently married or an empty nester and want to really enjoy your driving, yet need a little bit more practicality. Whereas if you’re a family man and need all the practicality, space and versatility, but still don’t want to totally let go of MINI in your life, the larger Clubman and Countryman suit your needs perfectly.

On the road, the 5-door flows beautifully. There’s far more stability on the highway, and it feels far more composed and stable, making long drives relaxing. On winding roads, you can hammer on as hard as you want in the 5-door as in the 3-door, with a slight but noticeable delay in response around corners; you feel the slight lag most at turn-in as the longer wheelbase makes the 5-door ever so slightly less willing to change directions. But the trade-off on long highway drives means you have far better comfort when you just want to press on. It also makes bumps midcorner less hair-raising, again thanks to the better stability afforded by the longer wheelbase. The steering is still MINI-heavy, that is perfectly weighted, with good feel and feedback. The brakes are a tad overassisted, but do provide fade-free performance.

MINI fans, especially those who have adult needs, need not worry. Their preferred MINI has arrived. It captures 90 percent of the MINI 3-door’s charms, but delivers far more practicality, versatility and ease of use. It’s by far the most well-balanced of the new MINI lineup for me, and can even wing it as a family car for families with young children. Why look elsewhere?

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