MINI’s automatic change for better

MINI Cooper five-door hatchback is a cheeky character to drive even with the six-speed automatic gea

MINI Cooper five-door hatchback is a cheeky character to drive even with the six-speed automatic gearbox. - Credit: MINI

MINI is looking to shift perceptions with its six-speed automatic gearbox, says Matt Kimberley.

What's new?

MINIs are great cars – if you like the way they do things. Automatic gearboxes are also great in their own ways, but an auto in a Mini? Surely not you say.

Here is a five-door MINI Cooper with what should normally be the last option box you'd ever want to tick – a six-speed automated manual. Time to see whether this unusual combination is a match made in heaven or blasphemy.

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Looks and image

The elongated silhouette of the five-door MINI doesn't have the cheeky charm of the three-door hatchback but the latest crash safety regulations have raised the bonnet and inflated the bodywork to give impressive passenger and pedestrian protection.

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As far as image goes, the Force is still strong with MINI despite all sorts of rival cars having been brought in over the last 10 years. The five-door is still very obviously a MINI and it's more practical. That's got to count for something positive.

Space and practicality

Let's not jump the gun – you wouldn't say this car had a big boot, but it is still bigger than the much-maligned cubbyhole at the back of the three-door. For reference, a 600 by 400mm radiator (in its packaging) slots almost perfectly into the base of the load bay.

Rear legroom is adequate for a typical adolescent passenger, but not for long distances. The five-door MINI is definitely an urban creature and if you're stopping by a coffee shop you'll be grateful for the sizeable cupholders.

Behind the wheel

Here's where the MINI shines with the gruff fizz of the Cooper's three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine and the directness of its steering. From the moment you sit behind that uniquely stylish dashboard – as long as you've added the large colour screen and iDrive interface – you feel the MINI experience is a bit special.

It's light, responsive and immediately engaging, despite the auto gearbox. Automated manuals are sometimes horrific things to use but MINI has (mostly) dialled out the inherent flaws of the set-up. It's only when you lift off the accelerator from middling revs before pressing down again a couple of seconds later that the system falls on its face, getting all in a muddle over what ratio it wants.

But that raised bonnet and narrow windows reduce visibility.

Value for money

At well over £17,000 before any options, the Cooper auto isn't cheap. Add metallic paint, a wheel upgrade and the media system and it's more than £21,000. But, then again, it has five doors, a larger boot than the three-door and you enjoy your every minute behind the wheel.

Who would buy one?

There are a lot of cars that you can buy for the price of an optioned-up automatic five-door Cooper but few provide anything like the same verve and cheekiness around town. It's an unnecessary luxury and it's expensive for its size, but larger, more mainstream alternatives feel dull by comparison. You pay your money and take your choice.

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