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Ah, the original Mini. We all know Alec Issigonis’ landmark 1959 design – ADO 15 was the first car with a transversely-mounted engine (powering the front wheels), allowing as much as 60% of the car’s length to be designated for passengers. The result was a car that barely crested the three-metre mark in length, at 3,054 mm, but could fit four fully-grown adults and their luggage.

Of course, since BMW restyled MINI as a marque, space efficiency has virtually fallen off the USP list. The first “new” MINI, launched in 2001, was infamous for having a cabin that was smaller than its predecessor’s, despite being significantly larger. While subsequent models have addressed that issue somewhat by growing bigger and bigger, the words “excellent packaging” and “MINI” are still rarely seen together.

Which brings us to the new F55 MINI 5 Door, the company’s most determined stab yet at creating a more practical MINI through the addition of a pair of doors and copious amounts of metal, even though the current F56 hatch is the largest one yet. Of course, we’ve seen the Countryman before, but this is the first time that the regular hatch has ever spawned a more-door variant, classic or otherwise.

So, does this new model – which will arrive here before the end of the year – have enough substance to justify opening its new doors (literally and figuratively) to new customers, or is it just a MINI too far? We sample the Cooper S variant in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire in the UK to find out.

Let’s get one thing clear – the MINI 5 Door is not a small car, at least not by traditional supermini standards. The wheelbase has grown by 72 mm to 2,567 mm, and the car is also now taller by 11 mm, sitting at 1,425 mm. But by far the biggest increase is in the overall length, which has shot up a considerable 161 mm to 3,952 mm.

That’s in regular Cooper guise – the Cooper S (as tested) and SD are 4,005 mm long thanks to their protruding bumpers, making them one of the few B-segment hatchbacks to break the four-metre mark. Specified as such, the 5 Door is a whole 51 mm longer than its nearest competitor, the Audi A1 Sportback.

A consequence of this is a car that looks a little big to be wearing a MINI badge. That characteristic “bulldog” wheel-at-each-corner stance that has characterised the brand has been rather watered down, although the longer rear overhang does serve to balance out the new generation’s prominent proboscis. To make it look less like an estate, the designers have raked the rear windscreen slightly and enlarged the rump, which does give the car’s styling a hint of the old Austin Maxi about it.

As with the three-door, some details such as the grille, the head- and tail lights and especially the Cooper S’ chin-like lower front air dam have been supersized to an almost comical degree to mask the new car’s not-so-diminutive proportions. Predictably, they work better on the larger 5 Door, but they also make the design a little overwrought, particularly compared to its minimalist predecessors.

Less aesthetically pleasing than before it may be, but the latest MINIs are still highly fashionable items in their own right. The optional LED head- and tail lights – the former with large light rings around them – the complex grille assembly and the subtle creases all around give the new cars an air of sophistication that those before it somewhat lacked.

Stepping inside (noting the lack of frameless windows this time around), you’ll find that the dashboard of the 5 Door is identical to the three-door, which has been stripped of some of its flash and ergonomic quirks to improve usability, another one of MINI’s biggest bugbears.

Gone, for instance, is the enormous dinner plate central speedometer, replaced by a smaller motorcycle-style pod that sits on top of the steering column alongside the rev counter. With its tiny size, narrow typefaces and cramped dial, it is still hardly the last word in legibility, but at least you can set the multi-infomation display (or the optional head-up display) to show the current speed in nice, big numbers.

Residing in place of the old speedo is an LED ring that retains some functionality, showing things like engine and road speed, the next direction from the optional navigation system, distance warnings from the optional parking sensors and even the current colour of the optional ambient lighting package. It’s all a little frivolous, but hey, it looks cool. The new flip-up upper glovebox on the passenger’s side is a neat addition, too.


Above: F56 MINI Cooper Hatch, below: F55 MINI Cooper S 5 Door

As usual, there’s an infotainment display in the middle of the central circle, which can now be specified to measure a full 8.8 inches. The screen displays the usual audio and navigation functions, but can also be set up to show a Rolls-Royce-esque power gauge and even a fun (and rather distracting) Minimalism Analyser with a fish that gets more water in its bowl to swim in the more economical you drive.

Elsewhere, there are hints of BMW starting to exert its influence over the British brand. The central air vents are businesslike rectangular, rather than circular in shape, the usual vertical spars connecting the upper dashboard and the transmission tunnel are gone and a suspiciously iDrive-like MINI Controller has sprouted behind the gear lever that (yes, like on newer BMWs) can be upgraded to a touch-sensitive unit.

There is nice use of soft-touch materials and high end materials everywhere you look, and the cabin atmosphere is decidedly Teutonic. It remains to be seen if build quality will stand up to years of family use, however – the Cooper three-door model that we had for a few days (you may have seen it in Episode 2 of the 2014 season of the Driven Web Series) developed a nasty rattle deep in the driver’s door, despite its relatively newness.

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The only real difference between the three- and five-door models, of course, is at the back, where that entire 72 mm increase in wheelbase resides. The result is a space that is now entirely useable by adults, though quite how MINI made a car this long that is still a little cramped by modern standards escapes me. There is, however, more head- and elbow room on offer here, despite width staying the same at 1,727 mm.

Ingress and egress to the hindquarters remain poor, though, no thanks to the surprisingly narrow aperture of the rear doors. The MINI 5 Door can technically seat five, although those in the middle will have to straddle the awkward centre cupholder that sits on top of a tall transmission tunnel. Still, it’s better than four-people-or-a-Countryman, no?

Boot space is another area where the MINI 5 Door has improved significantly over the three-door, up 67 litres to 278 litres thanks to an 89 mm increase in rear overhang. The company claims it’s now the largest in its segment, but we’re not so sure. Yes, it’s a paltry eight litres more than the A1, but it’s also two litres less than the VW Polo, 33 litres less than the Peugeot 208 and an astonishing 85 litres less than the Honda Jazz.

You do get a decent 943 litres with the 60:40 split rear bench folded, however, and the new false boot floor can be moved up to fit flush with the folded seats. As with the three-door, the boot aperture is wide, but the sill is fairly tall, making the loading of heavier items a slight pain in the back.

Making its debut alongside the MINI 5 Door is the MINI Yours programme, designed to give buyers more unique colour and trim options (with authentic materials) compared to the standard range. On the outside, there is a new Lapisluxury Blue – a deep solid blue hue – as well as 18-inch two-tone Vanity Spoke alloys that are said to have been inspired by luxury chronographs.

But it’s the interior trim choices that stand out, starting with new Lounge Carbon Black leather upholstery with contrasting seams and a neat Union Jack pattern at the back of the headrests. There’s also a MINI Yours sports steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather and stitched in contrasting silver, as well as three new trim pieces – glossy Off White, unpolished Dark Cottonwood and my personal favourite, Fibre Alloy.

Nestled below the expansive clamshell bonnet of the Cooper S variant we tested is BMW’s new B48 2.0 litre direct-injected TwinPower Turbo petrol four pot that develops 192 hp from 4,700 to 6,000 rpm and a generous 280 Nm (300 Nm on overboost) from 1,250 to 4,750 rpm.

Lower down in the range, there’s the One’s 102 hp/180Nm 1.2 litre and the Cooper’s 136 hp/220 Nm 1.5 litre three-cylinder petrol turbos. On the diesel side sits the One D’s 70 hp/220 Nm 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbodiesel, the Cooper D’s 116 hp/270 Nm version of the same engine and the new Cooper SD’s 170 hp/360 Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that makes its debut on the 5 Door.

Standard fit across all variants is a six-speed manual, but the Cooper S we drove was specced with a six-speed sports automatic with paddle shifters that is also available on the Cooper SD. One, Cooper and Cooper D models, on the other hand, are only offered with the option of a regular six-speed auto ‘box instead, with no paddles.

Automatic models equipped with navigation benefit from the Rolls-Royce Wraith-like Predictive Drivetrain which uses GPS data to pick out the right gear to suit what’s ahead, reducing unnecessary shifting through corners, roundabouts or highway exits.

Under the skin is BMW’s new modular Unter Klasse (UKL) platform shared with the equally front-drive 2 Series Active Tourer, yet another area that hints of closer integration with Munich. Like the F56, the F55 5 Door is suspended by MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear.

Driving one of the latest F55/F56 MINI models is a bit of an oddity. The high beltline of the newest generation makes the interior feel slightly claustrophobic, but the wide windscreen and upright A-pillars afford a decent view out, with visibility only spoiled by the thick C- and D-pillars.

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Off the blocks, there’s no denying that the F55 Cooper S is a rapid car, even with the larger dimensions and an extra 65 kg (1,315 kg kerb weight) on board. It sprints from rest to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds – barely 0.1 seconds slower than the F56 – on its way to a top speed just three kilometres per hour lower at 230 km/h.

The figures only tell part of the story – the B48 is a zingy motor that belies its relatively large displacement, flinging itself up to its 6,500 rpm redline with absolute glee. Don’t think for a second that this engine is all about top-end histrionics, however, as there’s a decent spread of torque that begins from low down in the rev range, with nary a moment of turbo lag to speak of.

Sure, the engine note may sound a little flat next to the three-pot rumble of the Cooper, but there’s still a lot of character to be had, especially with the exhaust pops on upshifts and on the overrun that come when you flick the rotary switch at the base of the gear lever to select Sport mode. This mode, by the way, also sharpens the gearbox and throttle response to provide lightning-fast shifts and near-instantaneous kickdown.

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On the other hand, thumb the switch the other way and you’ll find yourself in Green mode, which dulls these parameters down to NyQuil levels and decouples the engine and gearbox when coasting to save fuel. Boring this may sound, but this mode finds other ways to fill your interest, including the aforementioned Minimalism Analyser and a readout in the multi-infomation display that shows how much further you can go on a tank driving in this mode.

Claimed combined fuel consumption figures are between 5.4 to 5.5 litres per 100 km depending on the tyres, nominally poorer than the three-door (5.2 to 5.4 litres per 100 km). We were getting figures closer to 8.0 litres per 100 km, still an impressive result considering the large stretches of spirited driving during our stint.

The car we tested was fitted with optional Electronic Damper Control (EDC) that differs from the conventional fixed dampers we get over here. As such, the ride in Normal and Green mode is a lot smoother than it is on the regular local-spec Cooper three-door model we drove, but even in the hard-edged Sport mode there’s a hint of extra pliancy over rutted UK roads, presumably due to the longer wheelbase.

Don’t get me wrong, though – cosseting the 5 Door definitely still isn’t. Tyre roar is also a bit of an issue – particularly on the coarse motorways we drove on – while there is some wind noise around the upright windscreen at higher speeds. That said, refinement levels are still better than many cars in the B-segment.

But what every MINI really needs to excel at is in the corners, and we’re pleased to note that, despite the added length and weight, the 5 Door does its job well. The company has tuned the suspension and steering to retain as much of the three-door’s agility as possible, and the result is a car that is a near-facsimile of the F56 to drive.

The speed-sensitive electromechanical power steering is quick, direct and accurate, if a little short on feel (and just a touch too heavy in Sport mode). This is backed up by a chassis that, once you get past the initial built-in understeer, is keen enough to follow every flick on the steering wheel.

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Grip levels are excellent, too, enough that you’ll struggle to break traction in the dry, while excess body movements are effectively reigned in. There is a hint of slack in the 5 Door’s responses in extremis compared to the three-door, but you’ll be hard-pressed to know the difference in regular driving.

All this begs the question, however – how does the new 5 Door stack up against the F56 three-door? Certainly, the longer model loses some of the characteristic MINI pert styling, so if your purchase centres on looks and looks only, then the smaller car is still the obvious choice.

That said, if you have always hankered for a MINI but balked at the regular hatch’s minuscule cabin, limited rear seat access and four-seat-only accommodation, then this may just be the car for you. The F55 MINI 5 Door is exactly what it says on the tin – simply a more practical entry into the MINI experience. And that will suit many people just fine.