The MINI is one of the more stylistic choices in the $25,000 price bracket.
Of all the configurations of BMW’s MINI that get tested at DoubleClutch.ca Magazine, it’s not all that often that the simplest of versions are put onto the fleet for journalists to try out. BMW Canada was gracious enough to put a bright Chili Red and very modestly equipped 2019 MINI Cooper 3 door into our hands for a week of motoring. It’s likely the version that many people will end up buying, and would be produced and sold in much higher volume relative to the extra fun but pricy John Cooper Works versions.
Although it starts at an advertised base price of $23,090, there’s a catch: you’re funneled into three trim levels – Classic, Premier, and Premier+. The cheapest Classic Line is still an extra $1,300, and there doesn’t appear to be an option to forgo even this package. In this, there’s a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, and front fog lights – all things that most buyers would want, but they won’t get at the advertised base price.
In addition, colour selection is very limited in the Classic Line: there’s only one colour at no extra charge, which is a Moonwalk Grey semi-metallic. A non-metallic white or red (as was the case of the Chili Red test car) or a metallic black will set you back another $590. Simply put, the base price balloons to $24,980 pretty quickly once prospective buyers start looking at what they want. Options on the test vehicle included a $200 Victory Spoke black 16-inch alloy wheels, and $150 for white bonnet stripes, bringing the as-tested total to $25,330. For those looking for an automatic transmission, be prepared to fork over an extra $1,400.
Powering all three lines of the base, non-S MINI Cooper 3-door is a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder(!) engine. Featuring twin scroll turbo technology (BMW calls this Twin Power Turbo – but don’t be confused – there’s only one turbo) and direct fuel injection, power output is 136 horsepower between 4,400 and 6,000RPM, and a very healthy 162 lb-ft. of torque between a rock-bottom 1,250 to 4,300RPM.
With such great torque figures just off idle, throttle response is instantaneous, and there is no turbo lag to be seen thanks to the twin scroll turbo. Like other Twin Power forced induction setups in the BMW lineup, the engine very much behaves like a larger naturally aspirated engine, and the gobs of torque make city driving immensely fun. The power does taper off in the upper end of the rev range, which almost makes the three-cylinder boosted MINI feel progressively slower as it gets pushed harder. For its trouble, MINI says that the zero to 100KM/H sprint can happen in 7.9 seconds for manual cars, and 7.8 seconds for the automatic.
Both transmission options have six forward gears, and the manual that was on test was easy to live with on a daily basis, including in traffic. It practically takes intention to stall this thing when launching, and the shifter goes in between the gates with a good precision, if not with a bit of rubbery feel. Gearing is immensely tall, with fifth and sixth gears not being used at all until near-highway speeds. Thankfully, the high torque levels take full advantage of this.
Rated fuel consumption for the six-speed manual is pegged at 8.5L/100KM in the city, and 6.2L/100KM on the highway. Observed economy just about split the two numbers at 7.2L/100KM in driving that was actually biased towards a more urban setting. Tank capacity is 44 litres, and midgrade fuel is required – that’s 89 octane or higher. Premium fuel with 91 or higher octane is recommended. With the tall gearing, combined with the ability to drive consistently with low RPM upshifting, the little three banger is a good fuel miser.
While the MINI has been known to be a true handling champion dating right back to the brand’s introduction in 1959, the current German-built version is considerably larger and heavier relative to its predecessor. That’s not to say it’ll be a real poor performer however, and the base suspension MINI Cooper 3 Door is reasonably agile, thanks to its modern suspension design. With a curb weight of 1,191 kilograms (2,626 pounds), the softer suspension tuning does make itself known to drivers, with handling response that isn’t nearly as sharp as a John Cooper Works version (that may cost twice as much!). Ride comfort and highway cruising do remain sedate thankfully, and the cabin remains quiet at speed.
Inside, a more Spartan edition of BMW’s iDrive infotainment does duty in the MINI, although the control dials are reversed in direction – this isn’t the case on BMW products. Most cars require a clockwise dial turn to scroll down in menus, whereas the MINI is the opposite. After taking some getting used to, it’s still a good interface to use, and the dial itself is much more preferable to a distracting touch screen.
The manual climate controls are easy to use, and an LED light ring around the central screen repeats temperature, volume, and various other settings as you adjust them. The standard issue black leatherette looks like the real deal, and front seat comfort is good, despite the size of the car (taller drivers – try before you buy!). Rear seat legroom borders on comical, but that’s a given considering the overall compactness of the three door MINI.
As the entry level to the range, the 2019 MINI Cooper 3 Door does an admirable job of representing the cheapest MINI you can buy. Although there are some anomalies with the pricing configuration (the base trim is a $1,300 option?!), it is one of the more stylistic choices in the $25,000 price bracket. While it’s small, it has more visual pizazz than a Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic Hatchback, or Hyundai Elantra GT. The turbocharged three cylinder engine makes the easiest work of daily commuting, and the stump-pulling low end torque has got to be one of the more fun things about this car. It’s something you buy with your heart and not your head, but your head won’t think it’s too bad of an idea either.