Review and road test of the MINI 5-door Hatch F55 (2014-2018)
By Jonathan Crouch
In 2014, we had to get used to the idea of a MINI Hatch with five doors - for the first time ever. With this 'F55'-series body style, you get a longer wheelbase, quite a lot more luggage space and potentially room for three people in the back. On top of this, there's the third generation MINI model's sophisticated design with underpinnings better suited to longer journeys. Oh and a range of punchy but economical engines. You wanted more MINI? Well you get it with this design.
5dr Hatch (1.2, 1.5, 2.0 petrol/ 1.5 diesel [One, Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper SD, Cooper S)
Take a standard MINI, add a dash of length and practicality and you'd have a strong seller. You'd have a car like this, the MINI Hatch 5-Door.
At this 'F55'-series model's introduction in 2014, the BMW brand talked of this design being 'the first ever 5-door MINI Hatch'. Actually, the Countryman SUV (launched in 2010) was that, but this was indeed, the first five-door version of the iconic MINI hatch. And it was a model well needed by the marque. There have always been, after all, potentially lots of folk who like the stylish frugality and fun, chuckable, cheeky demeanour of the MINI Hatch 3-Door model but simply can't justify that car's tiny rear seats and restricted boot. Possibly they've an occasional need to transport up to three kids in the back. And they require a car that won't be daunted by the modest proceeds of a family superstore shop.
A car like this one? It certainly proved to be a strong seller for the brand, priced and sized in fertile territory somewhere between Fiesta-shaped superminis and Focus-sized family hatches. It was lightly facelifted in 2108, but it's the earlier 2014-2018 version we're going to evaluate here as a used buy.
What You Get
The worst mistake any MINI can make is to lose its 'MINI-ness'. And much of that is, after all, tied up in this model's diminutive dimensions. Which, as it happens, aren't so diminutive these days thanks to the third generation Hatch design's small but significant increases in width, height and length. To these enhancements, this Hatch 5-Door variant adds 161mm of length and 11mm of height over its Hatch 3-Door sibling, all of this thanks to a wheelbase stretched by 72mm.
But let's focus on what we're looking to analyse in this section: the differences that this 5-Door Hatch model delivers over its Hatch 3-Door stablemate. Nearly half of the extra length you get with this variant has gone into providing extra rear seat space, though to some extent, the issue lies in getting to it. The extra rear doors are really pretty small, so squeezing in and out can be tricky.
Once you're inside on the rear seat though, the news gets better. Anyone who's ever been crammed into the back of a MINI Hatch 3-Door model for any length of time will be astonished by just how much space has been created here simply by increasing the length of the car by a mere 161mm. Partly thanks to the deeply sculpted seatbacks, you get 72mm more rear legroom than you would in the smaller model and that height increase is welcome too, freeing up 15mm more headroom. There's even 61mm of extra interior width at elbow height, despite the fact that all MINI Hatch models share the same exterior width.
This was the first MINI hatch to offer more than two seats in the rear, though we're not entirely sure about the brand's claim that this makes the car 'a genuine five-seater'. The middle rear pew is, after all, next to useless for all except very small children thanks to this huge transmission tunnel. Still a couple of adults will be surprisingly comfortable, even on longer trips. Yes, even if they happen to be six-footers.
On to boot capacity, the aspect that, more than any other, MINI owners have previously most moaned about. With this Hatch 5-Door model, you certainly get more of it, the 278-litre total being 67-litres up on that available in the Hatch 3-Door version.
What To Look For
What to Look For
There aren't many reported issues with this 'F55'-series MINI 5-Door Hatch mechanically. The only one we came across related to a batch of cars with the 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine that suffered from oil leaks. This came from the rocker-cover gasket which in the case of these rogue models, had somehow managed to bulge out from between its mating surfaces, spraying oil everywhere. If the car you're looking at had such a leak, tell-tale signs include rough running and a poor idle. A new gasket is the ultimate fix.
We also came across a few 2.0-litre cars experiencing the odd clutch problem. The torque of the engine seems to be part of the problem, but some owners have reported that their clutch is slipping quite early in the car's life. Even then, it wasn't that straightforward. Apparently, the on-board sensor designed to be an early-warning system of clutch failure proved in some cases to be just too sensitive for its own good, throwing up a false warnings on the dashboard when there was actually no problem at all. Dealerships have tackled this by taking any car in question out on to the road and performing a series of full-throttle acceleration tests in both second and fourth gear. Any clutch slip meant a new clutch was needed, but if there was no slip, the software was recalibrated to prevent the false alarms. Either way, the acceleration test is one you should perform when test-driving any Cooper S with a manual gearbox.
The other thing to watch is for a car that has had skipped oil changes. Check the service handbook for any missed scheduled services and ensure the oil on the dipstick is relatively clean. The problem with skipped oil changes is most likely to show up in the variable valve-timing system these engines use, and dirty oil will foul the small oilways and filters quick smart. At which point, it's a pricey, expensive fix.
(approx based on a 2015 MINI One 1.2 excl. VAT) A front brake pad set costs about £32. Front brake discs start in the £57 bracket - it's around £68 for a rear one. Oil filters cost around £16. A wiper blade costs between £18 and £25. A headlight bulb is around £3. And an ignition coil is about £77.
On the Road
On the move, your first impressions should be good. At the foot of the range, there's a choice between various three cylinder engines - a 1.2-litre unit in the MINI One, a 1.5-litre petrol in the Cooper and a 1.5-litre diesel in the Cooper D. A 2.0-litre four cylinder diesel powerplant features further up the range in the Cooper SD diesel. A 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol powerplant features in the Cooper S. But let's say you're shopping further down the line-up and find yourself trying a three cylinder derivative. Triples always sound good at start-up, even if in other cars, a lot of them create quite a din when you get up to speed. This one doesn't: you'd really have to know your engines to realise that this wasn't a conventional four cylinder unit but because it isn't, the burbling soundtrack delivered is so much more interesting: so much more MINI. Which is an important part of the kind of cheeky, involving driving experience upon which this car's appeal stands or falls. Yes, people love the styling and the image, but one of these just has to put a smile on your face when you drive it. If the overall feeling you're going to get is of just another supermini wearing a cute suit, you'd have to question this car's place in the overall scheme of things.
The MINI marketing people continually talk about 'go-kart handling' but that seems to be at odds with this 'F55'-series model's longer wheelbase and wider track. On top of that, until this car's launch in 2014, you had front-driven MINIs and rear-driven BMWs, so MINIs were different and technically unique. But since Munich awoke to the benefits of the front-driven layout, that's no longer true. Given that this model shares the same so-called 'UKL' platform and basically the same engines as a volume BMW model (the 2 Series Active Tourer), you have to wonder whether it might lose a bit of its unique MINI-ness. But it doesn't. Driving this car still delivers same infectious naughtiness that loyal owners love so much. There's still the same darty steering, the same quick-fire throttle. And, yes, in the top Cooper S version at least, still the same unyieldingly bumpy ride over poor surfaces.
Fortunately, with this 'F55'-series model, you don't have to have it. In fact, one of the most appealing things about this MINI is the way the suppleness of UKL chassis makes this car a decent long journeying companion if you buy it in its humbler forms. It's only when you go for the sportiest 2.0-litre turbo models, like the Cooper S, that the ride firmness takes a turn towards the old days with a set-up that's great when you're giving the car a good flogging, but tedious the rest of the time when you're stuck with suspension settings that give you all the compliance of a Halfords trolley jack.
Even here though, help is at hand thanks to an extra cost box that many original Cooper S owners decided to tick. Namely that for the Variable Damper Control set-up. This enables you to switch the ride to suit the mood you're in and the road you're on and works through the 'MINI Driving Modes' system you get as part of the 'CHILLI' pack - which was another option at original point of purchase. Here, a rather hidden selector at the base of the gearstick enables you to choose settings that tweak throttle, steering and (on automatic models) gear change response between 'MID' and 'Green' settings for efficient, comfort-orientated motoring. And 'Sport' for when the road opens up and the red mist begins to fall, something echoed appropriately by a red glow around the central display and, less subtly, by a little picture of a go-kart and the phrase 'maximum go kart feel' . Quite. You certainly get that with the unyielding day-to-day ride of the Cooper S if you don't get yourself a car with the Variable Damper Control package fitted. Check out the more supplely suspended models further down the range though and this additional feature may not be necessary. Try before you decide is our advice.
We've talked about different models: let's get a bit more specific. Essentially, there are four kinds of MINI three cylinder 5-Door Hatch you can buy and all put out a decent level of poke. After all, even the base 1.2-litre petrol MINI One manages rest to 62mph in about 10s en route to 121mph. Next up are the MINI One D and MINI Cooper D diesel options, with a 1.5-litre unit respectively putting out either 95 or 136hp.
Perhaps the sweet spot in the range though, is represented by the variant that'll deservedly be the best-seller, the petrol-powered Cooper model. Here again, the engine on offer is 1.5-litres in size - actually basically the same unit that assists the electric motor in BMW's i8 supercar. Here, as there, it punches well above its weight, enabling the performance of this third generation version Cooper to aspire to the lower-rungs of the hot hatch ladder: 62mph can be dispatched in around 7.5s en route to 130mph, which, we think, will be quite as fast as most will really want to go in this car. To go quicker than this, you have to get your MINI with much firmer suspension and a much larger 2.0-litre four cylinder engine up-front: either the 170hp diesel unit of the Cooper SD, the 192hp petrol unit in the Cooper S. Either way, the performance gains over the standard 1.5-litre Cooper model with its much friendlier ride and handling balance aren't massive: the Cooper S manages 62mph in around 7.0s on the way to about 145mph.
To better get you through the twisty stuff, there's a Performance Control system which electronically duplicates the kind of functionality you'd normally get from a heavier, more complicated mechanical locking differential. So it works through the turns to counter both understeer and wheel spin by lightly micro-braking whichever front wheel is threatening to lose grip. As a result, the car's kept planted through the tightest corner and you're fired on from bend to bend. Oh and on the subject of brakes, on a Cooper S they're really very good indeed, as befits a potential trackday car, large and extremely effective. Brilliant.
The Cooper S really is a very fast car indeed. But even lesser MINI 5-Door Hatch models have plenty to offer the owner who likes his or her driving. You can tailor the steering and suspension to your taste and the six-speed gear change is reasonably slick. Not only because the throw's short, the stick's nice to use and the snickety action's satisfying but also thanks to clever gearbox software that even instructs the engine to blip the throttle on the down change, so it sounds as if you've mastered the perfect heel and toe technique and your friends will think you're the next Lewis Hamilton. If you can't be bothered with all of that, there are two 6-speed auto transmission options on offer, the more desirable 'sports' set-up featuring shorter shift times and steering wheel paddles.
In one sense, it's extraordinary that it took the MINI brand so long to bring us this car. After all, over 70% of all sales in the small hatchback segment are of five-door models. In not offering a conventional MINI Hatch with that option, this franchise was missing out on a significant number of sales.
With the extra doors in place and this car in MINI's range, the company's position in the compact hatch sector has changed significantly. After all, in the eyes of many potential customers, the extra versatility of this variant will turn what was previously an un-buyable car into a really credible proposition.
You have to know what you're getting of course. Though the engine range can certainly offer the power and technology you'd get in the best Focus-sized family hatchbacks, the rear seat passenger room and boot space of this model can't quite match the best players in that segment. This MINI gets reasonably close though, priced and pitched to hit a tempting sweet spot between the supermini and family hatch sectors that will suit many buyers perfectly. For these kinds of people, the news that they can have one of these for less than the price of an ordinary Focus or Astra will be music to their ears.
That affordability's key given that high-ish pricing was one of the things that put some buyers off the MINI Countryman model that represented the brand's first stab at five-door motoring. Here though, the sticker figures seem to be right and have been matched with strong British build quality and this third generation Hatch design's classy, endearing feel. Best of all perhaps, the extra length of this variant has done nothing to dilute its fun factor. It's still a great choice for the young at heart.
MINI 5-door Hatch F55 (2014-2018) review by Jonathan Crouch