The new Mini Cooper takes on Alfa Romeo’s small hatch.
Mini Cooper: From $29,000 plus on-road costs; 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol; 100kW/230Nm, 6-sp automatic; FWD; 4.7L/100km.
Alfa Romeo Mito Progression: From $24,500 plus on-road costs; 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol; 99kW/206Nm; 5-sp manual; FWD; 5.5L/100km.
The reborn Mini was never an earth-shattering value proposition, though that is starting to change with the introduction of a new generation. The entry-level Cooper is now $5000 cheaper than its predecessor at $26,650 (with six-speed manual transmission), which still leaves it $2150 dearer than the MiTo.
But our test car was fitted with Mini’s $2350 six-speed automatic option and a further $5490 in options that took its price to $34,490 plus on-road costs, almost $10,000 more than its Italian rival.
The standard Cooper has 15-inch wheels, reverse parking sensors, cruise control, Bluetooth, smart keys and a four-line digital ‘TFT’ display. This example featured Mini’s $3000 Pepper pack that includes goodies such as 16-inch wheels, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming and customisable LED interior lighting.
Mini backs its cars with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and offers five years or 70,000 kilometres in servicing for $850.
The MiTo is our value winner here, coming in at a significantly cheaper price with strong features.
Bluetooth audio streaming, a 5-inch touch screen display and 16-inch wheels are standard features that are optional extras on the Mini, and build on other gear such as cruise control and rear parking sensors.
We tested a five-speed manual car here, not the six-speed dual-clutch auto Alfa offers as a $2000 option. The MiTo has a three-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty and is a better value pick than the Mini.
Winner: Alfa Romeo
On the inside
This all-new Mini features a raft of interior changes designed to make it more liveable. The retro-styled central dashboard speedo of its predecessor has been replaced by a conventional unit, and the window switches are on the armrests as opposed to the centre console.
The Mini is a better-finished car with well-executed soft-touch materials across a sweeping dash that frames its large circular central display. The car’s small leather steering wheel offers an impressive range of adjustment and feels excellent to hold.
It’s a smaller car than the Italian, but clever design helps the interior feel more open.
Vintage-style toggle switches for the engine, stop-start system and stability control add to its charm, as does optional mood lighting that can glows in a variety of colours.
Access to the rear seat is tight, but there is plenty of headroom for adults, though its legroom is less generous.
Stepping out of the Mini, the MiTo immediately feels a bit less special. While its instruments have a classic Alfa style and the rest of the design has typical Italian flair, the use of hard plastics makes the Alfa feel a class below its rival.
The MiTo’s larger steering wheel does not feel as special, though like the Mini, it has plenty of adjustment to suit drivers if different sizes.
Alfa Romeo’s standard touchscreen looks a generation behind Mini’s much larger unit, which is now accessed by the sort of multifunction controller that is a staple of luxury cars.
It’s easier to get into the rear of the Alfa, but once there, a sloping roofline leaves little room for adults.
The MiTo has a significant storage advantage over the Cooper, with a 270-litre storage space that easily eclipses Mini’s 211-litres.
Under the bonnet
The standard Mini Cooper is now powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine that is an absolute gem.
It has an off-beat three-cylinder purr with none of the harshness found in cars like the Mitsubishi Mirage, and plenty of grunt too.
The little turbo lends the Mini with a flexibility that belies its size, thanks to 220Nm of torque – or 230Nm with bursts of full-throttle overboost – between 1250 and 4300rpm.
The Mini makes more power and torque than its rival and uses less fuel to do so, something that makes it a winner in our book.
We tested the car with an optional six-speed auto that is smooth and responsive, while previous drives in the manual version have revealed a polished and easily finessed gearchange.
This MiTo has a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that is a good thing in isolation, though it does not compare quite so well with a newer rival.
It is harsher than the Mini, and lacks the effortless appeal of its British rival.
The Alfa uses more fuel to produce less grunt than the Mini and is let down by its five-speed manual. The Italian car is one ratio short of what we expect from cars in this class, and it has a shift that can be awkward at times.
Both cars have stop-start fuel-saving systems, and the Alfa can be a chore as it’s slow-witted system can be caught off guard in traffic, forcing drivers to break rhythm and dip the clutch once more so that the car will start. Experience with Alfa Romeo’s optional dual clutch auto suggests it is not as smooth as the Mini’s conventional torque converter auto.
How it drives
The new Mini is significantly larger than its predecessor but does an impressive job of retaining that car’s sharp handling.
Crisp, well weighted steering joins suspension that has been tuned more towards sporty responses than ride comfort. But while the ride is still firm, it feels more compliant than the previous model and thus easier to live with.
The Mini is a joy on the road, helped by its perky engine.
The brand claims its car accelerates to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds, which is respectable for a car of its class and half a second faster than the Alfa’s official time for the same benchmark.
The MiTo isn’t as quick as the Mini, and first impressions if the car were that its feather-light steering and sluggish engine response were not worthy of the Alfa Romeo badge.
But that was due to a conservative setting in Alfa Romeo’s DNA system, which allows drivers to choose between dynamic, natural and all-weather presets that tune its steering weight, throttle response and stability control calibration.
A change to dynamic mode saw the car come alive, with sharp engine responses and meaty steering weight that helps drivers find confidence in the car.
On the road, the Alfa has a similar ride and handling compromise to the Mini, favouring responsiveness over comfort. But the Alfa is not as sharp as the Mini, and is not the driver’s choice of this pair.
Both cars here are hatchbacks that claim to offer more spunk than a Toyota Yaris or Mazda2. The Mini has more than a lump of heritage behind it, with cute styling that harks back to the original Mini which surfaced in the 1950s.
From the Monte Carlo rally to The Italian Job movies, there is plenty of pop culture behind the British-badged hatch.
The manufacturer allows people to customise its cars in myriad ways that can result in truly unique machines. That customisation comes at a cost, though, and on extreme circumstances could double the price of the car.
Alfa Romeo describes its hatch as a coupe, which is probably stretching things.
But it might have a point, as the MiTo has two long doors, a sloping roofline and design details lifted from its iconic 8C Competizione supercar.
It’s arguably not as iconic as Mini, and Alfa Romeo’s customisation options are slim, though our model here features an Italian flag strip above the windscreen.
The new Mini Cooper is a belter, with a great engine, sharp dynamics and timeless appeal. With its lower starting price it should be on the shopping list for anyone considering a premium hatch.
Alfa Romeo has been beaten by a fresh rival, though the Italian car was by no means disgraced. For motorists looking for something out of the ordinary, the MiTo remains an appealing alternative to more mainstream cars.