FIRST DRIVE: more doors, more fun ... MIni has really grown up and may even take up GOLF

By Philip Hedderman

The Mini has gone and grown up.

In fact it's grown up so much it's not so mini any more.

But die-hard fans need not fret too much as it's all part of the brand's evolution.

We've already seen the introduction of the weird and the wonderful to the model line-up in the guise if the Countryman, Clubman, Roadster and bad boy Coupe.

Most recently we've been treated to the Hatch and it was a no-brainer not to produce a five-door version at just €740 more.

In order to accommodate the extra bodies the designers have made it larger, more comfortable and above all, practical.

It's 116mm longer and 11mm taller, which gives the wheelbase an extra 72mm.

This in turn offers 15mm more headroom and the interior width (or elbow room) of 61mm.

On the practical front, the boot has been extended too and now has a luggage capacity of 278 litres (up almost 50 litres), which expands to 941 litres with the 60:40 seats folded.

Inside the cabin is pretty much identical to the 2-door Hatch with a familiar MINI dash dominated by the signature 8.8 inch circular centre console housing the Touch Controller infotainment system.

This is a class-leading piece of kit and is home to all of your creature comforts such as sat nav, music, phone and certain online-based services such as Twitter, Facebook and Napster. (All optional extras of course.)

Build quality in the cockpit is second to none and again is class-leading with every lever toggle switch and button fashioned from the finest materials giving a really premium feel.

There's a decent level of standard kit too including air con, Bluetooth, USB interface, onboard computer and fog lamps.

Engine-wise it'll come in a choice of two petrols and two diesels. A three-cylinder petrol generating 136bhp powers the Cooper, while the Cooper S has a 4-cylinder plant with a very sprightly 192bhp.

It's a similar story with the oil burners - again a three-cylinder with 116bhp for the Cooper D while a 4-pot with 170bhp compliments the Cooper SD.

The latter should prove the best mix for Irish punters with a 0-100km/h sprint of 7.3 seconds while returning 68mpg (4.1 litres/100km).

Completely new from the ground up, MINI promised to keep the now famed Go-Kart feel on the road, but has all that comfort and space impinged on the drive dynamic?

Well, yes and no.

Obviously the 5-door offering doesn't seem as nimble or indeed raw as the two-door, but the Variable Damper Control (option), especially in Sport mode, is guaranteed to put a smile on the grumpiest of faces without making the ride too choppy.

With zero body roll, the steering is crisp and razor sharp giving mum or dad good reason to push her on.

I'll reserve complete judgement until we get better acquainted, but the couple of hours I did spend in the family Hatch left a lasting impression.

Let's just say the Golf should be afraid .... very afraid.

Prices for the 5-door MINI start at €21,210.