This wasn’t meant to be a comparison. These are simply two cars we got ahold of to test individually. But something clicked when I started consider what purpose both of these cars are meant to serve. Both are five door hatchbacks but go about that equation wildly differently. Both seek to blend utility with packaging constraints. In the MINI it’s a small footprint. In the BMW it’s the coupe-like roofline.
So which one wins? Read on.
After 500 miles in both cars I’ve found my favorite. And it’s the opposite of what I expected. I didn’t want to like the MINI. Since the first photos I’ve struggled with the five door’s looks. Mainly it’s the rear hips which take some time to wrap your head around. We’re used to seeing MINI’s squared-off from room to bumper. But in the new five door introduces a couple of new forms to the MINI design language that give the F55 it’s own character.
On the other hand the 428i Gran Coupe is sleek and immediately attractive. But it’s also a little expected and almost boring in its execution. Before my week with the Gran Coupe I had expected it to quickly become my ideal four door BMW. Lower center of gravity, utilitarian hatchback and a more aggressive look than a standard 3 series, there was a lot going for it. But compared to the MINI it’s not nearly as interesting of a vehicle.
But enough of the prose. Here are seven insights from our time in both cars.
– The interior quality of the MINI is surprisingly on par with the much more expensive BMW. The MINI’s Navigation Screen feels more crisp somehow but the 2015 F55 we had lacked the glass cover on the iDrive controller that the BMW had (and our long term F56 has).
– The steering really does have some feel to it in the F55. The BMW’s on the other hand is so light and without any tactile qualities that it feels as if it’s connected to a rudder. Eventually I got used to it and found it adequate. But nothing more.
– The MINI is the perfect four door for an urban environment- it simply fits cities better than the BMW which feels unnecessarily large.
– 18″ wheels look great on the MINI. They look small and inconsequential on the BMW.
– The 4 Series Gran Coupe with its electronic dampers in sport mode isn’t as rewarding as it should be. We actually preferred them set in standard mode with the drivetrain set to sport. This allowed for more aggressive throttle response and sharper shifts. If we could we’d create our optimal sport mode with less aggressive shift points, suspension set on standard and the most aggressive throttle mapping.
– The 4 Series requires 19″ wheels. There I said it. 18″ wheels now look too small and borderline inconsequential on most BMWs. Unfortunately the 428i GC is no exception. On the MINI 18″s work perfectly.
– Hatchbacks are wonderful things. While the overall trunk space provided by the Gran Coupe over the standard 3 Series isn’t meaningful, the ability to use all of it is dramatically higher. When packing two kids for a long weekend that comes in handy. As much as the F55 packs a ton of utility in a small package, the 4 Series crushes it with space.
– Our 4 cylinder 428i had a staggering $58k MSRP. And that didn’t include things like a premium stereo, 19? wheels or LED lights. Think about that the next time you complain about a better equipped $37k F55.