/ Motoring

Please Fiat, don’t do a Mini!

Fiat 500 - black and white photo

I’m all for the rejuvenation of a classic, especially when it comes to cars. And the Fiat 500 city car has been a great success since its rebirth in 2008. But it could soon turn to overkill if Fiat follows the Mini’s example.

Regular Which? Conversation readers may remember my post two years ago concerning BMW’s direction with the Mini brand. That is, playing on the historic name by releasing a range of vehicles that don’t represent the original vehicle.

In the two year’s since, my fears for the Mini name haven’t been eased by the introduction of two more models, the Paceman and the Clubvan, and there’s still talk of a Mini saloon too. Add these to the existing Mini line-up – the Hatchback, Convertible, Coupe, Roadster, Countryman and Clubman – and you’ve got a fairly extensive list that’s pretty much based on one car. Mini actually offers a wider range of cars in the UK than Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Skoda!

To me, the Mini Paceman epitomises the problem, as it’s a car that doesn’t really offer anything new. It’s a similar size to the Countryman, but it’s less practical with three doors and has compromised interior room due to the Coupe-like roofline. All the Paceman does is step on the feet of existing Minis in the range.

Fiat 500, 500L, 500X…

Fiat 500LNow it looks like Fiat will follow suit, extending the 500 range with new models. The first of these is the Fiat 500L (pictured). This is a compact-sized family MPV that’s actually based on the new and less-popular Punto, rather than the desirable 500. And the manufacturer has also suggested a 500X offroader as well.

While I fully support carmarkers offering more diversity, my cynical view is that some are sullying iconic car names to line their pockets

Like the Mini, the Fiat 500 was a car that defined a generation, offering cheap and practical motoring from a simple and small package. Yes, I know the current 500 is far from budget-friendly, but it does at least follow tradition with small dimensions, similar styling and retro fittings that hark back to the original. But converting it into an MPV and offroader will compromise this link to the Fiat 500 of the 1950s.

I just hope current and future generations will be able to overlook these new icon-fakes and appreciate the original cars themselves.

Are you with me on my desperate plea for carmakers to stop manipulating iconic models, or do you think broadening some of the most famous names in motoring is a positive move?


Actually the “rejuvenation of a classic” as the article puts it really isn’t is it?
The Fiat 500, BMW Mini and VW Beetle are completely different machines owing more to modern smaller car design than to their original namesakes.

What we really have is the inclusion of a few design cues from a bygone age used as a marketing ploy to sell more cars.
The new Fiat 500’s, Mini’s and Beetles are not necessarily bad cars but they are not what the marketeers would like us to think they are. It almost seems modern designers have run out of ideas and feel a need to employ a retro approach to give the cars buyer appeal.

And the size of the things?
These “new” versions have definitely been given a few steroids. I saw an original Mini the other day in a car park, tiny. Likewise stand next to an old Ford Capri or a Vauxhall Viva, and these were midsize cars in their day, but they seem very small in comparison with modern midsize vehicles.

Modern cars are technically head and shoulders above older cars to the point of expensive over complexity. It’s only our our rose tinted (and possibly inaccurate) view of the past that prompts todays car manufacturers to resurrect the names.

By all means make good reliable, comfortable, safe and economical cars but look forward rather than backward.
The Mini I owned back in the 1970’s was prone to dissolve every time it rained, was always breaking down, was deafeningly noisy inside and very uncomfortable. Absolute junk so what on earth makes BMW think I’d be tempted by the name Mini, even though I know the modern version is a completely different species.
Should have called it the BMW compact or something and left out the Mini design cues. Might have one on the drive had they done so.

I watched the video and then watched it again to confirm that I had heard that the Fiat 500 is a reliable car. It is the first time I have ever heard of a Fiat being described as reliable, and hopefully it will not be the last.

I do not really care whether manufacturers resurrect old names, and I cannot see this as having much bearing on whether I would consider buying a car.

Can we take it that you wouldn’t be keen on opting for the new Easywalker Mini pushchair either?
It is an existing Easywalker Pushchair that has been given new mini-inspired styling.

Or how about the Maclaren BMW buggy?

Like you, I’m starting to think that you can push these famous brand expansions a bit too far!

The original Minis had some novel spin-offs: the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf. Also – astonishingly – an MG variant but I can’t remember its name Like Wavechange, I don’t care a toot. The selection of a motor car has reached the same level of discernment as the choice of patterned pillowcases to complement the duvet cover.

I think the MG variant was basically an Austin 1100 with a few MG styled bits glued on. Might have sported twin carbs too but it’s a while ago now.

As for car buying reaching the same level as discernment as the choice of patterned pillowcases.
Not sure I’d agree. There is still a big selection, but I would admit that things considered important back in the day, like performance, and which shade of brown one prefered, are different to aspects considered important today. These are more often economy, safety, costs and gizmo levels.

Modern cars are I think much better pieces of kit and full of clever innovation so I still wonder why we need to resurrect “iconic names” often in the past carried by less able machines.
Well of course I do know it’s about the rose tinted, nostalgia laced marketing style.

John Cuthbert says:
31 May 2013

A word in John Ward’s ear – there was NEVER an MG Mini – an MG Metro, yes, even an MG Metro Turbo, but not an MG Mini

Sophie Gilbert says:
1 May 2013

I understand Chris Gloucester’s point about looking at the past with rose-tinted spectacles. My first car was a Renault 4 with the gear stick at the dashboard, no seat-belts at the back, one-speed windscreen wipers, airbags? what are they? god knows how efficient the engine is, etc.

However, the look of it had character, like the old Beetle, Mini, Cinquecento, and Deux-Chevaux. Nowadays, I struggle to recognise one make from another, never mind one model from another. I know, one word, aerodynamics. I can’t argue against it, but I will argue against utter aesthetic blandness and sameness.