/ Motoring

Is BMW losing the essence of the real Mini?

Orignial Mini in black and white

The latest North America International Auto Show has been the talking point of the motoring press, with a raft of promising new unveilings. But one announcement rubbed me up the wrong way – the new Mini.

BMW announced at the show that the new Mini Paceman was going into production.

A combination of Mini Countryman looks and John Cooper Works performance, many have questioned whether this oversized coupé variant of the Mini is really required.

While I’d also question the necessity for a model of this type, I’ve started to ponder BMW’s direction with the Mini altogether. Although I know these new Minis aren’t entirely based on the original, they’re meant to represent arguably the greatest car of all time, and right now BMW is over-indulging in its past glory with a line of Minis that don’t retain the essence of the original.

I’m a biased Mini owner

I own a 1961 Mini Cooper. It’s a family heirloom, passed down through the generations. It represents motoring in its simplest form – a great car built to a budget, for people on a budget.

While it might have appeared in a variety of specifications, the original Mini shape is unmistakeable. It’s an icon for more than one generation, and it helped thousands of Britons become motorists (including me – I passed my test in it eight years ago).

When comparing this to BMW’s latest interpretation of the Mini, there’s too much amiss to list. But I’ll give it a go:

  • It’s too expensive, with the most expensive Mini model cashing in at over £24k and the cheapest costing £11,810.
  • It’s too small inside. The original looked small on the outside but was unbelievably roomy inside – the new Mini is the opposite.
  • It’s aimed at nostalgic types and the financially well-off only. The first Mini was the ideal car for every age group – youngsters could use it as their first car and small families could use it for everyday transport. The new Mini is priced out of most people’s bank balances compared to similar-sized superminis.

The Paceman is lagging behind

Mini Paceman

These are just a few small comparisons that I think show the new Mini is lacking against the car it’s aching to imitate. And by releasing a tuned-up all-wheel-drive SUV coupé crossover concoction like the Paceman, BMW is swaying further away from the true essence of what the Mini should be.

From the looks of it, the Paceman will be a road-going version of the Countryman rally car that’s competing in the 2011 World Rally Championship. So you could argue that there will be some interest in it, but I’m not sure how significant that interest will be.

So come on BMW, make a real Mini – one that’s affordable and practical for the majority of motorists, rather than just a select few.


The new mini is just too big to be called a mini, it should be called large


@Ash, ha ha, that made me chuckle.

My OH has a (BMW) MINI a 1.7l Cooper D and I have to say it’s one the best cars I have driven. The incredibly efficient Peugeot-Citroen delivers 82 mpg* on the open road and in practice (with several hours of blonde business-woman motorway driving a day) has still delivered an average of 65mpg in its lifetime). I would argue, that since it was built in Oxford, that it’s much greener than the much-lauded (and over-hyped) Toyota Prius, one of the ugliest vehicles that anyone could possibly own.

Bizarrely, even before I read that particular bullet point, I have to agree, it looks much larger on the outside than it is on the inside. It absolutely dwarfs an original Mini. Having said that, we have performed two trips around France right down to the Italian and Spanish borders carrying tents, camping equipment, food, lots of cases of wine, two suitcases (not to mention a rather large make-up bag) and it felt very comfortable as it comes packed with plenty of home comforts such as mood lighting, an attractive dash and air-con.

It absolutely loves curves and motorway driving is a breeze. And it goes like a bullet. Though I have never driven an original Mini, compared to other modern cars this is about as much fun as you can have in a car of similar size/engine capacity so is well worth the money.

It’ll never be like the original because, well, they’re different cars. Golf owners will say the same when talking about the Mk I. Cars move on, tastes change and traffic conditions have changed greatly. There’s no point trying to hang on to some idealistic and nostalgic past and hoping someone will re-create it. Those that do probably still own G-Plan furniture and a hostess trolley.

*OK, maybe not in practice but the official VCA figures provide a benchmark against which all cars can be compared on an equal basis


sorry, should say Peugeot Citroen engine


Sadly all of the new minis I see on the roads near me are driven by estate agents, which doesn’t do the brand any favours in my book.

Seriously though, can anyone think of a new version of a classic that lives up to the original? It’s a bit like films based on books – they’re never as good.


very few old cars were classics, most old cars were rubbish by modern standards.

It’s like music – we all have this romantic vision that music was so much better in the 70s and 80s than today – but look back at the charts (and here I will recommend the Timewheel app for iPhone) and amongst the gems you can simply cringe at the amount of dirge that was also around!


Surely Classic means an Iconic example – Such as Classic Music – it is the examples that LAST. Most examples of any genre are mediocre.

But there are iconic examples in all genre – they are the classics – The Mini was certainly one of them.


From what I remember the early examples of the Mini were rubbish even by 1960s’ standards.

But that doesn’t stop the car from being a classic and taking its rightful place in the history books.


Thanks for your comments guys. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the new generation of Mini hatch back is a bad car to drive – I actually like it. But I still think it’s too expensive considering similar sized cars. What I’m really not keen on is the new wave of variants under the Mini banner. I understand the Clubman, that makes sense. But the Countryman and the new Paceman don’t, to me. What’s next? The Mini Monster Truck?


Ah, Rob, it’s pricey because it’s such a fun experience. We thoroughly enjoyed our French road trips and this year we’re even considering taking the Mini instead of our other car, a large 4WD SUV.

I agree on the derivatives, a Clubman just isn’t right. As for the Pacman – BMW are better off leaving all that compact hatch-conversions-to-SUV to the likes of Nissan and their new Juke.


Being good to drive doesn’t mean it should be expensive though? The original Mini was superb to drive, and that was relatively cheap.


That’s because our business minds weren’t as developed then – these days almost everything, particularly anything that provides any form of pleasure or excitement or makes life more convenient, has a price.


Couldn’t agree more Rob – the essence of the old Mini has been lost a long time ago. I disagree that the current car (or the 2001 version) is good to drive, I thought it was slow and had an awful ride (and awful gearshift). Too heavy and too big. The current car isn’t much better. The only one I’ve liked was the JCW Works car which is prohibitively expensive anyway.

The beauty of the original was its interior space considering its tiny exterior dimensions. The opposite is true of today’s car.

In the interests of balanced reporting (!) I would say the current car does at least tick the boxes in terms of safety.

The Paceman car is interesting though as it harks back to coach-built specials like the low-roof Mini Sprint (and I don’t mean the tacky BL special edition).

The current day Mini is the Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo – cheap, cheerful and fun. It used to be Ford’s Ka, until they decided to outsource that particular city car to Fiat.


It seems like the Mini situation is a sore subject for many because so many people have a tale about owning an original Mini or had an experience with one. So many members of Which? staff have asked me about my Cooper this week after reading this, proving the original still gets people talking. Will it be the same thing in 40 years with people talking about the current Mini? I doubt it.

Simer says:
21 January 2011

BMW has never known or understood the essence of the real Mini