/ 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.

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.

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.

Simer says:
21 January 2011

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

Michael says:
21 January 2011

BMW has made an unbelievable commercial success with their mini. People have voted with their wallets that they love it.
If only the reliability was better…
If they make one with a proper modern (non retro) interior I might even buy one for my wife, as she hates the retro stuff.
Cheapest BMW money can buy, although made in Britain and front wheel drive.

Eddie - Beverley says:
23 January 2011

Unlike the original mini makers, BMC was it? who made a loss on every mini they ever built I think BMW want to stay in business so make their mini’s at a profit

loosenut says:
24 January 2011

I think the point has been missed here.

BMW chose the Mini 1. because they could, and 2, because it is a successful marketing theme, not because they were trying to replicate the old car. The new Mini is a BMW and everything they make is based on aspiration, not commodity, like the old car.

The new car is a great car in many ways. The design is good, it has lots of individual or idiosyncratic themes which BMW couldn’t realistically use anywhere else in their range. It drives well (or very well), and has a sense of style. Whether you like it or not, and whether you can afford it or not is pretty irrelevant really. BMW have managed to make a success of it and as a commercial organisation that’s all they’re really bothered about.

BobP says:
25 January 2011

What a wonderful invention when the car got a transverse engine fitted to them , Now look I think every car made now is using that system , I owned an Austin Mini almost new when purchased second hand [ 2 yrs old ] about 50 yrs ago , It was a super car as far as getting around even with four up , very ***** & manoeuvrable , cheap on fuel , & extreme fun to drive around .Looking back yes at to days standards it was very basic , with many faults regarding rust areas , but for the price what more was expected . As stated it was within the price range of the younger motorist as well as people who could not afford a large car or wanted one . If the same principle was introduced today instead of the monster thing called a mini many people could afford one & have the fun that we driver / owners had back all those years ago , & it was fun , now everyone wants looks & something posh .In many ways I feel Oh For The Old Days even though they where simpler & with less worries .

I’ve never driven one but I’m told the BMW mini is a good car.
However it really should not be compared in any way to the original mini, really because it is a completely different animal.
We should look at why this car was produced.
It was conceived back in the brief period when BMW owned Rover. Rover itself was a corporate evolution of the old BL which previously incorportated Austin and Morris, the badges on the original mini.
BMW thought this “link” sufficient to credibly produce a “new mini”.
The motive was simple, to cash in on the nostalga factor by including a few exterior design similarities into what is an entirely different machine.
VW did the same thing with the new Beetle, Fiat have done it with the new 500 and a while back even Jaguar did it with their S type.
None of these cars have anything in common with the “originals” other than in “looks”.
They were all built to capitalise on a notion of nostalga, and no other reason.
Anyone making comparisons on any basis with the originals and these other cars is doing just what the marketing teams wanted, it helps sell cars.
I would suggest you judge any car on it’s own merits and if any comparison is to be made it should be made with other contemporary offerings and not with a completely different machine from another era.

Surely the real point is that the original Mini was built, and priced, at a level that almost anyone could afford. It appealed to the young as a great fun car that could also stand up to quite serious use – as shown in their success in the Monte Carlo rally.
Now it may be a great car to drive but it is priced so that now only the comparatively well off can afford one.
A good car for the young driver? Yes, but they can’t afford one.
A good car for a young family? I don’t think so when there are lots of other cars on the market which are thousands of pounds cheaper.
The Mini is no longer the ‘people’s car’.
The Mini has become what it never pretended to be – a ‘flash’ car!

There’s no doubt that the modern mini is good to drive, but the size of some variants means that the word “Mini” is laughable.

I parked alongside one recently and assumed it was a 4×4 until I looked properly.

But that’s the way of car makers isn’t it? Each model has to be “bigger and better” than its predecessor.

Here’s an idea for a short report, Which?. Take a handful of popular cars – say Golf, Mondeo/Sierra/Cortina, Polo, BMW-3, Fiesta, etc. and compare them with their original incarnations

I agree with the spirit of what you are saying Rob. The mini started as something that was cleverly cheap. Now it is not at all cheap and not clever either. I am sure it is a fine car in its way but it is not the successor to the original. The mini also had something that more expensive vehicles did not. In those days it was simply its diminutive size – more luxurious or faster cars were bigger – and, maybe more importantly, looked bigger.

So the mini became ultra hip because people who could afford more still joined the club too by way of converted, or one might say customised, minis. Improved, that is, for those with greater spending power, a desire for its cute looks and contentment in being down with the masses. There were the Mini Coopers which added dash to the equation. There were the luxury variants from Hooper, Radford, Wood and Picket. Whatever your inclination you could get a mini to suit.

The modern Mini available with speed or luxury delivered straight from the factory kills this off completely. On the other hand it does not demonstrate clever-cheapness either. It does not have the vinyl leatherette strap door pulls for example. It might be a fine car (although it is not to my personal taste to drive) but it is not the old formula. For better or worse it is not even close.

My first car was a Mini. It did me well for a few years before I sold it and got a Cortina. The Mini was basic and simple – quite easily worked on (BMC produced a comprehensive workshop manual aimed at ownders) – a safe drive and reasonably roomy given its overall size. I don’t think it made BMC any money though, did it?

I pine for a simple car these days, together with the improved quality of body corrosion protection (remember rotting subframes?) and mechanical reliability we now get. Cars have become expensive to look after packed, as they are, with devices you can’t maintain.Somehow we managed to get by with Minis, 2CVs, Beetles

I was looking at a modern MINI recently and but for the name, I don’t see much resemblance to the old version. I’m sure there are.

I’m not too nostalgic about older cars. They required a lot of maintenance and were not very reliable. Safety and the desire for more features has added a lot to complexity. Modern engines are more efficient, less polluting, smaller and lighter, and give higher performance, but that adds a lot to complexity. Despite that, they last longer and need less attention.

There may be a ‘demand’ for simpler cars, but I’m not sure many would actually buy them if they had the chance.