Has Mini gone too far with its new model?


What do you think of the modern Mini? It’s a subject capable of inducing looks of dreamy, doe-eyed adoration in some and something closer to fuming apoplexy in others.

No one, I think, reckons Mini makes bad cars (though in the case of certain Countrymans I might make an exception), but many traditionalists see what BMW has done to their beloved brand as something close to heresy. Or worse.

I’ve recently returned from driving the latest Mini, the third all new generation since the first BMW-designed car appeared in 2001. There’ll be a full review in the next issue of Motor Sport but I’ll share with you now the fact that, whatever its strengths, it is further than ever from the concept originally conceived for the car by Alec Issigonis back in the 1950s.

The standard Mini Cooper hatchback is larger in every significant dimension than the car it replaces; indeed it’s now not much smaller than a VW Golf. It’s also far more sophisticated and, if you choose the Cooper S model, far less fun to drive too.

Actually I think the new generation of Mini is an immensely skilled piece of design which makes up in comfort and refinement far more than it loses in entertainment value. Nor can BMW be blamed for trying to make cars its customers want.

However misty eyed we may feel about old Minis with kart-like steering, appalling noise, terrible ride and inexact construction, when it comes to putting our hands in our pockets, we find it surprisingly easy to set aside our principles and settle within the modern and beautifully assembled interior of a new Mini. As a result Mini has been a far bigger success story than even BMW imagined and tens of thousands of jobs in the Midlands have been created as a result.

But I think BMW has veered sufficiently far from the script now. Where Porsche has been so very clever in transforming its business from that of small sports car manufacturer to, in the main, a mid-sized constructor of premium SUVs is that it never abandoned those cars that made it great in the first place.

So that when someone thinks of Porsche, images of 911s still float before their eyes even though for years sales have been dwarfed by those of the Cayenne and will shortly become relatively smaller still when the Macan SUV goes on sale. But so long as Porsche produces 911s in general, and hardcore GT3 versions in particular, its credibility so far as its brand and heritage is confirmed will stay intact.

What better time, then for Mini to make a proper Mini: a brilliantly packaged small city car that will nevertheless seat four and prove a hoot to drive? The popularity of such cars is rocketing and you only have to look at products like the new VW Up! or the forthcoming Renault Twingo or Smart ForTwo to know it.

Such a car would not impinge on existing Minis, would help the brand attract buyers that are both younger and older than is typical at the moment and would instantly reassure all those who are starting to wonder if BMW has forgotten what the word Mini actually means.

Sadly when I suggested as much to BMW management at the Mini launch they said there were no plans for such a car. If true that’s a shame, because while the modern Mini is an outstandingly good car, the space for an outstandingly good Mini remains. And until they make one, an opportunity is being missed.

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