Launched in the early 2000’s, the BMW Mini One, Mini Cooper and the Mini Cooper S took the concept of the iconic British car, and refreshed it for the modern age. These cars are exceptional to drive, with superb handling and ride quality. Whilst baring little resemblance to the originals, the cars went on to be raging success and can be considered to be a modern-day icon of British motoring (despite being owned by the Germans!).
However, whilst one cannot fault BMW for a well-executed refresh, one wonders if they’re taking things a little too far. And by too far, I’m talking about the relentless release of new models based upon the Mini design.
The Mini convertible was the first derivative to be unleashed, back in 2004. Whilst by no means a bad car, there’s some cars that shouldn’t really become convertibles. The hard-top roof contributes a great deal to the aesthetic appeal of the new Mini range. However, the shape of the soft-top roof somewhat disrupts this aesthetic. And with the top down, the Mini Convertible seems rather odd to look at.
But BMW didn’t stop there, in 2007, the second generation of Mini, or the Mark II cars, were released, spawning a whole raft of derivatives. Almost everything about the MkIIs was redesigned, from the body panelling to a new fuel efficient engine. But despite making all these changes, BMW effectively redesigned the car into the same thing. Whilst you could point out the differences between the MkI and MkIIs in a side by side comparison, at the end of the day, they’re the same car.
On the back of the MkII release, came a whole host of new hard-tops. The original One, Cooper and Cooper S models were refreshed, which is fine, but new models such as the First, One D (Diesel), One Minimalist and Cooper D (Diesel) were also introduced. This has the overall effect of complicating the purchase of a new car. And on another note, why the diesel versions? Anyone who voluntarily purchases a diesel is only doing so to save money. And considering that the Mini is a pricey car (£14k for the One D), it hardly makes sense for a penny pincher to buy one when there are much cheaper diesels about. And a Cooper D? Certainly not. There’s really no point in releasing an even more expensive, higher performance diesel. A diesel is a diesel at the end of the day, and there is no fun to be had out of diesels.
In 2008, the Mini Clubman was released. Basically, it’s an estate version. The idea was to lengthen the car to introduce more space for the boot and back passengers. However, whilst increasing space slightly for the back passengers, not a lot of space was created by the elongation for the boot, as the car was originally small to begin with. Only on putting the back seats down, is there any space at all. And whilst it’s not too bad looking from the front of the car, it’s the back of the car that’s a monstrosity.
But, I guess, the worst of the crop has to be the Countryman. Released in 2010, the Countryman is an 4×4 derivative, and wow does it look awful. As I was saying earlier that some cars just shouldn’t be made into convertibles, some cars should definitely not be made into 4×4 versions. It’s almost unfathomable why there should be 4×4 Mini. If you want a 4×4, you’d buy one that was purpose-built to be a 4×4, like a Range Rover. Buying a Countryman is more a triumph of marketing over purpose, or even common sense. Minis were just simply not made to become 4x4s. The entire concept of the Mini brand is based around their compact size. The Countryman, however, defeats this concept and at the same time, has little in terms of aesthetic appeal. There is a Mini ‘look’ to the 4×4, but the larger size and different shape of the car just doesn’t complement each other at all.
Over the course of a decade, BMW have simultaneously refreshed and revitalised an iconic car, and yet have almost ended up ruining it in the process. But with 2011, comes more two Mini models, and yet more heartache and despair. The Mini Coupe and Mini Roadster are two confirmed models slated for 2011, and judging by concept photos, appear to be shedding the looks that make the Mini a distinctive car. There’s also a rumour that a 2 seater version, akin to the Smart Fortwo, is under development also. I shudder at that thought…
My fear is that the essence of what made the original Minis such fantastic cars will be lost under BMW’s relentless drive to appeal to absolutely everybody. It’s just completely unnecessary as the original Minis are already huge success. The addition of more and more models in the same manner that BMW done so has only one ending; the bursting of the ‘MINI bubble’ and eventual collapse of the brand. If BMW want the MINI to continue to be successful into the future, they should really stick with what they have…