Blog : New MINI, too big for its boots?

Keith Adams

MINI Mallorca 14

Okay, so it’s not often that I’ll sit down halfway through a new car launch and commit my thoughts on it so early in the proceedings but, in the case of the F56 MINI, I’ll make an exception. A full review will follow, both here and on AROnline‘s sister site, Honest John, but for now, a few first impressions…

Thanks to an argument with a glass door in Palma airport and a brief visit to the hospital to check out my bloodied nose, I was able to go off-piste with the MINI, not take the pre-planned route and do my own thing, alone on an island stacked with wonderful driving roads, in a canary yellow Cooper S.

As an existing owner, and someone who’s completed a lot of happy trips in MINIs, this one matters to me. I suspect that it matters to a great many of you, too – given the sheer number of comments (good and bad) that MINI stories always attract on here. As a UK success story, MINI’s doing the business – and, since its reboot in 2001, the Hatch, which is now sold in 108 countries, has notched approaching two million sales.

For its fourth incarnation, it’s fair to say that the MINI has grown-up. A lot – and I don’t just mean in physical dimensions. Styling is subjective, so I’ll leave you to make up your own minds – but I’m familiar with it, and am far from uncomfortable with how the new MINI looks. It’s more modern, but is a clear evolution of what came before – just how it should be when you’re dealing with a car with such a strong history.

The interior remains familiar to existing owners, but the quality is up a level, the tech is more abundant and some of the more characterful elements have been toned down. The driving position is more BMW than MINI – you sit lower and more enveloped in the car and, for existing owners, there will need to be a brief period of acclimatisation. Initial thoughts are that, from the driver’s seat at least, it feels less of a small car than it did.

However, it’s on the road, that the improvements really come to the fore. High speed refinement and composure are astounding for a car of this sector and price – it cruises on motorways pretty much like an executive car, while in its long-striding sixth gear, thanks to its muscular 2.0-litre Twin Power engine, revs are kept low, but torque is ample for quick acceleration.

On the twisty stuff, steering response is even sharper than before and, in Sport mode, where it weighs up a little more, the active damping’s set-up to give the car less roll in bends. Again, it feels most impressive when cracking on, and this is very much in line with the outgoing Cooper S’s set-up and feel.

Where, then, do all these improvements leave me feeling? That’s an interesting question, and one that will need more examination. It’s clear that the new car is even more remote from the Minis we all grew up with years ago. It’s now very much a grown-up and mature product, honed for its market, and so much better than rivals such as the Audi A1, that it’s not even worth mentioning them in the same sentence. ‘Ruthlessly competent’ is a phrase I kept saying myself as I drove the Cooper S on this beautiful island.

Despite what many will say, it also remains a small car in its market – think Alfa Romeo MiTo or Audi A1 as its principal rivals, not the Fiat 500, and you’ll see where it really sits in today’s market. And, yes, that ruthless competence and ability may rob it of some of its cheeky charm, so abundant in older cars wearing the MINI (and Mini!) badge. So it might not be Mini in the sense that some of the old guard might attest but, in the context of today’s market, this one’s is bang on, and will continue to bolster the Cowley success story.

Will I buy one? I probably would, yes. My partner loves ours, and I’ve no real reason to doubt that she’d love this one, too. But right now, I have to admit that my own thoughts are being turned by the new Renault Twingo – and that’s a car Sir Alec Issigonis would have thoroughly disapproved of!

Stay tuned for a full MINI review.

MINI Mallorca 15

Keith Adams

About the Author:

AROnlineholic between 2001 and 2014 - editor of Classic Car Weekly, and all round car nut...

54 Comments on "Blog : New MINI, too big for its boots?"

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  1. Paul says:

    That summarises things very well I think. Its all very grown up and refined for a MINI, but its exactly what the target market for this car wants. Its no use building something that stays absolutely true to tradition if nobody will buy it or it cant be built for a profit. Before we start worrying about what Sir Alec would think, remember, thanks to the expensive to build Mini and 1100 and the catastrophic failure of the 1800 and Maxi, he did more than his fair share to eventually bankrupt BMC.

  2. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    I’d have this and a Twingo too – they seem complementary. One’s a town car, the other’s an Exec. Mind you, can’t actually afford either right now!

  3. Andrew Elphick says:

    Like you say in the flesh the canary yellow works with the “S” lumps and bumps, but on a plain white one, that snout looks like a badly drawn anteater.

    I do believe we will see a mini range beneath the MINI….

    • Well said, without having been close to one, this matches my sentiments about the next generation of MINI so far.
      But I have to add: Alec Issigonis designed his own version of a Mini with supreme refinement and grown up feel way above the small size of the car – when put into production it was called Morris 1100….

  4. Mike Bushell says:

    From what I’ve read, the latest version of the MINI suits what I could possibly want in the future far more than its predecessors. In fact the Clubman model could be right on the money. I like the fact that the interior is higher quality and the ridiculous speedo has at last moved from the centre.

    I also know the MINI is not a Mini. Instead it’s a very sucessful brand in it own right and no longer a “city car”.

    The city car market is becoming very interesting as well. We’re getting the new 108/C1/Aygo, the Mk. 3 Twingo, the latest Hyundai i10 and another Ka (no great hopes on that I’m afraid!). I rarely do this, but I have to recommend the Clarkson article in the most recent Sunday Times. He was supposed to be reviewing the new i10, but you actually found out about the best city car: the VW up!. If you have any doubts, ask my wife!

  5. Craig England says:

    …….not forgetting the MG3, another car with strong British ties and that encapsulates the spirit of the original Mini.

  6. Christopher Storey says:

    @1. Yet more nonsense about the Mini and 1100 . If these cars were not built ( and sold ) profitably , how was it that BMC and later BLMC remained a very profitable company until the early 1970s ?

  7. Tony Evans says:

    IMHO a Fiat Panda or 500 is more the spiritual successor to the Mini than the BINI.

  8. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    The 500 is more cramped than the MINI and the Panda is a relatively large car.

  9. dib says:

    If you don’t like it, don’t buy one. Simple.

    Nice honest report Keith, keep up the good work.

  10. Andrew says:

    I read some of ‘Back from the Brink’. Sir Michael Edwardes wrote that, although the Mini made a loss, it was a car which introduced drivers to the rest of the range. A loss leader if you like. This would explain why the Mini was kept in production for so long.

    There are accounting ways to make a business look profitable, one of which is to change the amount of depreciation charged to the profit and loss account.

  11. Tony Evans says:

    Keith:

    Both of the Fiats are small, stylish, fun to drive and have small economical engines. Just like the original Mini.

    The BINI is a bloated facsimile of the original which is more like a BMW 0 series than anything related to the BL product. In fact, perhaps the new BINI could have the BMW split grille added….

    The only thing in common between the BINI and the Mini is that both are ergonomic slums inside. The BINI has the worst interior of any modern car I can think of in terms of clarity of operation.

  12. francis brett francis brett says:

    80% of these cars will have fanny smoking them about town, its about the image not how good it goes round corners.

    Its a triumph of marketing, if it drove like a trolley jack on ketamine it would still sell.

    Apart from a few die harder’s, nobody who buys the F56 will have a clue what the original looks like, let alone who Barraco Barner is.

  13. dib says:

    @ 13

    I would think that BMW and everyone who has ever bought a BMW Mini are delighted that it is in no way “related to the BL product” how could it be? it’s brilliant, sells well all over the world and makes a profit.

    I should add that I have never been in a BMW Mini and held the same negative view as many on here but in time I have grown up and can see that BMW have got it right, it hurts but it’s fact.

  14. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    Tony

    Everyone’s entitled to an opinion – and it’s clear you don’t like the MINI. I’m assuming you read my piece – the world’s moved on, and as much as we’d love there to be a new 3.05m long 505kg Mini that could accommodate four adults, but it’s not going to happen. A clever engineer could build one to meet current regulations, I am sure, but no one has.

    When BMW took on MINI it identified that the way forward for the car was to build a modern incarnation of the Mini-Cooper, which was fun to drive. In that aim, the company succeeded. And people in huge numbers agreed, with the car now sold in 108 countries. It’s a huge success. And it’s made in Britain. It’s bloated compared with the original, but not with its rivals, but I think it’s fair to say that all modern cars are compared with their ancestors. Compare a Mk1 and Mk7 Volkswagen Golf, or a Porsche 901 with a 991…

    I’d love to see a really clever new small Mini, and it could happen. But this car isn’t that. What it is, however, is what modern buyers want. They also want Fiat 500s, Citroën DS3s and Alfa MiTos. Whether they’ll want a new mini-MINI is open to speculation.

    As for the Fiat 500 – it’s the Italian interpretation of the original R50 MINI. Smallish, cramped, fun to drive and good looking. The TwinAir engine is also genius – but it’s debate able that it’s any more clever or economical than the Twin Power engine in the MINI. It is not, however, the spiritual successor to the original Mini – it’s basically a more expensive, smaller Panda. And it’s flattering to MINI that Fiat is doing pretty much the same with its 500 range.

    Want to think of the original Mini’s ‘spiritual successor’, I’m struggling to think of any modern car, to be honest. Perhaps the Toyota iQ, but I’m open to suggestions on that.

  15. mab01uk says:

    This modified R50 MINI One in the videos below is a bit faster than a trolley jack and its not that bad round corners either. :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y1h4ANmhJk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki0FBSRZ-7w

  16. dib says:

    Well put Keith, as ever.

    How about the MG3 or the VW UP! or the Skoda version of the Up there may be others but I can’t think of any.

  17. mm says:

    The Toyota iQ is most definitely the successor to the Issigonis Mini, same footprint, car designed to meet modern crash test requirements. The iQ was intended to have front to rear interconnected Hydragas suspension, you will have to research the publications of the late Dr Alex Moulton for confirmation of the above.

  18. Neil B says:

    The front reminds me of Wallace (of Wallace & Gromit fame) when he smiles. Is it just me, of does each successive BMW/ MINI model look more ugly than it’s predecessor?

  19. mm says:

    Frivolous, over-powered, and over-aggressive.

    One of my work colleagues was nearly killed in a road accident last week, ran off the road at 60 to 70 mph and stuck a glancing blow to a tree, a couple of feet the other way, it would have been a direct impact, he would have been killed.

    There is simply too much of the fashion statement / lifestyle consumerist aspirational nonsense typified by cars such as the MINI.

    A car is means of transport, stuff the narcissists let gets back to safety

    • Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

      mm

      Not sure of your point. All cars are built like brick shithouses these days, even the ones that don’t get EuroNCAP five-star ratings. Engineers have performed miracles in the past 20 years when it comes to safety – I am sure this MINI will get five-stars, as is expected by today’s buyers.

      Safety is on the top of every manufacturer’s agenda.

  20. Darren says:

    A mini should be nimble, drive like a go-kart.

    I’m concerned giving it an executive feel will dilute the formula?

    Nipping in and out of traffic in town is easier with a higher more commanding driving position

  21. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    Razzed a Cooper D through the mountains this morning. It does nimble… very much so.

  22. Mark says:

    Gotta disagree, styling is subjective, not objective.

  23. Sam Mace Sam Mace says:

    @mm 21.

    What?

  24. francis brett francis brett says:

    @25,
    How about abstract? The Smart looks hideous from any angle but sat inside it feels right.

    The MINI is not for me, I wish it the success it will earn and like I said before, I think its a time for a more radical design, the new Golf suffers from this like the Leon does not.

  25. Mikey says:

    I drove one this morning and I must say it feels solid. The buzz of a 3 cylinder petrol is not that different when driving. only stands out more on tickover. Driving position is lower but still feels like a MINI Not sure about the plastics though and the Start/Stop button stands too proud. when parked up against the previous model it is bigger, more so the bonnet. Overall a nice package. Cannot wait to see the 5 door version.

  26. Peter says:

    Whilst I too am pleased at the sucess of MINi and agree its a great car, it’s still a tragic take on the original.

    Though in the states where the MINI has taken off (New York was riddled with them when I visited) it really does look tiny.

    The Toyota/PSA triple (Aygo etc) along with countless Suzukis, daihatsu’s, the VW up etc are all closer to the original Mini. And proof that a proper small car can still be made.

    Leonard Lord apparently told Issigonis to produce the smallest ‘proper’ car, someone needs to tell the engineers at BMW the same.

    A small proper mini would add much legitimacy to the brand IMO

  27. mab01uk says:

    @19 The Toyota IQ has been a sales flop including the short lived Aston Martin version…in contrast the MINI is a sales success and as the true Issigonis Mini successor has also matched the 1 & 2 million sales milestones of the original Mini in its first 10 years.

    @25 The Smart car is not great to drive and has cost Mercedes millions in losses over the years, the variants like the For-Four and Coupe were also quickly canned…

    Most car manufacturers can offer good relibility and safety these days but modern car buyers soon get to know when a car is dull/boring to own or not a rewarding drivers car. BMW was always going to be a good match for the Mini as they understood what makes a Mini different to other cars and they have always been good at producing rewarding ‘drivers’ cars.

  28. Sid Stannard says:

    Audi A2 is the true spiritual replacement for the Mini. Excellent packaging, low weight and extremely economical in Diesel form! Like the new MINI though; very nice!

    • @Sid : as brilliant as the Audi A2 was, it was not successful when launched and was never replaced for the same reason. It came probably 10 years to early, as exceptional strong used car values for these here in Germany may indicate. For the same reason Bernd Pischetsrieder was right to state that the market was not ready for the Mini Spiritual concept from Rover, nearly 2 decades on the new Twingo will have to prove if the time is right now (I think it is).

  29. alex scott says:

    I love the mini. while I cant afford a new one I thought (we drove it and wanted it) about buying a second hand one. trouble is, there is 5 of us and the mini has 4 seats belts. It is that simple. Suzuki Switft, MG3(presumably), the 318, Rover 25, have 5 seat belts. alex

  30. mm says:

    #22, safety at the top of the manufacturers agenda? don’t you mean profit?.

    I thought my point is fairly visible, from the car makers, there is too much empahasis on needless performance and aggression, make a car look aggresive and the driver will take more risks on the road, there are plenty of studies which support this, little man in a big car syndrome, big 4×4 vehicles, their drivers bully other road users.

    As for safety, cars will not be safe until there are zero deaths and injuries, you may consider that a joke, but it is the truth

  31. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    #35 Different debate, even if it’s relevant elsewhere.

    My observations (for what it’s worth) are this. Cars are safe, hugely so. But while there’s a human factor, there will always be accidents. I see lots of them on my travels, as I an sure you do, but think about it logically – how many of them are caused solely by cars being marketed as being fast, sporting or fun to drive? Most are caused by driver error, pure and simple. Not leaving room, not anticipating, not concentrating.

    The fact there’s a Cooper S version of the MINI is neither here nor there, really. You want the debate, start a new one, but don’t tack it on here – it’s not what the point of the original blog.

    You want ‘needless performance and aggression’ how about this?

    Or this…

    In a nutshell, carmakers have made a huge improvement, massive strides in the past few years. People walk away from accidents today that they wouldn’t have had a prayer in years ago. That is down to the manufacturers upping their game, as safety legislation has become tougher.

    But to make the roads safer, driver training MUST be the number one priority. That’s the weak link in the chain now, not the cars.

  32. Slartybartfast says:

    Mini has moved on. Its no longer just a car, its a brand with a range of cars. That’s just fact. Constantly comparing it to Alec Issigoniss’ original is pointless. Do we all say BMWs’ are not like they should be because they are not in a similar vein to the Isetta or the original Dixi based on an Austin 7…No. BMW now make cars the size of the 7 series and X5. I’m sorry for all those folks who don’t like it but its just how it is.

  33. Clubman owner says:

    Who’s this Issigonis everyone is banging on about…?

    Going back to Keith’s original post, it sounds like a convincing car. Do hope it hasn’t lost the slightly ropey- impractical feel of the current MINI, which makes you feel like you’ve done something slightly misguided/childish/naughty by buying one over a sensible A1 or a Golf. I also hope the new smooth and comfy ‘executive’ feel, which probably only adds to whole experience of the Cooper S, doesn’t completely obliterate the basic sporty charm of the lower-powered One models. Look forward to reading full reviews!

  34. Slartybartfast says:

    @38 Clubman owner

    Issigonis was a Panda that lived at the bottom of Leonard Lords Garden….. Oh no sorry that was Issinoho….. my age I get confused.

  35. francis brett francis brett says:

    “Its a brand”, “BMW are making cars that people want”

    John Terry is a cracking husband whom you could trust with your wife.

    Nobody is arguing about its success or jobs or profit.

    Its just slowly turning into a fat bastard.

  36. Andrew says:

    Buy this car, get your friends to buy it, get your colleagues to buy it. The country needs your help, our friends and colleagues need your help. Sales of Minis help everyone in this nation.

  37. Andy Campbell says:

    41@Andrew. Well said. Love the oversized rear lights. Come to think about it. Love the car too.

  38. 406v6 406V6 says:

    Going back to the mid 1950s Issigonis was working on a mid-size car, the XC9001. Surviving pictures show a car looking just like the Bini in styling features and size. When Issigonis was asked by Lord to develop something to drive the bubble cars off the road he adapted the XC9001 styling theme for the small car – the Austin Se7en or Morris Mini. It was the mid-size car that came first but the public didn’t see it, they only saw the Mini. The Bini is just returning to the Mini’s roots.

  39. francis brett francis brett says:

    @41.No.

  40. mab01uk says:

    @41.Yes.

  41. mab01uk says:

    MINI success story worth celebrating – From Oxford Mail
    Thursday 13th March 2014

    “THERE is a stand-out figure that truly shows the quality of the motor vehicles produced in this city: 4,000 advance orders for the third generation Mini have been made before anyone has seen the car.
    Today our Motoring Editor, David Duffy, gives his verdict on the latest version of the Oxford Mini.
    It goes on sale on Saturday and he is mightily impressed.
    The Mini plant is a core part of this city and is rightly valued.
    But sometimes local pride can blind us a little over how the Mini is viewed further afield.
    There are 900 a day rolling off the production line, but even the most ardent critic of the little motor cannot quibble with that queue of 4,000 waiting to get behind the wheel of the new generation.”
    http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/opinion/comment/11072162.Mini_success_story_worth_celebrating/?ref=arc

    http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11072258.Our_motoring_man_gives_new_Mini_a_spin___Video/

    Mini sales take a dip
    “Global sales of the Mini fell significantly last month.
    A total of 15,975 cars were delivered to customers, down 13.8 per cent on the February 2013 figure of 18,527.
    Bosses said the slowdown was due to anticipation of the new model being launched in dealerships on Saturday.
    However, sales of the Clubman estate remain strong. In the first two months of the year, a total of 2,532 vehicles were delivered, an increase of 22.5 per cent on the 2,067 figure from last year.”
    http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11072152.Mini_sales_take_a_dip/

  42. Steve says:

    MINI moves yet another step away from the cute little affordable city car it was in ’59. This current model is so ghastly, so bloated and ugly it is actually making my eyes water! To my eyes there are so many styling bodges on this car it’s unreal from the awkward and pointless square jaw under the front bumper to the grossly oversized and mishaped rear clusters which are set at a ungainly height… oh gowd this thing is nearly as ugly as the Countryman (although not quite, that thing is mind-blowingly nasty!)

  43. The Wolseley Man says:

    @33 Alex
    The Mini Clubman is available with 5 belts when bought new although you cannot upgrade from an existing four seater.
    @37 Slartybartfast
    Quite right, MINI does not mean mini! How many times have we got say this? It’s getting a bit boring now.
    @1 Paul
    “Catastrophic failure of the 1800″ – when was that then? I was driving in the late 60’s and they were everywhere. With respect, is this a period you experienced or is this something you heard on a comedy programme – Top Gear?
    Check out any ‘period car’ picture and you’ll probably find as many 1800’s as Cortinas.

  44. kennyg says:

    Just changing the subject a little we have MINI, Beetle, 500, DS and Adam how about the Twingo morphing into a 4CV and giving Renault something to tart up with tricolours etc

  45. Jonathan Williams says:

    I took the new Cooper S out for a spin at my local dealer at the weekend. I’ve owned both of the previous Cooper S ‘s since they were relaunched in 2001 and so it’s fair to say I obviously love them. The new model is another step ahead. It doesn’t feel bigger when you drive it, but it certainly feels more planted on the road. The driving position has improved again. It always was better than other small cars but with the “sports seats” this one is superb. The whole relationship between the pedals, the gearbox and the steering was spot on feeling every inch the real drivers car it is. It really is very impressive.

  46. JagBoy says:

    A few facts about new MINI,

    It provides many thousands of well paid jobs.
    It gives many jobs to associated industries.
    It provides many tens of Millions of pounds to the Exchequer.
    It provides profits to its parent company.
    It is successful at motorsport.
    It is a fashion statement, rather than a sensible auto choice.
    The Interiors are some of the worst laid out of any I have seen.
    For a large car, it has not very much space.
    It’s price has sky rocketed from launch (over and above general rates of increase)
    and its not that pretty (IMHO)

    bring me back my 1994 MINI 35, in Arizona Blue Metallic, with Jamboree trim, I loved that car, and 20 years later, it is STILL, being used daily.

  47. francis brett francis brett says:

    It makes shitloads of money for its parent in Germany too.

  48. Will M says:

    When I had the opportunity to test drive a MINI, I felt it more Celica than Aygo/iQ.

    Interestingly, there was a programme on Sunday night after the banger racers on BBC2 NI – Belfast to Monte Carlo, with Paddy Hopkirk driving a mk1 MINI down to the principality where he had rallying success in the 60s with an original Mini.

    @kennyg

    They’re trying to suggest that the new Twingo is a spiritual successor to the 5. Though I’m not sure how, as it looks more like a 500, and the Smart shared rear engine layout is more old school Dauphine.

  49. francis brett francis brett says:

    Car magazine while recognising the Mini for its virtues states that the Fiesta ST “drop kicks it out of the park” for £6k less, kinda succinct.

    Whilst I am no Ford fan or Fiesta lover in particular, I would have the fezzer over this car every time as how a car handles is far more important as is the price.

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