Blog : MINI – Car of the Decade, 2000-2010, four years on

It’s interesting to revisit this decision almost four years on - especially as the F56-generation MINI has just been launched. Will we be saying the same thing in 2020? Okay, so MG Rover petered out in 2005, but it didn’t mean we couldn’t select the first BMW-built MINI as AROnline’s Car of the Decade for the ‘Noughties’.

In fact, we still reckon that our choice is pretty much on the ball, the way the industry is going right now. We can’t pretend that this was a popular choice, but there’s no doubting that the MINI has done wonders for the Oxford economy, as well as prove that it is popular to own a small, trendy car that can also command a premium price tag, both new and used…


MINI v2.0 – Rover’s take on the Millennial town car

MINI is car of the decade

When it first appeared in 2000, the BMW-era MINI was met with a mixture of excitement and disappointment from enthusiasts. Okay, we all knew how it was going to look, thanks to its initial appearance in concept form at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show and, that in terms of size, it was going to be seriously upscaled from the Issigonis original but, at the same time, how was it possible for something that was rather larger than a Ford Ka (but with rather less interior room) and powered by a range of Chrysler engines to be seen as being worthy of wearing the immortal MINI nameplate?

Quite easy really – because, like the Issigonis original, the R50 generation MINI was (and remains) a fantastic car to drive. Not only is its handling sharp and incisive, but the steering is accurate and well-weighted (as long as you ignore the whining EPAS) and the brakes are BMW-solid, rather than Rover-vague. Inside, you’re treated to a feast of ovoids and circles and tastefully coloured dashboard and trim options, while the driving position is spot on for those who like to feel in control of their car. Not only that, but unlike all of its small car contemporaries, the MINI’s A-pillars don’t create a blind-spot that makes junctions and roundabouts a nightmare to navigate.

The story of the MINI’s development is one of German/British in-fighting where, in terms of the car’s concept, the Bavarians won out. After all, the British wanted to revolutionise the small-car world and develop a 10ft long rear engined citycar that was avantgarde as the 1959 original – BMW, on the other hand, wanted to recreate and refine the Cooper, introducing the car as it might have been had it been evolved throughout the years, Porsche 911 style. The British idea, which went on to appear at the 1997 Geneva Motor Show as the Spiritual concept car, would probably have been the one that Issigonis might have approved of, but the shrewd Munich businessmen knew that, as admirable as that might have been, it was never going to sell in a booming global market.

BMW’s boss, Bernd Pischetsrieder, claimed to love the Spiritual twins, but concluded that they were at least ten years ahead of their time. How prescient that assertion was – as going into 2010, BMW is now working on such a car, touted to wear the Isetta badge, when it appears in the years to come.

MINI is car of the decade
Mini and MINI overlooking Monte Carlo. And the upscaling of the new car has never been more evident than in this shot…

That’s why, with the bossman behind it, there was no way that the new generation MINI was ever going to be anything but a larger, retro-styled, pastiche of the original.

However, thanks to the engineering excellence of the components on offer from the BMW parts bin, such as the Z-axle rear suspension (shared with the Rover 75/MG ZT), and the sheer skill of Rover’s chassis team in dialling-in a perfectly honed set-up, the MINI was always going to be a great car to drive. And so it proved. When the road testers finally got hold of the MINI, they were bowled over by its overall dynamics and smart styling and almost universally gave it a very big thumbs-up.

There had, of course, been problems in getting to this point. The Germans were always going to keep hold of the MINI marque – simply because it had so much international appeal, it would have been daft not to. Besides, the Dealer Network had already been split from Rover’s, moving closer to its own. BMW’s painful extraction of the Rover Group also meant that plans to build the MINI at Longbridge had to be hastily revised. Cowley was now going to be the car’s production centre, as it had already been seriously overhauled in readiness for the Rover 75 – and now, in order to maximise this investment, BMW decided to keep this asset.

The Rover 75 would be shifted back to Longbridge in an impressive logistical operation – leaving MG Rover entirely at the Birmingham plant.

Once it hit the showroom, there was no stopping the MINI. Along with serious sales in the UK and Europe, the MINI triumphantly returned to the USA and proved a strong seller from the start. Across the world’s smartest cities, MINI became the car to be seen in – and also proved that eager customers would pay premium prices for small cars, when the conventional thinking at the time was that mini-cars should command mini-prices. As for the much-touted rivalry between BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi in the small car sector, the Oxford-built car easily saw off its (far more intelligently packaged) Stuttgart rival, as well as the incredibly prescient aluminium bodied A2, which petered out unreplaced following an unexpectedly short production run.

MINI’s style and desirability, underpinned by its fine road manners, resulted in a huge success for BMW. However, just like the original car, it was expensive to build and was, at best, marginally profitable. It also struggled with early build issues and suffered from a number of well-publicised recalls. BMW just rolled-up its corporate sleeves and went about fixing the problems in the most pleasant way possible – via its accommodating dealers. That’s what MINI did so well – it gave customers exactly what they wanted – the Cooper and supercharged Cooper S models offered performance, the One D offered economy, the TLC servicing deal meant peace of mind, while the huge range of options meant that the MINI was almost infinitely customisable. You could even buy a convertible, if that was your desire.

Unsurprisingly, then, that all-round appeal also lead to industry leading residual values, as used car buyers clamoured over each other to get behind the wheel of one.

By the time that it was replaced in 2006, over 700,000 had been built, injecting untold money into the Oxford economy, as well as benefiting the UK as a whole. When the new car emerged, it was clearly an improved model and yet it seemed less desirable – it felt more like a mini-BMW to drive, while its cutsie-pie looks seem to have been distended most unseemingly. Sales continued strongly, though, only to start faltering following the appearance of the desirable Fiat 500 – which almost seems like a carbon copy of the original R50 concept. BMW are fighting back, with the extension of the range, including the Clubman and Countryman ranges. It remains to be seen if that original magic can be recreated.

There’s no getting away from it – MINI made owning a small car cool again and arguably became the first genuinely classless supermini since the original Renault 5 in 1972 or maybe, just maybe, the Metro during its honeymoon period in the spring of 1981 – because of that, it easily wins the AROnline Car of the Decade award, as it’s just as relevant now (if not more so) going into these tough times, as it was when it was launched in 2000.

The real tragedy, of course, was just how much of Rover’s work went into it and how little credit the British have subsequently received…

Click here for the MINI picture gallery


MINI has true international appeal… a reflection of when Britain used to be Cool Britannia.

Originally published 24 January 2010

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


33 Responses

  1. Phil Simpson - December 4, 2013

    Good car as the MINI may be, BMW’s treatment of Rover was shameful. They bought it for three reasons; for four wheel drive expertise, the MINI which had just started being developed & to wipe out a competitor.

    The final one may sound strange until one reads a 1993 edition of Car Magazine in which, much to BMW’s embarrassment, the newly launched Rover 600 comes out top of its class beating the E36 3 series in the process.

    BMW’s plan was to take Rover downmarket, making it their “budget” brand which in time would mean that there would be no 600 sized car to compete against the 3 series. The Rover 75 whilst a credible car was cleverly positioned in size between the 3 & 5 series so as not to steal sales off them.

    Confusion then set in with the 200 & 400 being priced as Escort & Mondeo sized cars when they were both awkwardly half a size below respectively meaning that, as usual, sales did not reach expectations.

  2. Kev - December 4, 2013

    Re 1: You need to stop peddling such misinformation. BMW took absolutely no “four wheel drive expertise” from Rover/Land Rover – about the only shared technology was the hill descent system – BMW’s four wheel drive owes more to Nissan!

    BMW’s only real interest in Rover/Land Rover, was as a cheap manufacturing source for a brand/range to sit below their existing range, without sourcing outside of the EU.
    That was all they wanted and they got it. It’s not shameful, it’s business.

  3. Andrew - December 4, 2013

    Kevin, it was business, but not very good business. bmw, for whatever reason, failed to make a sustainable business out of Rover. They can only blame themselves. No excuses, that is business.

  4. John Hackett - December 4, 2013

    A great car in both mark 1 and mark 2 guises. BMW pulled a blinder with this one.

    Fantastic to drive, great customer support, good quality and loads of character and customisation. Terrific.

    And it’s built in Oxford. A wonderful success story.

    It remains to be seen what happens with the mark 3 – must admit I am skeptical.

  5. francis brett francis brett - December 4, 2013

    @4, I think the R53 is the pick for me.
    Maybe I have become disillusioned with some of the overpriced specials and them gaining girth.

  6. The Wolseley Man - December 4, 2013

    Bought a 2009 MINI Clubman Cooper D 2 years ago with 86,000 on the clock. We’ve put it up to 114,700. The on board computer indicates 58mpg. It never fails to do anything I ask of it. It has never broken anything or used any oil between services. We love the interior, the exterior and particularly the half door on the driver’s side. The Main Dealer has been (and was again on Saturday when I booked a service) faultless. I pay peanuts servicing costs and get coffee, snacks, a courtesy car and a full car valet! I would love an Alfa Mito but the new main dealer is rubbish – far too risky to leave MINI.

  7. The Wolseley Man - December 4, 2013

    @1 Phil.
    You are right about BMW’s treatment of Rover – but from my experience – in a slightly different area. A very good friend of mine was at Gaydon at the time of the new MINI development. He will be the first to admit that the MINI is a huge advance in terms of build quality and finish from ‘the old firm’s’ offerings. He has been round Oxford and seen the production there – he will tell you that he was in awe of the quality, sophistication and attention to detail.
    That doesn’t alter the fact the BMW treated the men at Gaydon very shoddily indeed. BMW gave the Gaydon men half the design brief initially and then consistently changed the brief so that the guys were playing catch up all the time. They had got a car and engine sorted – ready to show BMW – when BMW then demanded an engine change one week before the presentation – requiring a complete re-design. (This is supported by various histories of the period). Gaydon guys were striving to get the right car for their new bosses but to be frank, the new MINI and engine were already chosen (unbeknown to them) and the Gaydon crew were just a token for purely political reasons.
    I’m sure some will argue that ‘that is business’. Well, so it might be. But then a lot of businesses have the morals of an alley cat – and I’ pleased I don’t have to work in that environment.

  8. Duncan Duncan Macrae - December 4, 2013

    Whenever I read about anything on this subject it always leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. There is no denying the MINI is a great car to drive though , my cousin had a 2008 Cooper which was excellent.

  9. Kev - December 5, 2013

    ” But then a lot of businesses have the morals of an alley cat…”

    Welcome to the car industry.

    “….it was business, but not very good business. bmw, for whatever reason, failed to make a sustainable business out of Rover.”

    On the contrary, BMW have made a very good business out of their UK investments. BMW never had any intention of retaining Rover/Land Rover. They got what they wanted…a cheap, compliant workforce (compared to mainland Europe), that was within the EU, and a brand to sell a profitable product in market segments not open to the BMW brand.

  10. Slartybartfast - December 5, 2013

    The BMW, Mini, Rover discussion continues….. I have read all the points and I conclude you all make very valid views, all are right from certain view points but one thing remains with us all. The whole episode still irritates the hell out of us!

  11. JagBoy - December 5, 2013

    Why are people STILL harping on about this nearly 10 years on, move forward, live for the now and future, not the past.

  12. Kev - December 5, 2013

    Re 11: I couldn’t agree more.

  13. Tony Evans - December 5, 2013

    BINI – car of the decade 2000-2010? Not for me!

    Cynical marketing hype of the decade maybe, along with the VW “Beetle”

    The Issy Mini was innovative, stylish and compact. It had:

    * Gearbox in sump saving space in the engine bay
    * Body seams on the outside freeing up another couple of inches inside
    * Innovative suspension freeing up even more space
    * Extreme simplicity

    The BINI has none of the above. It’s bloated, the interior is a confused ergonomic slum and it is cramped. It has ZERO in terms of INNOVATION but lots of style — oh, but that’s just a photoshop edit of a REAL MINI.

  14. tr_man - December 5, 2013

    At least it’s built in the UK

  15. mab01uk - December 5, 2013

    @13
    The classic Mini body seams on the outside were nothing to do with freeing up space (they are only about 10mm wide anyway!)…..they were actually designed to make assembly and welding of the bodyshell together easier in 3rd world type countries with more primitive tooling……in practice this never actually happened and in the end they only added another rust trap…..

    The rubber cone suspension was a stop gap measure in 1959 as Hydrolastic was not ready until 1964 and then turned out to be too expensive when BL started cost cutting….the later Hydragas was considered but never used on the MINI because of cost, complication of servicing within the dealer network with little advantage over coil springs. (See also the Issiogonis 9X replacement Mini was coil springs!)

    Great though the classic Mini was (I still own one!)this is also why no other car manufacturer uses the innovatice rubber cone or Hydrolastic suspension or the gearbox in the sump today.

    If Rover had been able to design and build the R50 MINI a car that increased Mini sales back to their 1971 peak a few years earlier they might still be here today…..

  16. The Wolseley Man - December 5, 2013

    @13Tony
    I am really genuinely surprised that anyone can find the MINI interior confusing. It is childishly simple surely. The rows of nondescript black switches on things like a Golf – now that is confusing!
    Hey-ho. we’re all different aren’t we?
    Talking of Golf’s – the last time I used the train station and got back to it at 10 o’clock in the dark, I spent 10 minutes helping a guy find his black Golf.
    You don’t have that kind of trouble with a white and black MINI Clubman.

  17. Slartybartfast - December 6, 2013

    @11 Jagboy
    Yes true but it has to be the right future or we’ll increasingly get more comments from the Chinese press that that “Britain is only good for two things “Tourism and University study”, An ultra Nationalist prat style comment admittedly but we must not forget and allow debarcles to happen again and allow others countries to take advantage. All the past and future Minis are great in my view but we allowed the screw ups to happen and must learn from it. Just think Minis could now be designed and engineered here if we had been smart enough.

  18. Andrew - December 6, 2013

    There is nothing wrong discussing history, no matter how old.

  19. The Wolseley Man - December 6, 2013

    ‘Without history we have no future’ – not my words – I can never think of anything that brilliant!

  20. francis brett francis brett - December 6, 2013

    @17 Given that we are no 26 in the world in regards education I am surprised the Chinese said that, we are good at moaning I know that.

    Personally, the Jag XJ seems worthy of this accolade because it signifies a rebirth of an iconic car from the past-once seen as the best car in the world.

  21. Dave - December 8, 2013

    The new BMW -MINI was the best thing that ever happened, you can use it in all weathers and not worry about tinworms,
    and its more practical to use everyday, it handles better than the classic ever did and its reliable, The most important thing with the new MINI was employment-jobs-investment and most of all its still built in England, If rover was still selling the classic mini today it would have still been the same old story ie the same old A-series 50 odd year old lump, and no underseal on the car subframes the list goes on. We have to move forwards in life and improve and BMW did just that and a great job they did with the new mini they did. Good riddance to the old british leyland rubbish and think positive. move on.

  22. francis brett francis brett - December 8, 2013

    @21, You seem to forget that the original mini mobilised millions in the post war era, and without it there would be no BMW MINI.

    Show me any car from then that did not rot.

    Nobody is arguing that this product provides jobs and exports, but that is all this car is, product.

    It will never be a revolution in cheap transport that the Austin mini was and for all its merits will always carry the taint of advertising hoarding of estate agents/kebab shops.

    Anyone doubting this cars success is a fool, but forgive my cynicism when it is marketed and milked on a premium ticket with price tags touching mid range Merc money.

  23. mab01uk - December 8, 2013

    For those that missed this news….
    Pre-production Rover R50 Prototype Shell report on MotoringFile USA:
    “Want an early look at MINI development? This prototype R50/53 shell found on eBay gives us an interesting window into that time period where Rover still had some control over engineering and BMW was guiding the ship from afar.”
    http://www.motoringfile.com/2013/12/03/pre-production-rover-r50-prototype-shell-shows-up-on-ebay/

  24. The Wolseley Man - December 8, 2013

    There is a traditional problem with ‘rubbishing’ everything old and thinking positive about the future.
    The original mini was designed more than 53 years ago and in a period when most cars including Mercedes, VW’s, Daimlers, Jaguars and all the less illustrious makes rotted away within a few years.
    In 53 years time, whatever some if you will be driving (I won’t be here) will be so far advanced that it will make the new, (new) MINI look like something from the Stone Age – AND no doubt there will be enthusiasts of the day ‘rubbishing’ the new MINI for being too slow, too thin, too fat, too heavy, to whatever! What you rubbish today is history – the same history you are making today. Tread carefully is my advice (and I rarely give advice!!!)

  25. Dave - December 10, 2013

    @22 I remember going in a rover showroom in 1999 to maybe buy a cooper sportspack, when looking at one in the showroom firstly was the price £10500, Which aint cheap then after looking under the car i noticed no rustproofing of any kind nothing just paint, The car was loaded with leather and fancy dials and the engine was 50 yrs old and only pumping out around 64 bhp, the car was too heavy and expensive,If i had bought that mini and used it as a daily driver it would have fallen to pieces in 3yrs,Rover missed the boat with designing a new mine something they should have done 10 yrs earlier, surely rover had the knowledge to design a new mini with a K-series motor, but no they just kept using the same old a series and shell, I may have purchased one if rover had at least rustproofed them.
    When you compare todays prices for a bog std mini the classic was also very expensive in its day. I always liked mins but i could not justify £10500 for an old design car that i could not enjoy due to the fear of rust and reliability. The new mini was perfect still has the mini looks its safer i can cruise at high speeds and hear myself think and still eat up the A roads faster than the classic ever could its brilliant.

  26. Paul the Van - December 10, 2013

    @1, but not solely.
    Why was Rover for sale in the first place?

    If I personally have been gazing at something I wanted to have for years and it suddenly becomes for sale for a fraction of the cost, I would go for it.

    If that comes as a package deal, I’d get rid of the part I didn’t want.

    Think a PlayStation 4 – Fifa2014 bundle.
    I couldn’t care less about football, so I sold it nd I now have a cheaper than normal PS4.

    It’s really all very simple.

  27. francis brett francis brett - December 10, 2013

    @25, Just look at the prices those original minis fetch now.

  28. Dave - December 10, 2013

    @27 Thats my point, on carandclassic a chap is selling a mk1 cooper S for £27500 yes £27500, now a mk2 mini GP cost
    £29000 i know which one i would buy. The new mini GP.

  29. Paul the Van - December 10, 2013

    The best thing that ever happened to the Mini, was the fact that the hydraulastic suspension wasn’t finished.
    It drove like it did because of the rubber cone suspension.
    When we drive a Mini, it puts a smile on our faces, because it handles like a go-cart.
    And not because it was such an incredible reliable car.
    Same goes for an Alfa-Romeo. Or better two: one in the shop, the other one to thrash around, until it breaks down.
    But having fun while doing so.

    Wasn’t this the secret to the Mini’s success?
    Plus the Japanese revival, because of the aforementioned reasons and the fact that it was a fun alternative to their compulsory Kai-cars?

    Oh, and to state the obvious; I love them both, and the Alfa’s. And Citroën’s.
    I love their quirkiness.

    At least BMW have gotten rid of the irritating quirkiness’.
    Be glad!
    A MINI starts everyday! And can actually be driven in the rain!

  30. only - April 1, 2014

    lol to the guy who said BMW took 4wd from rover rover was sold BWM used what they paid for rare in the world of steal it and pay for it later world we live in look around at

    and as for why they took mini and let rover die look at who the CEO was of bmw at the time(someones grandson) and rover was messing up grandpas mini (did you see the sad 1997 mini) so buy what you have to to get what you want sell the people who don’t have the same vision for the future like Rover (or force their will on rover destroying a brand losing $) seem win win for rover who

  31. Jemma - April 1, 2014

    I’ve an idea – send them all to Afghanistan and Iraq for mine clearing duty – fit them with remote control servos, park them in lines of ten along the main roads and have at it – its a win win situation… kiddies dont get their hands, legs, nads & heads blown off by nice safe ‘collateral damage, what collateral damage’ cluster weapons and IEDs/landmines and the British roads are rid of the horrible homer simpson-esque bmw-blob that pollute my eyeballs with their presence..
    The original Mini was built with a simple purpose – 4 wheeled motoring that was safe, wasnt a mini car, and provided the occupants with the outside possibilty of surviving a 10mph impact with a kerb without severe head injuries. In order to do that it was technically advanced and creatively designed – the fact it drove like a JATO assisted go-cart was just a lucky by-product..
    If Issigonis and co. had been American and BMW had done to the Mini what they’ve done creating the MINI there would have been lawsuits aplenty for various reasons not the least of which is slaughtering the whole point of the original Mini & creating a horrible pastische akin to Arnie having a sex change and then remaking Rambo..
    To be frank the only things the Mini & MINI have in common are the fact they both look like a Laydbird that ran into Rick Moranis on an off day and got zapped – although to be fair at least you cant get a MINI in BL Skidmark Tan…
    I should also mention that a similar brainstorm led to the selection of the Renault (they sold) 9 & Fiat Please-no as cars of the year for 1982 & 1984 respectively… Ive had experience of the latter, a fact that gives me nightmares still..

  32. christopher storey - April 1, 2014

    31. Who is Rick Moranis ? Am I supposed to know ?

  33. Jemma - April 2, 2014

    @32 He’s an actor – American I think, but not entirely sure – played character who managed to zap his elder kids and the next door neighbours to about a 5th the size of an ant – and then, in the search for more money, aka the sequel, managed to turn the toddler into a 50ft tantrum waiting to happen.. also played the gormless neighbour in Ghostbusters II amongst other parts..

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