There are some subjects we should never talk about with friends. The saying ‘never discuss politics, sex or religion’ is true. Doing so can make otherwise amiable and easy going friends into angry, argumentative idiots in a few short sentences. This is because everyone has strong feelings about those things.
I thought pretty much everything else was a safe subject, even if you don’t know someone that well. So being a Petrolhead, the subject of cars is one that I use pretty much all the time. Everyone, from seventeen year old girls to old men will have something to say about them. Even ‘they bore me to tears’ is an opinion, and one that can lead to an interesting conversation (if you’re blessed with medium to good interpersonal skills). And you can’t turn a conversation about cars into a full on row. Can you?
It would seem, that you can. The readers of AROnline seem a friendly, rational bunch. Then that subject of the MINI rears its head and the cyber equivalent of a bar brawl breaks out. Digital glasses are thrown and binary teeth are knocked out.
I don’t know what it is about the MINI that makes heckles rise so much. I do know though, that people feel strongly about it. Oddly, I don’t have much of an opinion about the MINI. To me, it’s a slightly goofy, if cheerful looking hatchback. Maybe I feel indifferent about it because the original Mini never lit my candle.
So what do you think? Is the MINI a silly, ugly, overpriced little car no more worthy of the ‘MINI’ name than a 3-Series? Or is it a trendy, faithful reincarnation of Alec Issigonis’ original. Well, read the evidence submitted by Chief Inspector Frankie, and decide for yourself…
I’m leaving the other variations out (Paceman, Countryman etc) as far as I’m concerned, they’re an unfunny joke.
‘It’s not a real Mini’
The original Mini, rather like the soon-to-be-usurped Defender, was a car that refused to die for a long time. Why? Because like the Defender, people kept buying the things. Buyers were happy with its 1950s face, its low ride height and skinny pillars. But various times, plots were hatched to kill if off early in its 41 year life. Somehow, the Mini kept going right up until the new Millennium.
Even though I’m not a fan of it, I always give the Mini respect for carrying on so long unchanged. Sure, there was some nip and tuck here, some new graphics and wheel trims there, but it more or less stayed the same. To see what an achievement this is, imagine the original Golf (which was made much later, in 1974) still in production in 2000, driving out of show rooms in the UK.
Let’s think a little more AROnline orientated shall we? The Allegro is now 40. Imagine that still being sold brand new, with another year of production to go.
Back to the Golf. I don’t know for a fact, but I’ll happily bet my last can of John Smith’s on this, that the Golf MK1 does not share a single part in common, not even a bolt or screw, with the Mk7. And no-one goes around saying that the new product from VAG ‘isn’t a real Golf.’ It may have as much in common with the Mk1 Golf as I do with Paris Hilton, but it’s still a Golf.
The original Mini never went through the same process of gradual changing and updating, that nearly every other main stream production car has been through. The Golf is a prime example of this. Every few years, we see a new one, that seems barely tweaked from the last. But it’s a bit bigger. The lights are slightly different. It’s heavier. It’s a bit taller.
This goes on until you have something that is in no way at all like the original. Had the Mini gone through the same process, we’d probably end up with something very much like you-know-what.
Maybe the Mini would have morphed into the ‘MINI’ in due course anyway, without the influence of BMW.
‘It’s ugly and overpriced’
For a few quid under 12 grand, you can buy a MINI First. By mainstream new car standards, that’s cheap*. Before you leap down my throat and say ‘ah but think of what you could buy used with that’, we’re not thinking about used cars. We’re looking at the MINI as a brand new vehicle.
The Focus starts at around 14k, the new Golf, at just over 16k. The Golf does come with goodies like air con. The MINI First doesn’t. So if you can live without air con and alloys, 12 grand is a very agreeable price. You can spend almost £30,000 on the JCW GP. But if you have that sort of money to spend on a hatchback with no rear seats, will you care?
Now let us confront the elephant in the room – its looks. I’ve studied it with an impartial eye. I’ve decided it looks OK. Not great, but OK. Yes, the headlights are a bit bulbous and its anything but miniature. But look at the opposition: the new Civic to me looks like a melted Tomy remote control car, The new Focus looks dull, but fairly smart, as does the new Golf. In fact, I reckon the best looking cars out of the current crop of hatchbacks are the new Astra and Kia Rio. Compare them all and the MINI is the only product with any visual character.
But that’s just what I think. Looks are all down to opinion. But really, MINI don’t have much choice in how their hatchback looks. To keep the visual link between the Original Mini and BMW MINI can’t be easy. EU safety regs dictate how a car looks now, which is why we see high bumper lines and bloat in new cars. Buff fronted cars or narrow wedge noses are now a thing of the past…
*Did someone say Dacia?
‘Idiots drive them’
It has been said by some here that the MINI is a car exclusively for idiots. This isn’t a recent thing, and the same message can be seen on all things MINI related posted on the site. I will agree that the argument for buying Paceman is very shaky at best-but I’m talking about the MINI hatchback.
You can generalise about any car maker and its driver, but on AROnline, some really have given the ‘BINI’ a rough deal. We’ve seen the MINI being called a car for people who are ‘short in the grey matter’ to ‘retarded chav types’. Look through the comments on any MINI post here, and you’ll find that such opinions stem the car being perceived as overpriced. I’ll let you make your own mind up weather a new MINI overpriced or not.
After all, something is only worth what you think it’s worth. Don’t forget that many people see Rover SD1s and Citroen BXs etc as worthless junk. Good ones can change hands for a tidy sum of cash. And we love them. And just like the MINI, they’re not everybody’s cup of tea.
The latest variant of the MINI hatch though, the JCW GP is up against a lot of very competent competition. The new Honda Civic Type-R will be along shortly. It will give similar stats in a straight line, and crucially you should be able to put in on your drive for £23,000 (if you want to, that is).
The Focus ST-3 is also yours for 25 and a half k. Again, if you’re into your straight lines and stats, they’re pretty much the same story.
So, the hot MINI is the most expensive of those three. But does choosing one make you stupid? I know it’s silly to buy a car with your heart and not your head, but a hot hatch is a compromise. You buy it with both. You want a slinky sports car, but you know your girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband/baby/dog/excessive height calls for a hatchback. So you’re allowed to let your emotions cloud you judgment a bit. If you didn’t, you’d buy the diesel.
But cars can make you feel good in other ways than being fast as we all know. The primary purpose of a hot hatch may be to be quick, but there’s plenty of other things to think about as well. Maybe you think the Focus is ugly, you don’t like the interior or the body kit? Maybe you think the Type-R is for people with acne? Or maybe you think the JCW GP is ugly as well, and looks like is was designed by somebody not old enough to have acne yet? (I’m being impartial there I know, but I really don’t like the stickers and red scaffolding bar in the back).
Either way, if something is the most expensive in a field of equals, it doesn’t make it the worse.
So are you stupid if you buy one? Personally, I don’t think so. But that’s for you to decide.
The MINI is a car that always has, and always will divide opinions in Marmitian proportions. Will it be a sought after popular classic in the future? Or will it join the Ford Probe in being an obscure joke once it gets old? Only time will tell. In the mean time, please feel free to comment and discuss, but please be nice.
So there you have it… I mentioned the MINI once or twice-think I got away with it.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.