MINI has produced a series of interesting images which, by way of introduction, put the new F56 alongside the previous three generations of cars to wear the Mini nameplate. There’s plenty of discussion about the growth of the MINI by AROnline readers and, when the four cars are placed side-by-side, it’s all too clear to see that the Issigonis original is absolutely tiny – even when compared with its immediate successor, the R50, launched in 2001.
Clearly the big jump in size between the Mini (1959) and the MINI (2001) can be accounted for by the leaps in technology in the 42 years that separate them – as well as the fact that the Rover-designed and BMW-packaged 2001 car had also grown to take into account the likely evolution of the Mini Cooper that would have happened had BMC and BL continued to develop and replace the car during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The car world moved on – in 1959, the Mini was not alone in enjoying such modest dimensions – the obvious rival was the Fiat 500, as well as a host of Bubblecar rivals that the BMC car promptly blew out of the water. However, when the last Mini rolled off the line in 2000, it was a tiny anachronism that had no similarly-sized four-seater rivals, aside from the Japanese market Kei cars – and even those were considerably longer at 3.40m in length. That’s not to say that Rover hadn’t considered going tiny again when it got down to seriously replacing the Mini in the early 1990s, but the Spiritual concept was passed over and the rest, as they say, is history.
The differences between the 2001 (R50) and 2006 (R56) cars are most interesting. The vital statistics below paint a picture of a car that changed very little in terms of dimensions, as well as in terms of styling. Place the two cars side-by-side and casual observers might struggle to tell them apart. Indeed, that was most definitely intentional from BMW.
Yet, the 2006 MINI shares no external parts with the 2001 car, aside from its windscreen and roof pressing. The additional 7cm in length must be put down to the additional bulk at the front end for the sake of pedestrian safety – because, in every other dimension, the two cars are almost identical. The R56 was a very important car for MINI, even if the changes looked subtle. It was a cheaper car to build and was designed by BMW – as opposed to Rover – to confirm with the German company’s production methods. Consider it a German facsimile of a British original…
For 2013, the MINI has taken a much greater evolutionary step, despite the me-too styling of the new car. It’s longer – again, with much of the additional bulk being taken up by the demands of pedestrian safety. The new drivetrain is compact, but needs more crash room than the outgoing four-cylinder. A longer wheelbase is a welcome development for the MINI, as any rear seat passenger in an R50 or R56 will tell you, while the larger boot will also come in useful.
But is the MINI still a mini after all these years?
In absolute terms, the MINI is still a short car although it’s no longer the tiddler in comparison with its rivals that it used to be. The Fiat 500 (3546mm), Ford Ka (3620mm) and Vauxhall Adam (3698mm) are all usefully shorter. Okay, so the Audi A1 and Citroen DS3 are both nearer 4m in length, but the point is made. Does that matter any more, though?
Those who care about the heritage of the marque would say yes, but the cold hard truth is that the MINI’s sales will provide the real answer once the full range is on sale. That said, it’s worth remembering that BMW’s development chief Klaus Draeger warned in 2010 during a company event that MINI should be careful to protect its brand image and not build too many large cars. More than ever, we’re now waiting for a new smaller MINI to enter the range below the F56.
Here are some vital statistics:
|Mini Coopers (1961-2013)|
|Kerb weight (kg)||584||1050||1065||1085|
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.