Blog : So, what replaced the Mini?

Ian Nicholls


Okay, at first glance this looks like a stupid question. The Mini was replaced in 2001 by BMW’s new MINI. Question answered, let’s move on – but that is not really what I am asking.

The classic Issigonis Mini was innovative, a great success at motorsport and the best-selling British car of all time. These are things every petrolhead knows. What set the Mini apart from its contemporaries was its versatility as a used car. With millions built it was readily available, mechanically simple, cheap and economical to run.

This was also applicable to other bestsellers such as the Ford Cortina, but the Mini had the advantage that it was compact, easy to drive and, because the vast majority built had sub-1.0-litre engines, it was also cheap to insure. Many were pressed into service as a second car, for shopping and the school run.

For many of us, the Mini was our entry into the exciting world of motoring, because the qualities I have listed made it the ideal first car. Millions of us learned to drive in a Mini, whether it was the parents’ pristine runabout or a rust-ridden old banger, as we dreamed of being the next Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt or Nigel Mansell (delete as appropriate).

We might be driving something more upmarket now but, for many drivers, owning a Mini was a rite of passage. Perhaps well into the 1980s, the Mini was the default first car. Its position was finally usurped when the price of the earliest Ford Fiestas dropped into bargain basement territory for them to be affordable to teenage motorists.

So what as replaced the Mini as the ideal first-time car? Remember it has to be cheap to buy and insure, so that discounts the current 1.5-litre MINI. My nominations would be the Nissan Micra K11, the 1993-2000 Vauxhall Corsa and the first-generation Ford Ka. However, AROnline’s readers might think differently…


Ian Nicholls
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  1. I agree, the Corsa seemed to be to car of choice. Although, my daughter’s friends all seem to have an Aygo/C1/107 type as their 1st car.

  2. I reckon the Aygo/107/C1 are closest to the Mini’s market slot now. In the early 2000s any base model supermini had a claim om the title – maybe the Saxo, which was popular for a while, was nearest. And maybe the Seicento, especially the Sporting which has something in common with the Mini Cooper.

  3. The Citroen AX replaced the Mini even before the car’s production had stopped, or perhaps Citroen’s marketing model had done so, and other manufacturers followed suit: with the insurance market of the late 80s and early 90s going ballistic due to the threat of “joy-riders”, Citroen’s early 1990s marketing strategy of offering their 954cc model as coming with a year’s free insurance was excellent for those parents who could afford the deals and credit on offer: while I was trying to run/tax/insure a 12-year-old 120,000 mile X-reg miniMetro* HLE off of my own back, a friend had a new AX every year because the depreciation the inclusive deal offered was less than the cost off separate insurance deals and depreciation added together that his parents would have to fork out for.

    *It was indeed, a miniMetro – and it was utterly superb, one of my favourites from the cars that I have owned – 27,000 miles in 20 months.

  4. In my opinion, the spiritual succesor of the classic Mini was the first generation Mercedes A-Class: a true revolutionary car that tried to revolutionise the market of front wheel drive cars, exactly as the Mini did in 1959. Just as the Mini, it was a car that used new ideias to achieve an objective: being small on the outside (despite being bigger than Mini), but big inside.
    Unfortunately, it wasn’t a success, and Mercedes gave up of this concept and launched a much less innovative A-Class in 2012.

  5. For me, it was the Cinquecento/Seicento both of which had some character. I had the misfortune to hire an Aygo once. I’d did nothing for me but scream “I am cheap!”. Nonstop.

  6. When the Mini came out there wasn’t a huge choice. Actually my first car was an Austin 1100. A lot roomier and handled just as well.

    Currently a first time driver is spoilt for choice, there seem to be small cars available from lots of manufacturers and used ones are very cheap three or four years down the line. I suppose it has to be small Fords and Vauxhalls for cheapness new or used, but just look at the number of Fiat 500s running around ! A Fiat 500 was my daughter’s first car. They were quite expensive at one time, but now there are loads on Autocar at very reasonable prices.

  7. The Nissan Micra, Ford KA and Fiat Cinquecento/Seicento never had any ‘street cred’ at least for young male drivers…unlike the classic Mini and some other modern supermini’s like the Corsa and Saxo mentioned.

    (Remember the Yellow Cinquecento featured as a joke first car on TV’s ‘Inbetweeners’ comedy!)

  8. Most of the ‘Superminis’ already mentioned were/are just too big to be serious contenders. If considering cars like these, then surely BL’s own ‘mini’Metro probably came the closest, being 6 inches shorter than an early Fiesta, but enjoying slightly more space inside.
    Otherwise various Japanese ‘K’ class cars from the 1980’s onwards must be considered as they were all properly small/economical and many were also roomy.

    As to current Euro talent, the FIAT 500, like the BINI is much larger than the original car it got it’s name from – and likewise is too cramped inside to be deemed clever enough in design. Indeed there is more merit in suggesting the 500’s Panda brother to be more able – although that is also guilty of being bigger than it’s original version.

    It was in trying to replace such a nice (1990) Panda in 2003 that I tried the various new Ford Ka, SEAT Arosa, FIAT Cinq. e.t.c. ‘City’ cars.
    In the end my choice of a 3-door L701 series Daihatsu Cuore was quite simple – it wasn’t cool, but neither had it any of the various major flaws in the way those rivals of the time had.

    That it also looked a bit like a Mini to some people was neither here nor there to me – I was more annoyed when it got confused for the bigger but mostly inferior Micra.

    Looks aside, it proved to be a better effort than the cheaply-made, (and Daihatsu petrol-engined) C106Aygo that came along later.

  9. Would argue the Daihatsu Cuore L700 (even the related non-UK Mini-inspired Daihatsu Mira Gino) as well as the Fiat Cinquecento / Fiat Seicento and mk1 Ford Ka replaced the original Mini, outside of the UK would also add the original Renault Twingo.

    Since then cannot think of any recent candidates capable of fulfilling the role of the original Mini aside from the featherweight 8th generation Suzuki Alto that does not appear to be coming to the UK, which is a pity since even the smallest cars at the moment are little more then overweight pillows on wheels with thick pillars creating little to no driver visibility.

    Remember being shocked as the difference between a mk2 Renault Clio 1.2 16v and the larger mk3 Clio with the same engine and spec, really felt the latter compared unfavorably to the former in terms of size, weight and driving experience.

  10. I have fond memories of the original “Boxy” Panda which I felt was in the spirit of the Mini. The Hyundai Amica is proving to be a good shopping trolley and will be replaced by i10

  11. My Mrs has a corsa b, and as good as it really is, is it a replacement for the mini, not so sure. For me it would have to be the original panda or even the uno I think

  12. I don’t think any of these replaced the mini, the closest in looks would probably be the bug eye Amica or the Matiz in styling, which is what you’d get if an original clubfoot was knocked up by a Fiat 600 Multipla.
    Issigonis would be spinning in his grave fast enough to power half of Constantinople if he saw the c1 and Smart and stuff like that, especially as a first car, you *will* crash a first car, it’d be nice for it to have some metal in it.. Although having a Chrysler Sebring as a learner car is somewhat suicidal the other way.
    I think the nearest are the kei cars of which we saw very few over here and always the bargain basement models.. 660cc two stroke turbo with 79hp, 20 years ago.. What’s not to like?
    And as for that Aston Martin abortion, I’d say at best guess someone had found his granddaddys Pervitin and eaten the whole tube..
    I honestly can’t think of a European “city car” that doesn’t make me think of a Bond Bug with delusions of grandeur and if I had children there’s no way I’d put them in something like that or allow them to be a passenger in one, horrible, cheap tinplate tat.

  13. It has to be 1st gen ka,cheap to buy,easy to work on and loads of spares.Also now that the boy racers have woken up to them can be seen as manly. This was my daughters
    first car and i was surprised at the mini likeness.One or 4 bumps latter and replacement bumpers still looks undamaged

  14. “So what as replaced the Mini as the ideal first-time car?”

    Bearing in mind that many people who bought a Mini as their first car bought it because it was cheap and plentiful, and not because they NEEDED something that small, then the obvious answer is the bog standard superminis (Fiesta, Corsa, Polo, AX/Saxo etc) and the slightly smaller city cars like the C1, anything cheap to insure and plentiful.

  15. Original mini was the answer to the problem of wanted to compete against the generation of economy bubble cars, while offering a “proper” 4 seater 4 wheeled car. It needed to be innovative to do so, the popularity stemming from this, the economy, the price, the ease of size and later the street cred and sporting potential of the hot hatch and rally models.

    I don’t think any one car has fulfilled every single category with popularity. Indeed, by the 2000s the economy was doing very well for itself, thank you very much. Bubble cars were a distant memory.

    In terms of lineage, Metro/100 was the defacto replacement, which should have been (and when the 100 was axed, effectively was) replaced by the 200/25/ZR.

    We have seen a number of innovatively packaged cars since the turn of the century – mk1 Merc A class, Smart fortwo, Audi A2, Daewoo Matiz (itself a proposal for a Cinquecento replacement), Toyota iQ. None were overly popular as the original Mini though.

    Economy car and price wise we have the small Koreans such as i10 and Picanto. The Dacia Sandero offers European style back to basics motoring, the small PSA-Toyota models of 107-8/C1/Aygo have already been mentioned. The mk1 Ka offered a back to basics yet funky and modern small car, albeit the platform wasn’t exactly innovative, based on the mk3 Fiesta which itself shared commonality going back to the 70s.

    For street cred, the likes of the BMW-era MINI and the Fiat 500 have it in spades. Citroen DS3 is a French alternative to the MINI which has successful rallying pedigree.

    Special mention to the likes of the Suzuki Swift and Skoda Fabia, both now available with MINI style painted roofs.
    And in hushed tones we mention the MG3, the Chinese import keenly priced small car with British design input.

    Any second hand small car will be keenly priced, and these days reliability is usually fine, rust is for the most part not a concern.

    My vote goes to the Toyota iQ for the packaging, 4 seats in a footprint barely bigger than a 2 seat smart. And in Aston Martin Cygnet form from 100 yards looks vaguely Mini-like. So there it is, the successor to the economy car is from a supercar manufacturer.

  16. The reality is that there has never been a successor to the Issigonis mini . It was a unique work of genius . Everything that has come since, including the Metro which was probably the nearest, has been larger , more sophisticated , but diminished in charm and usefulness . Indeed , even the developments of the mini in the shape of the Mk11 with wind up windows rather destroyed the charm of the original and certainly diminished the passenger room and storage capacity which was part of the attraction of the original. Quite why the windows were changed is a bit of a puzzle to me . With both the sliding windows partly open , the ventilation in my Mark 1 Cooper S is plentiful and draught free, and of course I still have the wonderful elbow room and storage space . I suppose that safety considerations mean that the original concept can never be reproduced , but in reality we have gone backwards in overall usefulness – and still even now, the only truly safe car is the one which never leaves the garage

  17. The Tata Nano (not sold here) would probably be the closest to the mini in terms of where it slots into the market

  18. So many suggestions, hard to pin it down to one car. But I’ve long thought BMW’s new MINI went completely against the spirit of what the Mini tried to achieve whatever you thought of the new car. For starters the original Mini was incredibly space efficient; the new one struggles to take the same number of people in a larger space. Nothing in the new mini is as ground-breaking as the technologies of the time on the old mini.

    So maybe a small MPV?

  19. In terms of cleverness, then the original Twingo and the 1st-gen A-Class would have to be in the running (maybe also the Honda Jazz). As a small inexpensive but potentially quite fun runabout, the original Ka seemed even on launch to be a pretty good restatement of the Mini’s core values.

  20. From evidence of my son’s friends, the Mk1 Ka seems to now be the first car of choice. And a good choice it seems – lots of fun to drive, relatively simple mechanicals and, with the non-painted plastic bumper-panels, robust against bumps and scrapes.

  21. An odd one, but wouldn’t the Suzuki Whizzkid/ SC100 be Japan’s answer to the Mini when it was launched in 1979. This was quite a good car for its time, a car slightly bigger than a Mini with a free revving and relatively powerful 1 litre engine that could reach 86 mph, 40 mpg plus economy, enough seating for four, and well equipped with a radio, cloth seats, tinted glass, clock and cigar lighter. I know only car anoraks will remember the little Suzuki, but it was a decent response from Japan to the energy crisis and helped launch Suzuki over here as a carmaker. Even CAR magazine was complementary about the Whizzkid.

  22. Has to be the mk1 Opel Corsa (Vauxhall Nova in the UK). Cheap to run and fix and even though i had the 1 litre version, it drove like it was rocket powered.

  23. I would consider the Ford Fiesta in any incarnation to qualify as a decent first car choice. Still good basic honest fayre for a young driver.

  24. @ Hilton D, I know the Mini still had a following as a first car in the eighties, but cars like the Metro and the Fiesta, which many young drivers had learned to drive in, were becoming more popular. Locally most first time drivers tended towards Ford ( Escort or Fiesta), as they were quite cheap, easy to fix and cheap to run, although the Vauxhall Chevette, with the same virtues, was quite popular, and a few of the original Metros were becoming affordable by the mid eighties. One chap who left school in 1984 decided towards something a bit more left field and unfashionable, a 1980 Allegro 1.3 HL, again very cheap by the mid eighties and quite reliable.

    • Right Glenn… as you say the original Mini remained popular as a first car into the 80s. My first car was an Austin Mini 850 but two of my friend’s opted for Escorts MK1 & 2. For my second car I was leaning towards getting a Mini Clubman (couldn’t afford a 1275GT), but ended up with a Viva HC

      • Most of the lads who passed their tests in their teens and could afford to buy cars locally were apprentices at Sellafield. Most seemed to be mobile by the time they were 18, often the usual suspects from Ford and Vauxhall, but a few saved and as a second car, when they went on to adult pay at 19, went for hot hatches like the Astra GTE, and Opel Mantas. I suppose when you were earning double what most 19 year olds were getting( and some weren’t working) you could pick and choose. Me I was the student who had to get the bus and didn’t pass my test until I was 26.

  25. Also seems that with a few exceptions, many current Kei Cars appear to be increasingly facing similar problems as larger cars in becoming bloated and overweight with poor all-around driver visibility.

  26. Given the motorsport angle can I throw the Renault Clio into the mix?
    Alternatively, the original Toyota Yaris which had an estate version and lots of other often quirky models developed from the same platform. However I agree with the Tata Nano in terms of what it was designed to do (Nano = motorcycle replacement, Mini = bubble car replacement) and Alec Issigonis might appreciate its ingenuity and simple format.

  27. For innovation and space efficiency I would nominate the W168 Mercedes A Class. It is actually an inch shorter than the original Ford Ka. The A Class is a full 4 seater with a decent boot and very refined for a small car. Just like the Mini it had a few teething problems.

  28. I’ll add my vote for the Citroen AX. It was as innovative in its packaging as the Mini, not so much in terms of keeping it tiny (although it was very much wheel at each corner) more as in keeping the weight down. Born out of the fruits of a French government competition to design a car that would only use 2l of petrol to do 100km the AX used lots of plastic and variable thickness steel in the body panels. It did feel a bit tinny but it went like the proverbial off a spade like implement and was absolutely chuckable round corners, even in 1124cc form (the 954cc was less eager but not awful) and especially the GT (more fun than the GTi); it was like driving a go kart….sound familiar?

    • The AX also was an eventual replacement for the 2CV, which by the late 1980s was becoming time expired as a design.

  29. The main thrust of the article was what is the ideal first car, not what is the spiritual successor to the Mini in technical terms. Cars that are expensive to buy and insure do not qualify in this respect. What would you buy for your own sprogs?

  30. I was pleased to see a couple of years ago a young lass on our estate learning to drive on what I presumed was her own car – a G-reg (1989) Mini!

    My first car was an MG1300 mkII with 731 cam, twin 1 /1/2 SU’s and ported head, that gave the Escort and Mini boys a bit of a shock chasing around the country lanes.

  31. Of new cars for a successor to the Mini, I’d suggest the Dacia Sandero. Cheap, seats 4 in comfort, basic equipment, simple mechanics. Honest, unpretentious transport.

  32. I think if we’re talking about rivals to the Mini, and not just first cars, I will say the Hillman Imp was its first real British competitor( Ford, Vauxhall and Standard Triumph weren’t involved in this class of car in the sixties). The Imp looked better to me, the rear engined design meant more luggage space, it was more spacious inside and wasn’t as noisy on a long journey. Also the 900 cc engine meant low running costs, like the Mini. I know early models had reliability issues, which hurt sales, but once these were sorted, the Imp was a decent car.

    • Glenn, I forgot about the Hillman Imp as a Mini alternative! My elder brother owned a 1964 Imp, bought around 1967. He did have a bit of trouble with the rear engine once, but otherwise it was a nippy little car with a good turn of speed on the open road. I always consider it as a forerunner hatchback due to the opening rear window and folding seat.

      My favourite’s were the Sunbeam Imp Sport & Stiletto.

  33. If you are able to accept the word of Alex Moulton.

    The Mini replacement is the Toyota iQ, Toyota took the profile and dimensions of the Mini and redesigned the car to pass modern crash regulations, Toyota also approached Moulton for an interconnected hydragas suspension system for the iQ.

  34. A quick search of the local classifieds shows that our friends in the “trade” have already answered this question.

    “Ideal 1st car – Cheap to insure & run” appears as a common description for the first generation Ford KA.

  35. I reckon something like the Suzuki Alto is a spiritual successor to the Mini. Now it’s been discontinued, the most expensive ones retail for under £ 5000, it can seat four adults in reasonable comfort, equipment levels are decent for the money, it’s exempt from road tax, and can return at least 55 mpg.

  36. At first the question sounded daft but the mention of the Nissan Micra K11 reminded me of something. On a visit to our daughter at the time in Berlin in 2014 I noticed that this Micra model was ubiquitous around the city. It was only on the last day of the visit that I realised the significance. We were picking up our car from overnight parking when I saw the first Beetle of our visit and it was obviously a collectors car in storage. What had happened was that the K11 had replaced the Kaeffer (Beetle) as the people’s car and runabouit.

  37. I have to say I agree with the Micra K11 (93-03), built in Britain, cheap, very reliable and I still see 1993/94 versions regularly on the roads. After that I’d have to say the Fiat Panda (03-12) which I currently drive and after that the Dacia Sandero although a lot bigger it still does the reliable, cheap and basic motoring that made the Mini great.

    • The K11 Micra was not a low-specification accountants special. The Micra had a 16- valve twin-cam engine, sequential fuel injection (requires a fast / powerful ECU computer, the most expensive component in many cars) two catalytic converters and two silencers in the exhaust , not the sort of specification expected of a modest hatchback of the period.

  38. Like Neil I think the Micra K11, even its engines of 998 and 1275cc aped the Mini and from the back especially you can see the likeness.

  39. For me the Vauxhall Nova was the Mini replacement. The basic 1.0 litre Nova replaced the 850 Mini. It was simple and easy to fix. The 1.2 models were Clubman 1100s and the 1.3 / 1.4SRi’s were the Mini Coopers of the day. The Nova of course morphed into the Corsa which was more or less a rebody of the Nova initially.

    More or less in parallel were the Fiesta 1 models with the 950, 1100, 1300 and later on the XR2s.

    Micra? No chance, grandma’s car and no street cred. Panda Mk1? Again no street cred with the boy racers.

    With the Vauxhall & Ford you could make your 1.0 litre look (and sound) like a sporty model easily and often cheaply (often by rescuing bits from crashed sporty models).

    • Good call, certainly the Nova and Corsa had street cred amongst the youth of the day, with sports hatch looking variants. Even as you say, if it was a base model, a set of alloys, lowered, a sports grille and a noisy exhaust and the driver had themselves a fun (but not necessarily fast, didn’t need to be!) go kart – something Mini drivers love about that car.

      What it was missing though was the classless appeal of the Mini. Would you see a rock star or movie star getting out of a Nova / Corsa?

      • Probably true about the Nova, but the Astra & other cars in that segment (Ford Escort for sure) had that celebrity appeal, especially the soft top & hot hatch models.

        • I never drove a Nova, only a Corsa ( work) the Corsa had a terrible feel to the steering, inert, lifeless and wooden. On motorway turns the vehicle would not enter or leave the curve in a well controlled manner, it would instead describe a sort of “fifty pence coin” line as you made the transition from straight line to the regular curve. The Astra of the era also had this same shortcoming. This disqualifies the Corsa from the topic in my mind.

          A point of the K11 Micra, the 1.3 engine ( both 1.0 and 1.3 were twin-cam 16V ) gave the lightweight car a strong power to weight ratio, not far off the 100 bhp / ton mark of many a GTi of the era. A 1.3 K11 Micra had a strong top gear acceleration for overtaking and hill climbs

          • During the 90s the Corsa was the boy racer favourite, especially with the years insurance offer – it was cheaper to HP a Corsa than it was to buy insurance on a used car!

            Truth be told only ever drove the mk1 Combo variant. Surprisingly fun for a van, the diesel engine putting weight over the front wheels probably helped. Certainly a better drive than the Fiat Doblo, which the mk3 was based on, the Fiat felt agricultural and the brakes felt more BMX than BMW.

    • Citroen Saxos were also popular with the yoof!

      The replacement C2 never seemed to have the same appeal, while the DS3 seems too upmarket, I’ve not seen pimped up base models.

      The C1 and its equivalents are too staid to appeal to young males

      • The first C1 and related models could only make do with an aftermarket Supercharger kit on the 1.0 petrol for those after more performance, while the 82 hp 1.2 petrol in the current C1 and related models is capable of pushing out up to 110 hp should PSA and Toyota were willing to produce a more potent City Car.

      • Was the Saxo not one of the late 90s hatchbacks that had free insurance, working out cheaper for some to finance a new car than a used car plus insurance?

        Was a popular model, especially VTR and VTR-lookalike models. I guess that the similarity to the 106 didn’t harm sales either, especially as that model had the GTi halo model, a spiritual successor to the 205 GTi.

        The C2 is a strange case, apparently designed to appeal to the car modifying community, who shunned it.

        C1 was/is too much of a budget citycar than a hot hatch. DS3 trying to go MINI style premium, a little too expensive.

        The Fast and Furious films, along with Playstation games seemed to increase the appeal of Japanese hot hatchbacks instead.

  40. Honda S660:

    Is the mid-engined S660 a modern Mini-Cooper?

    A car which mimics the fight between David vs Goliath?

    Anyone who rode a Yamaha RD250/350LC 2-stroke will recall the satisfaction of overtaking far more powerful bikes by the long way around ( the outside line).

    Note the rear styling cues from of Italian supercar exotica.

    Testers praised the S660 for the fun and delight of the handling of the car

  41. I reckon the closest car to the 1959-2000 Mini predated it! …The FIAT/SEAT 600. Another car which was close to the Mini was Honda’s N600, but that was a contemporary of the Mini, so cannot be considered a replacement. C1/107/Aygo are probably closer to a Hillman Imp, or Austin A30/35 than a Mini. Micra K11 is more of a latter-day A40, Minor, ADO16, or Allegro, rather than a Mini. Panda is more of a successor to small FIAT’s of the 1960s & ’70s. Dacia Sandero is nothing like a Mini, it’s got more in common with cars like Renault 12, Simca 1100 & FIAT 128. Apart from Suzuki’s Alto and Japanese K-cars, the closest thing to a Mini nowadays must be the 21st century FIAT/Abarth 500.

  42. my mum had multiple minis (often at the same time!) she learnt to drive in one in the 70s, had one as her first car and along with my dad continued to use a mini as a second car when me and my sister came along. Right up until the millennium 80s minis were still a common sight as a cheap runabout or a teenagers first car. Nowadays she has a Ford Ka, in fact she is on her third one! I think the Ka is the closest thing to the classic mini these days as it’s mechanically simple, an avant-garde design for its days despite being based on older mechanicals, also, like the mini it’s the sort of car that doesn’t apologise for being small, people buy one because they like it, not because they can’t afford something bigger. The modern day fiat 500 is the next car which I think combines these qualities as well as the minis trend for personalisation.

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