GOLDING'S TAKE: MINI's 'New Original' is bigger, faster, better

By Rob Golding | 14 March 2014

It may be bigger than the Issigoniss original, but its still smaller than a Volkswagen Polo.

It may be bigger than the Issigonis's original, but it's still smaller than a Volkswagen Polo.

New MINI Hatch reaction has been very favourable so far. Old Mini owners are a very conservative lot and will rubbish the efforts of BMW for a while yet. About 5m versions of the British Mini were sold compared to 1.8m versions of the German offering thus far.

Four wheel drive was an initiative that went down like a lead balloon in the first round of consumer judgements: 4WD had not been a requirement in the first 55 years of life. Front wheel drive gave that attractive scrabbling character... so why now? It will also take time for some to forgive BMW for nicking the Mini name and using it for a MINI that is far from small.

But the reality is that the first black clouds of disapproval have passed according to the folk in BMW planning whose job it is to monitor the thinking of consumer prospects. The warmth of understanding and acceptance is breaking through.

I regard myself an unappointed and unwanted custodian of the brand having sat for hours with the late and unforgettable Mini designer Sir Alec Issigonis at his home in Harbourne, Birmingham. For many years he lived there with his mum and sketched car designs at the dining room table.

When meeting with BMC high-ups he would always book a restaurant table (and never pay). The debates were supported with sketches on the restaurant tablecloth which the high-up would buy and take back to the design office for translation.

Our meetings resulted in a book in 1979 which argued that despite more than five million cars being produced, the Mini was uneconomic and that the then British Leyland was never able to charge a price that recovered costs.

The accounts department in Munich soon sorted that out. The inconvenient truth is that small cars make small profits and Mini had to grow or die...

And so to Majorca to drive the latest iteration of the swollen car and get a feel for its virtues. Majorca was an inspired BMW choice. The roads are rural, the ascents are challenging and the views of the sea at every turn are a joy.

The first realisation was positive. A human frame stretched to two metres is extremely well accommodated by front seats that push right back to the bolster of the rear buckets.

The build rate has reached over 200,000 a year of which 74% are exported to 108 markets. The job has been accelerated by buying another 1,000 robots for the production plant.

The cunning plot that the design and marketing people have to fulfil is to 'keep it Mini' and avoid sudden change in appearance. Look carefully though and you find that the exterior is very different with a brand new platform with "floating roof" over a new glasshouse. Despite the greater size it is still smaller than Polo and Fiesta. It has a 130mph top speed. The belief is that the changes shift the interest to a more masculine audience which can cope with stronger pricing (from GBP14,000 to GBP19,000).

Four thousand cars have been specced and ordered already. Dealers get first deliveries this Saturday.

See also: UK: New BMW Mini is 'new original'