Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mini Has Truly Lost Its Way

2015 Mini Cooper S. Photo courtesy of BMW.
Mini has completely lost its way. You can blame it on BMW management, stupidity, greed, groupthink or whatever else, but the fact of the matter is that the brand has forgotten what made it great. It's not the first time an automaker has done this (cough, cough, Honda) and it's not something Mini can't correct, it's just that I don't see anything changing in the near future. In fact, things seem to be getting worse.

The 1961 Austin Mini Cooper MK 1 was 120.25 inches long. It also weighed a mere 1,334 pounds. These dimensions justified the name "Mini" because the car was genuinely miniature in comparison to its contemporaries.

When BMW decided to reboot Mini, I was optimistic. While the modern Cooper was significantly larger, I accepted that fact. After all, with modern conveniences and safety requirements, it's difficult to create a vehicle with four seats and any cargo space that's as small as the old Coopers. Still, the car was smaller than its contemporaries and it was a blast to drive (even if it suffered from notorious transmission problems).

As time wore on, BMW started to introduce some troubling aspects to the brand. While the bonnet stripes, Union Jack side mirror caps and other add-ons that were launched with the new car had kind of a cool vibe, the company started going overboard. Today, most Minis have so much crap shoved onto them that they're almost dazzling to look at. I'm not talking dazzling like the Jaguar F-Type, which is simple and breathtaking in its presentation, but more dazzling like looking at a gigantic heap of horse dung. The designers, I believe, have engaged in the horror vacui sin, which is Latin for "fear of the empty." Instead of allowing for negative space on the vehicles, they're slapped all kinds of garbage on them, making them ugly.

The aesthetics have strayed far from what Minis were in the 1960s. While you don't want to and can't make carbon copies of the old cars, completely annihilating such a rich heritage is foolish. I believe Mini is headed on this path, even though I'm sure that management believes the exact opposite.

Then there's the issue of size. Mini just unveiled the 2016 Clubman and it's huge, not mini in any way. In fact, Mini brags in its official press release that the vehicle is longer and wider than any other vehicle it's ever made. It's 168.3 inches long and 70.9 inches wide. Where's the limit to how bloated the thing can get? At some point Minis should be considered obese, and I think we've arrived at that sad reality.

I get it, Mini's giving the people what it thinks they want. Hell, maybe it's really what the Mini fans want, a big car that doesn't manuever like a high-powered go-kart. If that's the case, then it's a truly sad world we live in these days.

Supposedly Mini is preparing five new models by 2020. I want to believe one of them is truly small and nimble, but the Roadster and Coupe were put out of their misery in short order, so I won't hold my breath. In other words, Mini will continue to be a giant irony as it doesn't even live up to its name or its legacy.

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