The new new Mini: test-driving an updated icon
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The original Mini of 1959 was 10ft long and 4ft 6in wide. The “new” Mini hatch that went on sale 20 years ago was both two feet longer and wider.
Some might read this as a metaphor for 21st-century excess. Not only have people become bigger, so too have our motoring expectations: we now demand infotainment, climate control, cosseting seats, quiet interiors, sports-car performance and a safer, more effortless drive.
The millennial MINI (officially written in capitals, so even the name has expanded) was never going to be the miracle of automotive packaging famously designed by Alec Issigonis back in the ’50s, but that wasn’t the point. It was as much about creating a playful lifestyle brand as it was about building a car. And it worked a treat, selling more than five million models around the world and inspiring rival makers to revisit similarly characterful icons, such as Fiat with its 500.
Now comes the all-new three- and five-door hatchbacks, as well as convertible and electric versions. If you didn’t want the Mini to become any more maxi, you’ll be pleased: the basic dimensions haven’t changed, although the already mind-boggling options list has grown even longer, meaning it’s now easier than ever to create a car that’s truly personalised.
The electric model is available in three increasingly lavish levels of trim, while the hatchbacks and convertibles can be had in Classic, Sport, Exclusive and high-performance John Cooper Works guises – and there’s a further smorgasbord of extras available for each category. The convertible I drove away from Plant Oxford, where nearly all of the cars are produced, was a Cooper S Sport. Its price begins at £23,955 for the manual model, but my version ended up costing £31,155 once the 40 additional features had been added, including the Navigation Plus Pack, Comfort Plus Pack, Driving Assistance Pack and a further 16 enhancements as part of the John Cooper Works Sports Pack that comes with the model. It has a two-litre, twin-turbo petrol engine producing 178 horsepower and goes like the clappers.
The large, round, centrally-placed speedometer that was a signature of the original Mini now takes the form of a giant, circular screen that serves as the display and control module for the infotainment system, while the interior trimmings – including half-leather sports seats in my car – really do make for a luxury feel. But given that the brand’s intention is to end production of fossil-fuelled Minis by the early 2030s, it’s the electric version of the new car that matters most. It starts at £28,500, has a top speed of 93mph, will cover up to 145 miles on a charge and, says the maker, costs around 4p a mile to run.
And almost as significant in terms of the fast-changing world of motoring is that all of the latest models are available with a new Mini-sharing feature based around an electronic box that can be fitted to the car at an as-yet-unconfirmed cost of £350 plus an annual £40 subscription. Operated via an app, the system enables use of the car to be booked in advance, with the owner and up to nine other people being able to unlock and start it from their smartphones.
As inventive as he was, Sir Alec might never have believed it.