In adversity lies opportunity. The iconic small car, the Mini, was born out of an energy crisis! In 1956, with the Egyptian blockade of the Suez Canal, fuel prices shot up. When the crisis forced the British government to introduce petrol rationing, the British Motor Corporation (BMC), sensing an upcoming market, set out to manufacture a car that was affordable to run, capable of carrying four adults and within economic reach of just about everyone. (Interestingly, during the design stage, the Mini was called the New Market.) The compact design was created by Sir Alec Issigonis. By 1959, the car landed on British roads. It was so successful that it became the small car icon of the 1960s, and subsequently the European Car of the Century. Its design such that even decades later some cars keep getting inspired by the Mini—think Suzuki Swift, think Skoda Fabia. Over the years, its production changed hands—from BMC to British Leyland and then to the Rover Group.
In 1994, BMW took control of the Rover Group, which included the Mini. In October 1999, BMW unveiled the modern Mini at the Paris Auto Show. Among other things, BMW altered the name to MINI (in all caps), and while the basic design was more or less retained, the MINI was no longer affordable.
In 2012, BMW launched it in India. In November 2014, a new body variant was introduced with the MINI 5-door. We drove it last week.
The MINI 5-door gets a slightly longer wheelbase, yet it surprisingly retains the ‘Mini factor’, which means it looks smaller than it actually is. The car is an eye candy and, on Indian roads, the attention it receives is massive. Styling cues such as horizontal roof line, completely redesigned hexagonal radiator grille, large headlights merged into the bonnet, muscular wheel arches and cute rear light clusters make it stand out.
Getting inside is easy because of wide front doors. There is decent legroom at the front, and good headroom and shoulder room overall. The revamped dashboard stands out—all driving related displays such as the speedometer and rev counter are placed behind the steering wheel, directly in your field of vision. The central speedometer has been replaced by the all-new MINI Central Display which shows car information and entertainment. Increased interior space and rear backrest with adjustable tilt angle add to functionality. The boot-space has been increased to 278 litres. A design element nobody can miss is that everything in the cabin—from large side to central air-vents, from central display to the speedometer to the gearshift lever—carries a pronounced concave form. The rear seat can accommodate three adults.
The car is powered by a three-cylinder, 1496cc diesel engine with the MINI TwinPower Turbo Technology, which generates a maximum output of 114 bhp at 4,000 rpm and a juicy torque of 270 Nm at 1,750 rpm. It goes from 0-100 kmph in 9.2 seconds, before touching a top speed of 202 kmph. BMW claims an average fuel consumption figure of a very good 21.15 kmpl. The engine meets the futuristic EU6 exhaust emission standards.
The MINI has always been a fun-to-drive car. What adds to that is three fun-to-drive modes.
Green: You can switch to the ‘Green’ mode to save on fuel.
Sport: You can shift to the ‘Sport’ mode if you want your ride to be agile.
Mid: If you want the best of both worlds, leave the car on the ‘Mid’ mode.
As you press the accelerator, especially in the ‘Sport’ mode, the engine produces what seems to be an insatiable growl, with the six-speed automatic transmission providing improved efficiency, enhanced shift comfort and increased shift dynamics. You also have the automatic engine start/stop function to prevent unnecessary fuel consumption caused by idling at traffic junctions or in congested traffic.
The design of the MINI is such that the wheels are at the far corners of the car. This arrangement gives it a wide, go-kart stance and nimble handling. To understand how beautifully the MINI handles, we suggest driving the car in the hills or on twisty roads. Even at high two-figure speeds on turns, the car will remain stable, its suspension such that it won’t toss you from one corner or the seat to another. Pure exhilaration!
However, the MINI doesn’t like bad roads. As you hit a rough patch, it tends to ‘crash’ into the potholes, turning the cabin noisy.
The standard safety equipment in the new MINI comprise front and passenger airbags, three-point seatbelts, dynamic stability control, crash sensor, ABS and run-flat indicator, among other features.
For Rs 36 lakh (ex-showroom, all-India)—the 3-door MINI is for Rs 32.6 lakh—what you get is a terrific roller-coaster on wheels which attracts so many eyeballs that, beyond a point, you might feel odd with the way people look at it! What you don’t get, however, is supreme comfort and space associated with similarly priced luxury sedans. If you are looking at exclusivity on four-wheels, the new MINI guarantees it for a lifetime. And lastly, a good-looking car should know the art of make-up, so you have a choice of as many as 11 body colours and an almost limitless range of customisation options.