New Minis maintain model virtues
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New generation Minis have come a long way from the original, but they still share similar virtues of timeless looks, a unique character and special driving appeal.
The modern interpretation of one of the most influential cars of the 20th century had to be much more than a pastiche of the original, meaning larger dimensions to answer consumer needs, more equipment and greater safety in line with more stringent legislation.
While striving to make the Mini brand different, new parent company BMW did a brilliant job relaunching the model in 2001. Mini became a brand in its own right, with an expanding range of four distinctive models.
Things would never be easy for the Mini’s return in a new century, arriving into a completely open, disposable market. More expensive than most small cars, buyers were expected to be people who liked to be different. They would reject products chosen by most consumers in favour of something that made a statement about their personality.
Two particular groups were drawn to the car. The first was young and affluent, aged 25-40 years, with higher than average household income.
Yet BMW also had to consider that the average new car buyer in New Zealand is 40-plus. As marketing for the model progressed, the international age guideline for the model increased to 30 years while buyer profiles for NZ were earmarked at a higher 35-plus.
Mini buyers are often experimental in outlook, enjoy trying new things and tend to be spontaneous and active. They like to stand out in a crowd and drive a car that people notice.
They have a keen sense of style and believe their cars say much about who they are. They look for modernity, fun and excitement and are more likely to have a high interest in cars. In a world now dominated by vehicles with automatic transmissions, a surprising number of Mini buyers still choose manuals.
According to Mini NZ, the second group of buyers are slightly older, less experimental and more fashion-oriented. The Mini is the second or even third car in the household, yet their owners have memories of the original model and are more interested in cars than the motor industry average. They like the styling and design of the new car as well as the strength and charm of Mini heritage.
Following the launch of the new-generation Mini Cooper hatch, a more potent supercharged Cooper S arrived a year later in 2002. A popular Mini convertible went into production in 2005, shortly before the arrival of the second generation, with turbocharged power for the Cooper S.
NZ wanted to do something a little different for the launch of this car and in March 2007, veteran stunt driver Russ Swift was flown in from Britain to strut his stuff at a public gathering on a public street adjacent to the Viaduct Basin near the Auckland wharves.
Standard apart from locked differentials, the Mini Coopers he drove performed two-wheeled miracles before an excited crowd. Russ came with credentials that earned him three Guinness world records for parallel parking in the tightest space, executing the tightest turn and performing the fastest doughnuts — all in a Mini.
The car captured people’s imaginations and buyers were keen on the extensive list of options. Right from the first of the new generation models came a choice of luxuries like front seat heating, an electrically operated glass sunroof, leather upholstery, parking distance warning and navigation — equipment that was unthinkable with the old Mini from last century. The 2007 Mini for NZ had a comprehensive option list extending over five pages, including eight styles of alloy wheel and a television function.
By 2008 new variants were arriving thick and fast, with the Clubman, the Countryman that offered four-wheel-drive and a revised convertible. The enhanced hatch that arrived in 2014 was soon followed by a longer-wheelbase five-door, and then the roomy and well equipped Countryman in 2017 heralded wider potential for the brand.
An electric/petrol hybrid version of the Countryman is now available, and the introduction of the first fully electric Mini hatch to the NZ market in July this year highlights the fact the brand is not resting on its laurels, but rather moving with the times.
Mini has made huge strides in the power stakes with impressive performance from the high-performance models. The latest John Cooper Works GP packs a mighty 225kW of power, a staggering nine times more powerful than the original 1959 Mini.
While the new Mini has grown in stature, it shares with its classic predecessor a common theme that wins the hearts and minds of motoring-minded people and boasts the added bonus of a level of quality and refinement never seen before in a small car.