Whether you watched the original Italian Job with Michael Caine or the 2003 remake with Mark Wahlberg, you must have fallen in love with the undoubted star of the show, the Mini car. It's undoubtedly one of the most famous brands ever made, and you may be thinking about adding one to your stable. But what do you need to know about this groundbreaker, and is it right for you?
Out Of a Crisis, Mini Is Born
In the 1950s, a quiet and unassuming man named Alec Issigonis held a job within the design and engineering department of the British Motor Corporation. He had already worked on the equally iconic Morris Minor rollout, but emerging world events pushed him towards his most significant breakthrough.
The Suez crisis erupted in 1956 when Egypt seized control of the Canal, an important route through to the Mediterranean for shipments of oil. This disruption led to an invasion, followed by an energy crisis, and car manufacturers had to act quickly. They needed to build cars that were far more economical, but yet practical at the same time.
This crisis led to the birth of the Mini as we know it, and Issigonis found fame as the father of this remarkable vehicle. Eventually, the Queen gave him a knighthood for his contribution to the automotive industry.
What Made the Mini Car So Different?
When the Mini first hit British showrooms, it was revolutionary. It featured a transverse engine driving the front wheels for the first time, which created a lot of extra space inside. Consequently, designers did not have to deal with a transmission tunnel or underfloor space for a back axle. Even better, the car had a wheel at each corner with no front or rear overhang, so it handled very well and had the characteristics of a go-cart.
All in all, there was plenty of room onboard for people and luggage, the Mini was fun to drive and (as it does today) certainly turned heads.
New Design and Concepts
In one form or another, Mini graced the streets for 40 years, until BMW acquired the brand in 2000. In fact, the German manufacturer had owned the rights to this vehicle from 1995 and, in the background, designers had been working hard to create a new incarnation. In this case, renowned designer Frank Stephenson took control of the redesign before the formal relaunch in 2001.
Different Mini Models
It's fair to say that the new look Mini car has been a resounding success story for BMW. While designers have stayed faithful to the basic design concept, some of the individual models available today have a much larger footprint than the original.
The Countryman, for example, has a much longer wheelbase and has been raised further off the ground to accommodate a four-wheel-drive powertrain. Inside, there's even more room, and this small SUV can accommodate up to 5 adults comfortably. It's fitted with four doors, 450 L of space in the boot and premium leather upholstery.
You'll get a choice of three- or four-cylinder turbo engines, and unique design features (like Union Jack rear lights).
You recognise the Clubman by its split rear doors that open sideways like a van. This version will seat five people as well, and you can choose leather seats for their comfort as an option.
The Clubman range features three different variants. The Cooper has a 1.5 L engine, while the Cooper S runs with a 2 L, four-cylinder petrol engine. However, if you're really looking for performance and the ultimate Mini Cooper car, you'll want the flagship. The John Cooper Works Mini will give you more than 300 hp from its turbocharged 2 L engine. You will also get a six-speed manual transmission, active suspension and an aerodynamic kit.
If you want something that reminds you of Sir Alec, maybe you should choose the traditional three-door or five-door Hatch model. These versions come with Bluetooth connectivity, LED lighting, infotainment system and dynamic stability control as standard.
For those lazy British summer days, choose the Mini Convertible. BMW is proud to tell you that the electric roof can close in only 18 seconds when you encounter a predictable shower, and you can do this while the vehicle is still moving. Otherwise, the Convertible has all the features of the other models in the range.
Electric and Hybrid
You can even get a Mini electric car (either all-electric or hybrid). They've based the plug-in hybrid on the Countryman and used the three-door Hatch as the base for the battery-electric model.
While the all-electric car is probably best as a city dweller, with a range of only 145 miles, you can charge it to 80% of its capacity in a little over half an hour if you need to.
On the Road
While you may love the Mini car for its looks, you cannot fail to be impressed by its performance on the road. It's very predictable over twisty roads and nimble in town. The engine and six-speed gearbox are responsive, and the onboard ride is quiet.
Mini's minimalist design means that you have excellent visibility inside, which should make parking and manoeuvrability even easier. The retro dashboard is fun, and there are plenty of tech tools to play with. It's very comfortable, with a quirky design and ambient lighting to help set the mood.
If you're looking for Mini cars for sale today, new prices are as follows:
MINI COUNTRYMAN - from £24,495.
MINI CLUBMAN - from £22,395.
MINI 5-DOOR HATCH - from £17,100.
MINI 3-DOOR HATCH - from £16,400.
MINI CONVERTIBLE - from £20,830.
MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS - from £37,650.
MINI COUNTRYMAN PLUG-IN HYBRID - from £31,880.
MINI ELECTRIC - from £25,100.
All prices are OTR, including delivery, registration and tax.
While other manufacturers may also have a diminutive car with an iconic design (Fiat 500 or Volkswagens Beetle, for example), there is something really special about a Mini car. Yes, it may be owned by a German manufacturer these days, but it's still as British as a plate of fish and chips.