You may think of it as a cute city car, but the Mini is one of the most influential cars in automotive history. It was the car that popularized front-wheel drive and eventually made it an industry standard for economy cars. The idea of putting the whole drive train up front and using the entire rest of the car for passengers and cargo ended up being a perfect formula for making small cars spacious, comfortable, and practical.
Not to mention the iconic British styling! The Mini brand has been passed around to many different owners over its 57-year history but it never lost its charming aesthetic. The round headlights, flat top, and distinct profile have made it one of the most recognizable cars on the road. If you’re looking for a fun, small, affordable car that will get you noticed, you can’t do much better than a Mini.
The marque’s current owner is BMW and they’ve been an outstanding steward of the brand by giving it a major refresh without losing any of the Mini charm. BMW acquired Mini through their purchase of Rover Group in 1994. After that purchase, they went through a few different ideas about what to do with Mini. They kept manufacturing the original car through 2000 and introduced the brand new Mini Hardtop in 2001. It was an entirely new car that was still unmistakably a Mini. Going under the chassis code R50, it breathed new life into the Mini brand.
Since the Mini renaissance of 2001, Mini has been making premium small cars as part of the BMW family. They’ve done an excellent job keeping everything that’s loved about the original cars while implementing new technology and engineering. The Mini lineup has had something for everyone over the past fifteen years. The Hardtop has been going strong as a cute, fun city car. The R55 Clubman was a stretched version of the Hardtop offering more flexibility with increased room for passengers and cargo. Mini has even created its own segment in the Countryman, a subcompact SUV. If you love the Mini style, but need more room or even want four-wheel drive, the Countryman offers big functionality. You can even get it in a sporty two-door as the Paceman. The Clubman name returned for the 2015 model year as a handsome four-door wagon that’s a larger, more luxurious offering that helps move the brand further upmarket. In-between the traditional models have been various quirky cars like convertibles and coupes you wouldn’t normally expect from Mini.
Aside from the aesthetic, the most distinct thing about Minis is the driving experience. Ever since John Cooper got the idea to race the humble Mini back in the 1960’s the cars have been as fun to drive as they are to look at. If you treat yourself to a Mini Cooper S or a high-performance John Cooper Works model, you’ll be having more fun than you ever thought you could in a subcompact car. The go-kart handling and potent power and torque make for a driving experience unlike anything else. Manual transmissions help contribute to the party, but automatics are also available if you’d rather let the car do the shifting.
When you really start researching the brand and looking at the surprising diversity in the product line since the BMW era began, there’s a lot to be desired in Mini. Classic British design, premium technology, and an entertaining driving experience make for a very tempting package that’s hard to pass up. They’re an attractive option for people who need a car that can be driven every day year-round, but aren’t willing to settle for a boring, uninspired econobox. Minis are so unique and enjoyable that they might make you forget they’re perfectly sensible hatchbacks.
Author Eric Brandt