June 22, 2011

Confession #27: Maxed-out on Minis

2002 Mini Cooper (BMW Group photo)
A disclaimer: I’ve loved the new Mini since I was a boy. I remember being a 10-year-old, rushing to my mailbox and pulling out an Automobile Magazine with a green, then-new Mini Cooper on the cover. It was love from day one.

Anytime a new one passed me on the freeway I started drooling. Any chance I got I took a ride in one. When my friend one day let my drive his Cooper S, I literally leapt at the chance – and nearly got a speeding ticket in the process. I might have been able to swing getting one as my first car – instead of the Saab I love/hate so dearly – had the insurance rates not nearly sent my mother into a panic attack. How do parents give their 16-year-old boys brand-new Subaru WRXs?

A lot has changed in a decade, and I can see it wearing on the Mini. For a kickoff, everyone has one. There’s nothing interesting about seeing a Mini on the street anymore, they’re just there. And with gas prices on a constant roller coaster, they’re a pragmatic buy. Pragmatic, if we're being honest, is just a step up from boring.
2005 Mini Cooper Convertible (BMW Group photo)

Probably the biggest sign of the times is how many Mini derivatives there are. The convertible, launched in 2004, was a logical step. It had zero practicality, but take the roof off of any small car and it somehow becomes cooler.

2007 Mini Cooper S Clubman
(BMW Group photo)

The Clubman, in 2007, was another logical step. But it began a trend of poorly executed ideas. Why the barn doors in back that leave a pillar wide enough to block a cyclist? Why the suicide door, and only on one side? And why does it somehow look so ugly?

2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4
(BMW Group photo)

Then last year we were given the Countryman, a Mini SUV. While it’s a perfectly fine vehicle, and even kind of attractive, it makes no sense. Get a small crossover, like a Volkswagen Tiguan. Or, frankly, a VW GTI.

Mini Paceman concept
(BMW Group photo)

Waiting in the wings still is a coupe version of the Countryman, the Paceman. Oh yeah, another great idea.

2012 Mini Cooper John Cooper
Works Coupe (BMW Group photo)

But before the Paceman sets off, Mini launched the Coupe. No silly names, until you give it the maximum possible title: Mini Cooper John Cooper Works Coupe. Ouch.

1992 Geo Storm

On paper, it looks promising. It’s a low-slung two-seater, that promises to be a slightly hardcore version of the standard hatchback. I don’t think it looks bad, but it does make me recall the Geo Storm of my youth.

Naturally, I’d like to have a go in one, but I wonder who would consciously plunk down money for one. Even though the “Couper” is about $22,000 (about what a proper Cooper costs), this being from the BMW family, the prices escalate quickly for the one you really want. Count on a moderately equipped John Cooper Works Coupe costing in the mid-30s.

And remember, it has but two seats. Are they going for a cut-price Porsche Cayman or Lotus Evora? In a way, I can see that. But only just. I’d rather just have the hatch. I can’t think of good reason to mess with the original, the scrappy little car that’s fast as hell but can basically haul all of my stuff (I’m 21 mind you, and really don’t own a lot).
2011 Mini Cooper S (BMW Group photo)

Frankly, BMW can conjure up all of the Minis they want to – and they are, with a roadster based on the coupe and a smaller Smart-fighter, preposterously named "Rocketman."

But there’s only one you should really consider.