This feature has been produced in partnership with MINI
Being cooped up inside for most of this year hasn’t helped the auto industry in Australia move out of its dark period.
Not only has local manufacturing seized, but the economic and social consequences of The Bat Kiss have meant that Australians are buying less new cars than ever before. On top of that, most of the cars on sale in this country are just, for lack of a better word, boring.
Carsguide’s market stats tell a sobering story: “We have now entered the era of light-commercial vehicles and SUVs. The passenger car is, if not dead, then dying.” Of the top ten vehicle models on sale in Australia, three are SUVs, and three are utes. Australia’s #1 model by sales figures is the Toyota HiLux – hardly ‘bedroom poster’ material.
But one brand that’s been making cool cars from day dot is MINI, who might just be the breath of fresh air we need in 2020. From the insane John Cooper Works GP to the high-tech yet multifunctional Hybrid Countryman and the new zippy MINI Electric, it’s so rare to find a carmaker whose entire lineup is completely bereft of boring motors.
Australians have been sleeping on modern MINIs too long – here’s why.
The quintessential Australian car used to be a large sedan – veritable ‘land yachts’ with big, lazy engines. While ‘Commos’ and Falcons will always have a place in Australian motorists’ hearts, the reality is that they are products of a bygone era.
As we step into an era of urban living, sprawling metropolises and ultradense inner-city road networks present an urgent need for small, space-efficient, multifunction cars. MINI has unexpectedly stepped up to the plate better than most to this end, with well-packaged, innovative cars that fit the ‘Urban’ brief to a tee.
Take the new Hybrid Countryman, which combines 1,275L of cargo space in a car that’s a foot shorter than a Subaru Forester, that only uses 2.5L/100km. It’s other touches, too: the Clubman’s unique double-door hatchback that’s super-wide opening and practical while looking great; how the 5-door Cooper can fit 5 adults over 6ft whilst maintaining the go-kart handling MINI has become famous for; the incredible fuel-efficiency and low CO2 emissions that all MINI models boast…
Despite their diminutive size, MINIs leave little wanting for performance. The classic MINI was not a very powerful car – even in its most powerful guises, it only hit a max of 70kW.
Nevertheless, it entered racing royalty after winning the gruelling Monte Carlo Rally three times in the 1960s, slaying giants far more powerful thanks to its impeccable ‘go-kart’ handling and light-weight performance.
Modern MINIs continue to be developed with this recipe of light and agile performance; except they now add horses. Lots of horses. Or killer wasps, if you prefer.
Case in point: a stock classic MINI makes a piddling 25kW. Even a base 3-door modern MINI Hatch makes four times that figure, while being more than 30% more fuel-efficient compared to the classic.
Needless to say, the new MINI Electric Hatch is even better on fuel (chiefly because it doesn’t use any) but also makes 135kW, which is quite a lot for a car that’s almost a metre shorter and 50% more powerful than a Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
Plus, you get all the benefits of an electric powertrain, including great acceleration – which makes the go-kart comparison even more apt.
All MINIs, whether turbocharged or electrified, retain the impeccable handling of their forebears yet unlike classic MINIs, which are notoriously uncomfortable to drive, new MINIs are comfier than a cup of English Breakfast and a warm scarf on a blustery day.
Performance is only half the story, however. The reality is that in a city environment, you’re not going to use all the power your car may have. The new BMW M3 and M4 might make 353kW but how much of that can you use if you’re stuck in traffic on the Pacific Highway? What’s far more important is having performance you can use, and being comfortable at the same time.
Of course, the other thing that’s important is that you’re not spewing out oodles of carbon into the atmosphere whilst you’re stuck in traffic either.
This is where MINIs really excel: they’re some of the least polluting cars on the market. So they’re good for the environment as well as your eyeballs.
This is particularly true for their electrified models. The Hybrid Countryman is big on space but gentle on the environment, capable of up to 61 kilometres of electric range, more than enough for the average Australian daily commute. If you want to forgo dinosaur juice entirely, the Electric Hatch boasts a 233km range from its 100% electric drivetrain.
At a time when Australians are becoming more conscious of the space around them and having less impact on the environment, 2020 has really brought home how important our impact on the world is. Rather than buying cheap, disposable crap and looking for convenience, we need to think harder about the kind of investments we want to make.
MINI sits in an interesting section of the market, cut above your standard fare but not as dear as luxury brands. They offer a unique combination of style, sustainability – and fun, which just makes sense. But sometimes you don’t need to make sense…
Because the most convincing reason to buy a MINI is that they never go out of style.
The small car segment is one that often attracts the worst creative instincts of car design (take the Nissan Micra, which Jeremy Clarkson once described as a “scrotum”). The MINI, however, benefits from an iconic and timeless design heritage.
Not only do all their models share that legendary silhouette. It’s the little things, like how their tail-lights show a Union Jack, or the Power spoke wheels on the Electric Hatch inspired by a UK power-point. The entire brand might have been borne out of retro revival, but they haven’t let that wholly dictate their direction.
The classic MINI, which had a production run from 1959 until the end of the millennium, was so popular and endured for so long because of its combination of impressive performance, practical size and irrepressible personality. In 2020, when cars are getting bigger and more boring, MINI’s 21st-century offerings are the perfect antidote to drab, and are sure to endure for years to come.