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Marking a Mini Milestone with the New Cooper S Hardtop

Going down for the count.

by on Sep.15, 2014

Mini celebrated the 3 millionth car built at the Oxford, England plant. The 2015 models are now in production.

It was two, three four for Mini last week: the maker marking the roll-out of the 3 millionth car produced at its Oxford assembly plant, including the 2 millionth Mini earmarked for export.

As for four, the British maker also offered up the first drive in its next-generation four-door Hardtop. A five-door, actually, with the hatchback scheduled to reach U.S. showrooms in December.

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Mini launched production of its original microcar at the end of 1958 at plants in Longbridge and Oxford, vehicles sold as both the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. In 1962 the Austin Seven was renamed Austin Mini and Mini became a brand of its own in 1969. (more…)

Mini Adds New 4-Door to Line-Up

More doors, more room.

by on Jun.05, 2014

The new Mini Hardtop gets a bit longer to handle the two extra doors - and a usable back seat."

It may be Mini, but the British maker’s line-up is about to get a bit bigger with the addition of the first-ever four-door version of its Hardtop model.

Confirming long-standing rumors, Mini said the new model will roll into U.S. showrooms later this year, the latest in a fast-growing line-up of niche products. Considering the success of the larger, 4-door Countryman model, it’s clear that the British maker is betting there’s a solid market for those who want a little more convenience and flexibility than the traditional 2-door Hardtop offers.

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Both models will share the same underlying platform which recently went through a complete redesign – but the 4-door will gain even more length to accommodate the extra doors, and to provide a usable rear seat.


Mini Vision Concept Offers Hint of Next Hatchback

Big changes in a little car.

by on Jul.26, 2013

The Mini Vision concept adopts a "futur-focused aesthetic," suggests the brand's chief designer.

Wondering what the next-generation Mini might look like? The British maker is offering a glimpse of what’s to come with the new Mini Vision concept.

The retro-futuristic prototype was unveiled by Anders Warming, head of Mini Design, at the Mini Design@Home event  in Munich. And it brings together a mix of forward-looking styling cues as well as details we’ve seen from such recent models as the Countryman’s canted roof and oversized taillamps, as well as new, more sculpted door panels.

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Some of the details, such as the familiar Mini hexagonal grille and inset bumpers have been captured in recent months by spy photographs of what is expected to be the replacement for the next-generation Mini hatchback due to reach market in 2014.

During his presentation, Warming described the Vision concept as a “future-focused aesthethic,” pointing to such updates of familiar details as the elliptical front headlights which, on the Vision concept migrate to LED lamps and adopt outer rings that remain constantly lit to serve as daytime running lamps.


VW Beetle: Mini 911 or a Big Mistake?

In an effort to broaden its appeal Beetle is more aggressive, less cute.

by on May.30, 2012

Everything old is new again: the newest Beetle lined up against a silhouette of the original "people's car."

This is a story about the Volkswagen Beetle, not the New Beetle, which is actually the old Beetle. But not the really old Beetle, the one designed by Ferdinand Porsche for Adolf Hitler prior to World War II. That’s because the old Beetle was actually called the New Beetle while this new Beetle is simply called Beetle. Or you can just call it Bug. Whatever is easier.

VW’s goal with the new Bug is to broaden its appeal beyond its mostly female base who loved the old car because of its iconic – and more importantly cute – styling.

Yeah, We're Cute!

So the new Beetle is less bubble-like. It’s wider and lower with a flatter roof. The front end is more aggressive. There’s a bit of wedge shape rising toward the back end. Inside, it’s not surprising that the flower vase is gone.

It’s a huge gamble. While sales had slowed, there was still a core group of people who were mesmerized by the cute-as-a-bug-in-a-rug styling. There have been plenty of slick wedges, but the New Beetle was different in a world of same. It’s still different, but a little more normal.


Mini Goes Amphibious?

Yachtsman's key features include exhaust snorkel, get-me-home sail.

by on Apr.02, 2012

The Mini Cooper Yachtsman is the brand's attempt to give its owners access to the 70 percent of the planet where regular cars cannot go.

Mini fans have become accustomed to the brand introducing new takes on the classic Mini theme. But now, the automaker plans to give motorists a vehicle that they can use on the 70 percent of the planet that its regular cars can’t access.

The automaker is introducing the Mini Cooper Yachtsman, an amphibious version of the regular Cooper, at the New York auto show this week.

April Fools!

The  Yachtsman comes standard with a variety of features, unique to all of autodom, including shark-resistant undercoating, a body-color exhaust snorkel and an extendable rooftop antenna that comes with a “get-me-home” 20-foot sail that has the added benefit of providing zero-emission sailing.


Mini’s ‘Big’ Countryman Gets Torquey New Motor

JCW Countryman also gets tuner’s first AWD and automatic transmission.

by on Mar.02, 2012

The Countryman is the biggest model in Mini’s lineup and now it’s getting a new engine to match its extra girth.

Mini is introducing the John Cooper Works Countryman with a newly developed 211-horsepower version of the turbocharged 1.6-liter four cylinder Mini engine. The JCW Countryman will come standard with Mini’s ALL4 all-wheel-drive system, making it the first JCW Mini to put its power down through all four wheels.

Your Power Guide!

The other big news with the JCW Countryman introduction is the first John Cooper Works model in Mini’s lineup with an automatic transmission. Previous JCW models in Mini’s lineup have only been available with six-speed manual transmissions.

Mini expects the JCW Countryman to accelerate to 0-62 mph (0-100 km) in 7.1 seconds.


First Drive: 2012 Scion iQ

Is it smarter than a Smart?

by on Oct.25, 2011

Scion's iQ targets a new generation of City Car buyers.

There’s one thing you can be guaranteed will happen when driving the new Scion iQ: expect to get plenty of stares, folks routinely stopping to ask you about the little microcar.

Measuring barely five feet tall and 10 feet nose-to-tail, the 2012 Scion iQ isn’t the smallest car on U.S. roads but it comes awfully close, somehow squeezing four seats into a footprint only 14 inches longer than the 2-seat Smart fortwo.

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But this is no pedal car.  At $15,995, Scion will be commanding something of a premium considering what other makers are charging for their current subcompact offerings.  Perhaps that can be expected in the electronics world: you pay more for a smaller smartphone or MP3 player.  But getting motorists to pay more for less car is a challenge that few have so far pulled off, notably British marque Mini.

The 2012 Scion iQ hopes to take advantage of the "new urbanism," where - small - size matters.

Once you get past its miniscule size, the 2012 Scion iQ doesn’t look like a tin econobox.  A tweaked and update version of the European Toyota iQ, it has a reasonably substantial look and feel to it that comes in sharp contrast to some past small cars that made you wonder what you were risking by slipping inside.

Clearly, Toyota made a major effort to deliver a microcar that lived up to the brand’s reputation for tight fits and on-the-nail quality.  If we found a single issue after poring over our test car it was a slight misalignment in the two inside door handles – and even that appeared to be more a visual miscue than an actual defect.

Like many modern small cars, the new iQ opts for a relatively tall cabin, at least compared to its overall length.  This approach creates a much more roomy interior package than you might otherwise expect, even though the cabin is still a bit cramped, with a back seat that only barely slips into the usable category.

At 10 feet, nose-to-tail, the 2012 Scion iQ is just 14 inches longer than the Smart fortwo.

But the interior is surprisingly well-appointed, with nice details such as the sporty, flat-bottomed steering wheel.  There’s a nice mix of chrome and pewter accents completed by the piano-black finish around the center display.  Gauges and controls are well-placed and easy to reach.  The center speedo display is mated to a small digital readout that is legible but not nearly as appealing as the motorcycle-style display serving similar purpose on the new Chevrolet Sonic.

If there’s a drawback it’s the seats, which are thin and cheap feeling, almost like they were lifted out of a ‘70s-era econobox.  But they’re more comfortable than they look – at least on relatively short drives.

Another disappointment is the lack of much useful storage, with no functional glovebox, just a little tray under the passenger seat.

Under the tiny hood one finds a port-injected, 1329 cc inline-four engine making 94 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque.  Not exactly a rocket, but that’s reasonable for a car weighing in at just 2,150 pounds.  The specs tell you it’ll take nearly 12 seconds to get to 60, with a top speed – if you have a long enough road – to hit 100.  In practice, perhaps it’s the miniscule size of the 2012 Scion iQ but it feels a bit faster than the numbers would imply.

Scion has delivered a reasonably well-executed interior in what others might have considered a basic econobox.

It has enough oomph – okay, just barely – to let you feel comfortable in a passing maneuver on a two-lane blacktop if there’s no oncoming traffic.

The little four is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission and under hard acceleration it seems pinned to the 4,000 rev mark, inducing that dreaded rubber-banding that is the nature of the CVT.  We’d certainly prefer the manual gearbox offered in the European Toyota iQ.

Safety is clearly an issue that a lot of folks wonder and worry about when it comes to small cars.  The recent news that the Fiat 500 has won the IIHS Top Safety Pick award (Click Here for the full story) should help potential buyers recognize that small doesn’t have to mean vulnerable.  It also helps that Scion is packing 11 airbags into the tiny confines of the 2012 iQ – including the world’s first airbag mounted behind the seats, designed to reduce injuries during a rear-end collision.

More clearly in the plus column, the Scion doesn’t just nudge into the 40 mpg club, as a number of new small cars have done but punch right past it at 50 mpg Highway and an impressive 39 mpg around town – the latter figure better than Smart’s Highway rating.

The Scion iQ during its preview at the NY Auto Show.

On the whole, Scion has done a reasonable job with the new iQ considering the severe constraints of a vehicle not much bigger than a golf cart.  It’s a hands-down improvement over the Smart fortwo, for one thing.  But is that enough to win over many American motorists?

Perhaps for those who can only park it where they used to keep a bicycle.  But other than in a few American cities does the size of the 2012 Scion iQ really offer it much of an advantage.  So, while there may be a few trend-setters who just have to have the newest, if not greatest, it’s hard to see where there’ll be much of a market.







Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division took the wraps off the 2012 iQ, an innovative new entry in the growing segment of urban microcars.

Powered by a 1.3-liter, 4-cylinder engine, the iQ stands a mere 59 inches tall, 66 inches wide and 10 feet long. But inside there is more than ample legroom for driver and front-seat passenger. The backseat is more appropriate for one passenger, but the 50/50 fold-down back seat provides decent storage space. The iQ represents an all-new model for Scion.

The most notable feature of the iQ is its 11 standard air bags. Drivers can turn it around in a nimble steering radius of 12.9 feet, which provides maneuverability and ease of parking in narrow city streets.

The car goes on sale in early December, first on the West Coast, said Jack Hollis, Scion vice president. Dealers in the South and Southwest will begin to receive the car in January and February, with the sales launch for the East Coast and Midwest slated for March. The base price, including delivery charge is $15,995.


First Drive: 2012 Mini Coupe

The small car brand gets bigger.

by on Jun.13, 2011 gets a first drive of the new Mini Coupe, which is set for a world debut at Frankfurt.

Many folks seem to recall the original Mini as a single, pint-sized offering though there was, in fact, an assortment of sizes and shapes marketed by the British brand over the years.

And so, from the rebirth of Mini in 2001, it was obvious that the brand would come up with more models than just the Hatchback – as the British marque, now under the command of Germany’s BMW, is rapidly proving. This year, Mini is adding the Coupe, the fifth model to the range, to a rapidly swelling line-up that already includes the Clubman, Convertible and Countryman. Next year, the Roadster will be number six.


We got our first sneak peek at the Coupe prototype at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. The strongly positive feedback convinced Mini to not just put the new 2-door into production but bring it to market in time for the next Frankfurt show – where it will make its official world debut this autumn.

But we were able to snag some seat time months before that formal introduction.


First Drive: Fiat 500

Good things do come in small packages.

by on Jan.28, 2011

The Fiat 500 finally arrives in the States.

Who says good things come in small packages?  Probably anyone who gets the chance to drive the new, U.S. version of the Fiat 500.

The Italian microcar has won a procession of awards back on the home continent, including the much-coveted World Car of the Year.  But the question is whether American motorists will give the U.S. version of the Fiat 500 a similarly warm reception.

This is a Costco nation that lives by the motto, “bigger is better,” and nowhere is that more apparent than in the automotive industry – though there are some telling hints of a shifting mindset.  While demand for the struggling Smart fortwo is rapidly drying up, that seems to be more the result of product flaws than an inherent market resistance to small cars.  The continuing success of the British-made Mini is certainly more compelling – at least for Fiat planners.

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Laura Soaves, who is overseeing the U.S. launch of the Fiat brand, projects that by 2014 small car sales in the U.S. will double, to nearly 1 million – a trend other experts echo.  Oh, and make that “re-launch” the Fiat brand, which poses a separate challenge.  The Italian maker abandoned the American market in haste, a quarter-century ago, driven out by quality problems that led to plunging sales.


Is the Paceman a Real Mini?

A view from a European’s eye.

by on Jan.12, 2011

The Mini Paceman concept vehicle.

“Mini will always remain Mini,” or so says Marcus Syring, the British brand’s new chief of design.

It may seem trite, at first, but it is a question that is being asked a fair bit, lately, as Mini steadily expands its line-up.  What was originally little more than a few subtle variants – like the Cooper S – off a single model will soon grow to at least seven with the addition of such nameplates as the Countryman.

That offering stretched the boundaries in a variety of ways.  It was the BMW subsidiary’s first 4-door, for example; its first SUV/crossover; and the first with all-wheel-drive.

Now comes the Paceman concept, which starts with the same basic platform as Countryman.  Officially just a show car, senior Mini officials don’t disguise the fact that it will soon reappear in production trim – albeit with a different name.

Making sure the resultant product fits the strict visual definition of a Mini is the challenge for Syring, who handled the exterior design together with his predecessor Gert Hildebrand and Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group’s head of design.