|Three BMWs and a Mini.|
My favourite comment about this image is that "it looks like someone keeps pulling back the loose skin on a dog's face."
There are actually two reasons for this renewed urge to rant. The second is the above image, released as part of the full unveiling of the 2014 BMW MINI Hatch. It shows something you'll see in absolutely any lineup of cars through their generations: Model Bloat. This is not a new thing, of course, but to highlight it seems like a strange decision by BMW.
In fact, thinking about it, they haven't exactly done a good job to conceal the model bloat (aside from fitting huge tail lights to try to deceive you into thinking it's small, which is a sneaky trick I see right through!). When you park them all side by side, not only do you realise that the one you really want is sat on the right, but there are some things that actually make the new car look fatter. The number plate is higher up, and since it draws the eye, it makes the nose look higher. As does the main grille being mounted quite high and sat on top of a decent-sized lower grille. The waistline has been raised up (along with the headlights), and yet the roof has been lowered. This narrows the Daylight Opening and means that, when viewed in profile, more of the volume is metal, which makes the car look chunkier, almost reminiscent of the Range Rover Evoque in its basic proportions, but not really the same. Still, it would only take the same transformation one more time to have the same body-to-window proportions as an Evoque or *shudder* a new Chevrolet Camaro...
But to be honest I can make a certain amount of peace with the hatchback at this point in time. Sure, it only pays lip service to the original car and makes precisely zero effort to follow the values and USPs of the original car, aside from aping its design for fashion purposes and being (apparently) fun to drive. But once you zoom out and see the entire range of cars that has resulted, the hatchback and four-seat Cabriolet seems like an oasis of sanity and reason...
|For an old rant about the Coupé, click here|
But that's the thing! BMW are getting away with it! So they just carry on ignoring the definition of the word 'Mini' and churning out new niche models because empty-headed fashionistas with money to burn think they're pretty and no other reason...
...And it's about to get even worse:
That, as you can tell from the round headlights and equally-round nose, is a Mini. And yet the person who took this and other spy shots of it reports that's about the same size as a new BMW 3-Series Touring [estate]. It may or may not be called the Mini Traveller, and there may or may not be a slightly longer version coming with two miniscule back seats which will be the only mini thing about the car. It may or may not be the dumbest thing I've yet seen actually happening out there in the real world... and I've seen "Best of Vine" compilations. Sure, it's nicely proportioned, unlike many MINIs, but again, why does it exist at all?! Why the hell wouldn't you just buy a family estate from the real BMW? It's not like it's going to be any cheaper, because they'll put a premium on the fact that it's a fashion statement and on all the personalisation options (seriously, you can add a crazy amount to the price of a MINI if you go through the options list). It didn't work with the Paceman JCW and it hopefully won't work now with this, which reportedly could either be called Traveller as an historical reference, or...... "Spacebox." Give me strength...
But look, I'm not an idiot. They're expanding the range like this because people are buying MINIs, based mostly on fashion (and some based on their apparent fun handling), meaning that more products from the same brand - particularly in fashionable market segments - generates more profit, which is useful if you're a business, which all car companies are. But they're doing it at the expense of brand values, diluting said brand purely for money. Therefore, I shall henceforth refer to BMW's retro fashion brand as "MUNI". Sporty products will be referred to as MUNI Capers.
But what the hell is with this trend emerging of every big car company making every type of car? Porsche now make SUVs and saloons and will soon make them in two sizes each (Cayenne & Macan, Panamera & "Pajun"). Lamborghini, Bentley, Maserati and Jaguar are about to make large SUVs, and BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi already do. Prestige brands are making smaller models to reach down into less prestigious market segments (see Rolls-Royce Ghost and Maserati Ghibli for two examples). Literally every mainstream car company is making a compact crossover. It goes on. It's going to get to the point where people stop and think: if there are so many brands making every type of car, why do we need so many of them? If none of them have any real individuality beyond their styling philosophies, why does it even matter which car I buy any more? Is there any real difference? Should we start narrowing them down until there are only about 10 different car brands in the world?
Except the vast majority of people won't, will they? These days the number of times people actually stop and think about anything other than themselves could be counted on one hand...
That's why we have this. That's why we have to put up with people saying "new cars all look pretty much the same these days." Because of this trend of car companies bending over backwards to fit in with fashion trends that give us cars that would've once been considered sacrilegious, back when car companies actually had their own proper identity, their own way of doing things, their own USPs (or at least ones that weren't just superficial or gimmicky).
But I digress, and must get back to the title.
As I've mentioned, MUNI makes hatchbacks, convertibles, a coupé and roadster, small crossovers, an estate and a van. Back in 2011, they unveiled a concept car called the Rocketman. It previewed a Mini-er MINI to sit under the current hatchback.
|2011 MINI Rocketman Concept|
In 1997, when the new Mini was being worked on simultaneously by BMW and recent acquisition Rover, the British attempt to redefine the Mini was unveiled in two forms at the Geneva Motor Show. The twin concepts were called the Mini Spiritual and Spiritual Too. They looked like this:
|1997 Mini Spiritual (foreground) and Spiritual Too (background) Concepts|
OK, time to use your imagination. See if you can transfer the styling of the 2011 Rocketman onto the 1997 Spiritual. You can't make the front longer, but you can change the roof. Personally I'd lift the waistline up just a touch so it looks a bit more solid. Maybe just up to where the bottom of the window glass currently is, but then replacing the roof and side windows with the Rocketman ones.
It's not bad, right? Plus it would be an intelligent, value-for-money car for the masses like the proper Mini was. Unfortunately, it's now too late for the car you just imagined to exist. I doubt BMW would completely re-engineer... wait a minute, the i3! That's a city car with the powertrain (albeit an E-REV hybrid one) on the rear axle! Just shorten that and chuck out the electric motors. See? It is possible after all! But still unlikely. It would be completely different mechanically to everything else MUNI makes, which might put them off.
But even leaving the rear-drive Spiritual concepts behind, BMW don't seem to realise that there's a pretty big market for front-drive city cars. There are the following on sale right now:
Fiat 500 (kind of a big deal)
Volkswagen Up!/SEAT Mii/Škoda Citigo
Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107/Citroën C1
Suzuki Alto/Nissan Pixo
Ford Ka (a 500 underneath)
Mitsubishi i (a kei car) and the electric i-MiEV/Peugeot iOn/Citroën C-Zero
Hell, let's even throw in the MUNI-sized Dacia Sandero because it's so cheap.
If the market for very small cars is big enough to be inhabited by at least 20 different models already, then it's definitely an avenue worth pursuing if you're a) A CAR COMPANY CALLED MINI and b) looking to make a success of small cars. The VW Up! and its badge-engineered siblings are doing a fine job of bringing premium quality to the sector, while the Toyota Aygo was TopGear's 2005 joint COTY, tying with the Bugatti Veyron. It also makes a fine football player, exactly the kind of folly a Mini should be getting up to.
This is the sort of car they could make today, sitting under the regular hatchback which can continue as normal, getting slightly chubbier with each passing generation, but offering something the modern world truly lacks: a real Mini.
If I had the power, I would make it happen.