MINI has been unsustainable as a brand for BMW since it’s launch in 2001. That’s what BMW is admitting with the announcement that MINI will share BMW’s new front wheel drive architecture.
As with most automakers BMW needs to leverage every one of its platforms to make sure it’s profitable and allows for economies of scale. So BMW fully intends to rectify this with the 3rd generation MINI.
Most MINI enthusiasts may look at this as the inevitable decline of the MINI brand and product. But on the contrary we believe this will give MINI technologies and performance that have never been available to it. The question (in our minds) will be whether or not they can maintain the MINI “feel” we all love. The good part is MINI knows that feel is as much of the brand as anything.
Let’s talk product. Yes BMW is creating a front wheel drive car that will share the platform and engines of the next generation MINI. However if there’s one thing that BMW are experts on it is creating distinctly different products across the same platform BMW intends to continue if not enhance the MINI’s core attributes (go-kart feel being the most important) while making the related BMW product more upscale and refined. Another thing BMW can do is make exceptional front wheel drive cars – the 1st and 2nd generation MINI are the perfect examples of this.
So what do these economies of scale offer the MINI brand? For one it allows BMW to develop all technologies in house and not share them with any other brand. That means exceptional engines (the thing that BMW has been known for for over 50 years), more modern chassis (potentially lighter and definitely safer) and new drivetrain technologies. The latter could be the most interesting to MotoringFile readers.
We think it will mean three things; hybrid drivetrains, dual clutch transmissions and all wheel drive.
BMW fully intends to extend it’s EfficientDynamics program further into Hybrids and the next logical step would be in smaller cars such as the new MINI and BMW front wheel drive twins. Going Hybrid would allow BMW to offer a dramatically more efficient car without the legislation issues of diesel in the brand’s largest market – the US.
This also could mean fully electric vehicles as well. With the MINI E being a test bed for the BMW ActiveE and eventually the iSetta city car, one would expect BMW’s newly found electric expertise to extend into other small cars under the corporate umbrella.
Finally look for a new family of BMW engines ranging from super efficient 3 cylinder petrol and diesel powerplants to more powerful four cylinders. All will be equipped with turbos and will blow away the current range when it comes to efficiency while upping the power.
If an engine is the heart of a car, a transmission is the brain behind it. And if there’s one thing that we’ve critiqued over the years it’s been MINI’s automatic transmission. As much as we don’t like the idea of automatics in MINIs, there’s little question that a dual clutch transmission (DCT) would go a long way in making a clutchless MINI a lot more fun. It would also instantly become the quickest MINI 0-60 in each model while raising efficiency over the aging Aisin automatic.
Finally the one technology that has been
asked pleaded for by some MINI owners is all wheel drive. Yes the Countryman will offer it but MINI owners have been clamoring for a performance awd MINI a la the Golf R. While we can’t guarantee this will happen, we do know that the new chassis that will underpin both the MINI and FWD BMW will accept all wheel drive. The current MINI chassis was never intended for AWD (without pricey modification) and MINI engineers gave up on the idea in late 2004. At the very least this gives MINI an interesting possibility for a future JCW product.
Clearly there is a lot to be gained with the BMW tie-up. Yet there are also some concerns. The one that comes to mind first is the loss of the soul that has made MINI always feel so unique. BMW claims they can engineer that into the chassis, engine and electronics. That may be the case but it’s still very much an open question to us.
Unfortunately reality is that MINI simply cannot compete in a future full of large automotive conglomerates churning out hot hatches by the dozen. Even if most are throw-aways, eventually a few will be worthy competitors. In fact there are more than a few that already are.
Given that it’s the right time for BMW to flex it’s corporate muscle and give the MINI brand the technology and engineering it needs to succeed in the years ahead. The brand has been built. The customer base secured. Now the products need to take the next step and not only live up to expectations but surpass them.
(And yes, that last bit was meant for the people at MINI as much as anything)