Opinion: MINI’s Evolution is Working and its Cars Have Never Been Better

We recently called out MINI’s recent products in a few areas that have been getting under our skin. But many of the reactions to that piece seemingly missed something important – MINI’s current range of products are its best yet.

Take away MINIUSA’s lagging sales for a moment (which statistically are being driven mostly by low fuel costs). Worldwide MINI sales are stronger than ever with record sales in Europe and China. The brand is firing on all cylinders (there’s a joke in there somewhere) with a model range that has moved the game forward dramatically from the first new MINIs of the 00s.

Quality is up dramatically. A symphony of rattles is what we lovingly referred to our first R50. And we raved about our 2005 Cooper S because there was only one or two.

They were amazing cars but daily drivers they weren’t. At least not in the modern sense. In fact we once called the R50/R53 MINIs the last classic cars ever made. The gap was so great between them and the next generation (R56) that many of our readers couldn’t get over it. So new owners came on board – in droves. Along the way they found the car to be both fun and easy to live with.

The success of that 2nd generation MINI helped to push BMW into doubling down on MINI and investing billions to create a family of cars based on one core platform – the UKL. To do this BMW has had to (potentially) devalue its own brand and pair up small BMWs with the UKL platform to make the economies of scale work for MINI.

The results have been impressive. We called the new F56 Hatch the best MINI ever made when we first reviewed it in 2014. The Clubman that followed redefined what MINI meant in a world full of small generic crossovers. From quality to performance to technology every car that MINI has released based on the UKL platform have been giant improvements over the past.

Nothing is perfect and this new generation of MINIs has some room for further refinement and improvement. But global sales clearly indicate that MINI is offering a product line that’s not just critically acclaimed but is working in the marketplace. Given the decades of uneven financial success for the brand, those are very good things. It’s that consistent financial success that will allow even better products in the years ahead.

  • RakSiam

    I’m not sure you can blame the sales numbers on cheap gas completely. MINI fuel economy doesn’t stand out, especially for such a small car. The ever-climbing price tag is probably a bigger issue.

    • karrock

      Price tag is a HUGE issue — option out a Countryman JCW or SE to my liking and it’s over $45K!!

    • LuckyDevil

      And PREMUIM Fuel!!! ?? ??

      • TheMotoringAdvisor

        Well….it is a premium small car, all the models do have turbo engines, AND every customer expects top performance and fuel economy. Why wouldn’t we recommend Premium fuel? And to top it off, as I instruct my clients, if you have roughly a 13 gallon tank (for arguments sake), you’re talking about $.10 more per gallon moving from medium to premium fuel. That is only $1.30 more per fuel up. $1.30!!! I’m willing to bet most clients spend more than that on an iphone app, coffee size upgrade, or lose that much in change sitting on the couch. Premium fuel just isn’t a justification NOT to purchase a car, let alone a MINI.

        • Chilly

          Maybe not but the price most certainly is.

        • TheMotoringAdvisor

          Price has definitely gone up. But being here almost a decade with MINI I can say that everything has gone up. And not just in the auto industry. Heck, I can’t even get out of a sandwich shop without spending $12-13 (and I don’t even live on the coast!!). I drive a lot of different brands when I host our competitive driving events and when I take trade-ins from clients, other car manufactures have raised their prices as well, and I can confidently say I would much rather pay a little more and get a fun, stylish, and dynamic driving car vs what most of the competition is putting out.

  • anchoright

    It is true that the quality of manufacturing is good on the new MINIs. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the F56 is better than the R56. Having owned both I’m not feeling it. I miss the R56 every time I drive the F56 and in fact I don’t even care to wash my MINI anymore. It’s just a lease, to hold me over to what maybe will come next. I think MINI needs to redefine the icon car of the brand. To make it small again – mini again – and to give it a good 200hp in a smaller, lighter car. I think the Rocketman would put MINI sales back where they should be both in the US, and would also be a huge hit in Europe. It could keep the other larger MINIs but if it had the one smaller icon car it would make everyone happy.

    • ulrichd

      As much as I would love a Rocketman (hybrid or electric) there doesn’t seem to be business model for it. It needs a dedicated chassis ($$$) and until gas prices rise again it would likely just sell to a small section of buyers in the US.

    • Nick Dawson

      The ‘Rocketman’ was a concept car, built to showcase what could be achieved if money as no object and was never intended for production. The concept was executed by John Buckingham, a Brit who graduated from Coventry University in the UK, in 2005. These days, he is based in LA where he is the creative director for exterior design for BMW. He is currently the designer in charge of the 8 Series concept.

    • Ashley Wilson

      I’m guessing you don’t have an ’07 Cooper S R56…otherwise you won’t be missing it.

      • anchoright

        I had a ’10 R56 and an ’11 R56 JCW. I miss the ’11 JCW most. I also have an original Mini that I’ve gutted and converted to electric with a 120 mile driving range. – That thing is amazing!

        • Greg

          Now THAT is exactly what I’m looking for! Roughly how much was it to convert to electric? How did you do it? What resources should I be looking at if I wanna do it

        • anchoright

          I did a lot of study, the guys at EVWest helped me, I did all the work myself and it cost about $20k. But that $20k included EVERYTHING – Every bolt, suspension, wiring, LED lights, seats, everything. The only thing left on the car that wasn’t new was the shell. And only half of that because I put a carbon fiber roof on and trunk and bonnet too.

  • Karl

    I had 5 new MINIs – 2001 MCS, 2003 MCS, 2005 MCS, 2007 MCS, 2009 fJCW, before I bought my 2016 JCW, and I agree it’s the best one I’ve ever had. I got a Rebel Green, put the JCW Pro suspension and exhaust on it, and then added a Quaife LSD and NM power module. This thing is super fast, handles great, has zero rattles, and makes me smile every time I take it out for a drive. The front nose took a little while to get used to, but other than that, I’ve loved everything about this car.

    • Gary

      I refuse to purchase a vehicle that will take “…a little while to get used to.”

      • Karl

        Oh well – your loss.

      • Ashley Wilson

        Enjoy your Corolla then.

  • Kevin Bartlett

    Sales numbers are only down in the US market. Worldwide they are setting record sales number (according to the next story on Motoringfile). I think we (Americans) need to realize that the world, especially the small car world, doesn’t revolve around us. With the emergence of China in particular (see the only Automatic transmission-ed F56 JCW when it was introduced), our significance isn’t as great as it once was. This is a US based site focused on our market, BUT MINI has to be thinking about its bigger picture. I think sales numbers have fallen and will settle close to where they are now and we may see some dealers fold, returning us to somewhere between the original smaller dealer network and what we have today. When I bought my first MINI in 04 there was one dealer in Michigan, now there are 3, its still a small number BUT the dealer I bought from has relocated to a facility that is easily 3 times the size on its own property (not shared with a BMW dealer, which it should’ve never been shared with).

    I love my 2017 F54, and I miss my 04 R53 at the same time (shoulda kept it). But I’m not ready to be a curmudgeon about it and cry for the good old days (rattles and all).

  • Gary

    Better quality notwithstanding, there was I time when I could walk into a MINI showroom and be energized by what I’d see. I loved the quirkiness, the design simplicity, the functionality, the daring to be different. Just sitting there, those MINIs seemed like they were begging to be driven, poised for fun. These days, walking into a MINI showroom feels no different than walking into a BMW or Audi dealership. Something has been lost and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    • Speck

      Agreed. I had 3 minis and now I’m in an Audi S3. It was hard to leave Mini but I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. When I walked into the dealer in 2003 I had to have a Mini, no question. Those days are gone. I also agree that you shouldn’t have to get used to the front end or the big tail lights or the elongated body. The first Mini captured you in the first look, you didn’t have to squint.

  • anchoright

    You know, after my previous comment I think in justice I should state that MINI still is head and shoulders better than other options out there. I don’t like the huge size of the F era, they are clunky and boaty to maneuver around (and maybe that’s why I’ve occasionally posted disgruntled comments).. But MINI still is MINI. When you walk into a show room you are greeted immediately by helpful, interested and hip team members. There’s still the motoring lingo, there’s still the MINI wave – at least some of the time. You can carve up the traffic (as best these big models can) and people won’t think you’re a Bimmer punk – they’ll think it’s just what MINIs are supposed to do. I’m looking forward to 2020. I’m hoping that the powers over the next version will make a model that will be smaller, lighter, peppier, but in the meantime I’ll keep my MINI and motor on. I’ve looked at several other makes and models. I’ve visited other show rooms and not felt a welcoming atmosphere. I’ve test driven other cars – there really isn’t an alternative. Yesterday I walked into a MINI show room and there was a special edition of the JCW on the floor. It put a smile on my face! I guess when all is said and done, the F era isn’t all THAT bad! Let’s see what the next generation brings!

    • Lucila Gil-Palacios

      All cars in general are getting bigger. We can try to swim against the design current, but the reality is that safety standards have a huge influence on final design. I fell in love with the R56 a year before the model change to the F series. I ended up purchasing a 2015 MCS that I LOVE! Sure it has a quirky nose, and I’ve been told it looks like a dodge ram. Well, it also hauls like one too! It’s more powerful than the previous models and the interior is way more refined. I didn’t really like the interiors of the R generations. With that said, I do think the R56 still has the best exterior aesthetics. People will always argue about which model was better, and I’m sure when the 4th Gen models come out, the F series owners will scoff at the design as well. The classics owners turn up their nose to the R50, R50 owners hated the R56 and R56 people critique the F series. It’s natural. The important thing is for the brand to stay alive. Motor on my fellow Miniacs