It borders on trite to say it, but the original 1959 BMC MINI is one of the most universally recognisable car shapes of all time.
Produced barely-changed for 41 years – though there’s seven generations of it if you know what you’re looking for – it was built in the UK, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Australia, South America and South Africa.
BMW’s first challenge when reviving the marque was to retain the recognisable shape while still meeting all of the modern design regulations. But the MINI was famous as both a driver’s car and a successful racing car too and BMW needed to make its new, larger car drive no less capably.
The first step was to mimic the original car’s short overhangs. Having the wheels pushed far out to the corners of the car kept the majority of the heaviest components – engine, gearbox and occupants - within the footprint for stability. Despite the increase in size, the first generation of new MINI actually had shorter overhangs relative to the wheelbase than the classic model did, and through three generations this figure hasn’t changed significantly.
Fans of the original will remember how good the brakes were too, but then they didn’t have all that much car to slow down. At around 600kg, the original car could get away with drum brakes and while it’s certainly true that they could stop the car rather quickly, they’d need a bit of cooling down before you asked them to do it again. The new car may weigh twice as much, but with modern disc brakes all round – ventilated at the front – it slows even quicker and will do it repeatedly, to make for a more engaging and certainly safer drive down your favourite back roads.
The final part of the fun puzzle comes from the powerplant and this is something where the classic model struggles. Even in most puissant form, the 63hp original would only hit 60mph in 12s and top out at 90mph – figures easily matched by even the 75hp diesel MINI One despite a significant weight disadvantage. With the most extreme John Cooper Works versions wound up to well over 200hp, those numbers get a lot more rapid.
Wisely sticking to the format that made the original car so much fun to drive, but bringing modern performance and braking to the mix, the current generation of MINI is just as much fun as the classic – regardless of any size or weight increase that may have the old guard frowning.