The Mini is one of the most instantly recognisable and iconic cars ever to be produced, and is one of those rarest of vehicles that appeals to people from all walks of life, from the frugal student to the famous superstar. No one knew it back in 1959 when it was launched, but this car was destined to become as big as the Beatles. And, indeed, the VW Beetle. The brainchild of designer Sir Alec Issigonis, in response to the fuel rationing brought about by the Suez Crisis, the Mini went on to make history. Its production run of 5.3million cars makes it the best-selling British car ever, by some margin. But after 41 years in the making and a countless number of variations, the last ‘classic’ Mini ever to be built – a red Cooper Sport – left the Longbridge production line on October 4, 2000.
Out with the old, in with the new
Just eight months had passed since the last ever classic Mini rolled off the production line, when BMW’s next generation Mini burst onto the scene. And, just as the original had redefined the small car, the new Mini, with its combination of retro styling and great performance, set about redefining the supermini. But not everyone was a fan – including me. I assumed it would just be another cynical rebadging exercise aimed at selling quirky, retro cool to female motorists – which is essentially what VW had done with the new Beetle a few years earlier. But I’m cynical, so I would think that, wouldn’t I? The reality, however, was something else entirely.
Unlike VW, which had plonked a new shell on the old Golf, BMW drew upon the Mini’s rich heritage and so, alongside the Mini One came the Mini Cooper, complete with two-tone roof and bonnet stripes in a nod to John Cooper’s iconic rally car. It didn’t stop there. Next came a convertible, a roadster, the rebooted Clubman, and finally the Countryman, which saw Mini roaring into SUV territory. This last model in particular was derided by some as not being a Mini at all – it can hardly be described as mini in any true sense of the word – but so iconic is the Mini brand that it can lend its charm to almost anything. This was precisely the case with the classic Mini, which was reworked in a number of ways, from dune buggies to pick-up trucks. So how do the two compare? And can you even compare them for that matter? Let’s take a look…
Bumper to bumper
One of the main issues that traditionalists have with the new Mini is that, while the original was the perfect automotive embodiment of Britishness – understated, eccentric, British design (Sir Alec Issigonis), British manufacturer (Morris, Leyland, Rover) – the new version has been designed by an American (Frank Stephenson), is manufactured by Germans (BMW) and patently isn’t very understated or particularly eccentric. But – to go all sociological for a minute – the new Mini could be considered a reflection of modern multicultural Britain as opposed to the insular, post-war Britain of the 1950s, from which the original was born. Comparing the two mechanically is a bit like comparing a trim phone with a smart phone: they’re both designed to do essentially the same thing but in very different eras. That said, if the two came head to head in a game of Top Trumps, then the new Mini would come out on top most of the time, as the stats show:
|Old Mini Cooper||New Mini Cooper|
|Years in production||41||12|
|Top Speed (mph)||75||125|
|Fuel economy (mpg)||40.1||52.3 |
The difference in insurance costs could prove to be an interesting one (note the rare use of ‘insurance’ and ‘interesting’ in the same sentence) as the new Mini is obviously a much safer car to drive but is also more expensive and more desirable to thieves. If you opt for an old Mini, especially one that’s been restored, it could well be worth considering classic car insurance as this will give you an agreed valuation on your car, based upon its worth as a classic model, and not just the market value of a 20+ year-old vehicle. Even if you have one of the later old-style Minis that isn’t yet 15-years-old (the minimum age some insurers will consider a car to be ‘classic’), it’s still worth contacting a classic car insurer who will at least be able to point you in the right direction.
But beware if you use your classic Mini on a daily basis: most classic policies will impose a mileage limitation, and going over that limit could invalidate your cover. If you’ve modified your Mini in any way (this goes for old and new Minis alike), look at car insurance for modified cars as even something as innocuous as a non-standard set of alloy wheels will count as a modification and could push up the cost of cover (and even invalidate an existing policy). If you’re looking to insure a new Mini, whether a roadster, a Countryman or anything in between, you should use our car insurance comparison tool to help secure the best-priced insurance.
On the road
But forget the stats, what really counts is what they’re like when you get behind the wheel – and it’s a tough call. My first ever car was a 1989 British, Racing Green, Mini Mayfair automatic, and although the transmission wasn’t the smoothest, the stop and go pedals and go-kart steering meant it was always fun to drive. A few years later I bought a 1990, 1275cc Mini Cooper, in white with black trim and check roof, and it made the Mayfair seem like more like a dodgem than a go-kart – and I’d often drive the long way to where I was going just so I could tear up some country lanes. More recently I took a new Mini Cooper S auto for a test drive and it’s fair to say it knocked my socks off – it had managed to retain all the fun of the original (well, nearly all, that old go-kart steering will never be beaten) while still managing to cram in everything you’d expect from a modern car, including cup holders. And it can’t half shift!
And the winner is…
…well, that depends what you’re after. If you want an eye-catching car that is genuinely fun to drive then you really can’t go wrong with a classic Mini. Its unique handling can made the most mundane trip to the shops seem more like Mario Kart. However, due to the age of these cars, there’s a greater chance things could start to go wrong, and you could find that your hand is never out of your pocket paying for repairs. Also, as is often the case with classic cars, some of the older models look more desirable, but you’ll be buying a car that could be 50-years-old. Just because it’s a pleasure to look at it may not be quite so pleasurable to drive. If, on the other hand, you want a car that’s fun to drive but still has all the comforts of a modern vehicle then the new Mini is a must. And, given the variety of models now on offer, there’s even a Mini that can comfortably fit a family of four.