MINI cars, maxi plans

words - Michael Taylor
Bespoke sports model to succeed Coupe and Roadster
MINI has hopes for up to 18 models off its two new architectures within the next five years, but don’t expect the current Coupe and Roadster to be amongst them.

MINI sources insist the slow-selling twins will be replaced by a machine that looks like a stand-alone sports car, even as it shares the next MINI’s front-drive architecture.

To be built in both hard- and soft-top versions, the planned sports car will share virtually no body panels with the rest of the MINI range, even as it retains key styling cues like the round headlights.

MINI initially plans to offer the new sports models, which are said to carry the code names F58 (hard top) and F59 (soft top), in Cooper S and JCW form and they should be on sale by late 2015 or early 2016. 

Where the core engine layout for the balance of the MINI range will be downsized to either petrol- or diesel-powered 1.5-litre, turbo-charged, three-cylinder, engines, the F58 and F59 sports cars will use four-cylinder power. Don’t expect that four-cylinder engine to be a carry-over of the current 1.6-litre four, though. Instead, both the Cooper S and the JCW models of all future MINI models will use two different versions of the TwinPower direct-injection, turbo-charged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

While BMW and MINI have been tight-lipped on the change, it is almost certain to mean the end of MINI engine production at England’s historic Hams Hall plant in favour of either German production for engines it will share with the BMW 1-, 2- and 3-Series or lower-cost production outside the European Union, possibly in India or Malaysia.

The rest of the new sports car’s layout will be mechanically similar to the upcoming MINI hatch, running on the same chassis architecture and carrying similar suspension layouts, similar steering hardware, similar transmissions, even as it uses a sleeker, lower nose and a more curvaceous profile.

The new model spells the end for the Coupe and Roadster. Pushed hard into production at the insistence of the BMW and MINI design departments (and not product planning), the twins failed to achieve even the moderate targets set for them.

Even though BMW sources say they were happy with the 15-20 percent of the global market each car has achieved in its segment, BMW insisted those segments didn’t grow enough to sell more than 15,000 of the Roadsters and Coupes a year. 

“If we are only going to sell 15,000 a year of a certain model, we should make more of an effort to make it stand out, to make it jump off the road as something different but still identifiably a MINI,” a source said.

Besides being a sleeker, sportier shape, the new sports car is said to take some of its futuristic interior materials from last week’s MINI Vision concept car, while it could also benefit from the mass-production carbon-fibre technology introduced with BMW’s i3 electric car.

While excitement about the new sports model is said to be palpable inside MINI’s design department, its production debut will still have to wait in line until more critical models have been rolled out.

That rollout will be lead by the F56 three-door hatchback, which will make its debut at November’s Los Angeles motor show with both three- and four-cylinder turbo engines delivering either diesel or petrol power. 

MINI will follow that up with a five-door hatchback, code named F55, at the 2014 Paris motor show (in September), which is expected to become one of the biggest sellers in the range.

The F54 MINI Clubman should follow that in time for the 2015 Geneva motor show, while the F57 Convertible, based off the three-door F56 hatch, has an unveiling planned for later in 2015, possibly at the Frankfurt show.

Like the new sports car, all the upcoming MINI models with code names of F59 or lower are based off BMW’s new small, front-wheel drive architecture that will spawn at least 15 models between the two brands.

Sources insist the MINI model range will also have an F53 model – a MINI sedan – in response to current trends amongst premium makers Audi, Mercedes-Benz and, soon, BMW to fill four-door vacancies beneath their traditional sedan ranges. While production of the F53 MINI sedan will initially be at Oxford, sources insist the car, which will be pushed heavily in traditional sedan markets like North America and China, could also be built in either India or Malaysia.

Sources have yet to put a date on a replacement for the current Countryman and Paceman, though both are likely to see out their planned seven-year life cycles. The Countryman (F60) and Paceman (F61) will sit on different architecture to the rest of the MINI family. A MINI MPV will join the two soft road MINIs, but all three have to wait for the larger version of BMW Group’s new, front-drive architecture to debut in the X1. 

Regardless of architecture, though, all new MINIs will be given the option of two-stage adaptive damping, controlled by a Driving Excitement button to address concerns that the ride of the current MINI range is too firm a ride for some road surfaces.

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Published : Monday, 5 August 2013
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