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How Does MINI Redesign the MINI?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2016

If you ask people who own MINIs, they will tell you that three highly distinct versions of the MINI have come out since the car first debuted in 2002. There was the first-generation version. The second-generation version. And the current, third-generation version. All with vastly different appearances, and characters, and designs, and personalities. They are, MINI people would tell you, as different as an elephant and a kitchen smoke detector.

Meanwhile, if you asked a normal human on the street -- such as the people who live next door to me and just bought a Lexus ES to replace their Lexus ES -- they would tell you that there's one MINI, it's called the MINI, and "Oh, don't they also make a cute convertible version?"

Which brings me to my point today: Is MINI ever actually going to redesign this thing?

Now, I know all about the differences in the MINI models, and I admit that I can (mostly) tell them apart. But that's me personally. I still get excited when I see an Acura CL Type-S parked on the street, and then I look inside to see if it's a 6-speed, and then, if it is, I smile, because I know they only made them in 2003. So of course I can tell apart the different MINIs.

But to a normal person -- a casual observer of the automotive world -- a MINI is a MINI is a MINI, although some people order them in absolutely terrible color schemes, like, for instance, there used to be one near me in Atlanta with an orange exterior and a green interior and a green convertible top. That MINI is not a MINI; that MINI is automotive vomit.

But for the most part, the MINI -- even with a nip here and a tuck there -- shares the same shape it always has. And unless you're really into the MINI, it's probably a shape you're getting a bit tired of. Fourteen years this car has been on the market now, without a seriously new look, or even a major attempt at a seriously new look. Which begs the question: Is it even possible to give it a seriously new look?

The MINI isn't the only car with this problem. Virtually all vehicles that came out during the "retro craze" of the mid-2000s are mired in a lot of design confusion, because nobody really has any idea how to update them. Take, for instance, the Volkswagen Beetle: It came out in 1998, and everybody loved it, and then it was facelifted in something like 2006, and everybody kinda of liked it, and then it was redesigned in 2012 (using money Volkswagen should've been spending on developing a 3-row SUV), and everyone was sort of indifferent about it, and now they sell approximately eleven of them annually.

Or take the Chevy Camaro. It first came out in 2010, and it was all the rage, and there were long waiting lists, and everyone wanted one, and people would take pictures of them on the street. And then it was fully redesigned for 2016, and literally not one human being on the entire planet can tell it's different, except for people who have a full understanding of what "torque" is.

Dodge has taken an entirely different approach with the Challenger. The Challenger came out during the Bush administration. When the Challenger came out, there was no iPhone. When the Challenger came out, Netflix had just started mailing people DVDs. When the Challenger came out, people were still buying ringtones. And do you know what Chrysler did? Nothing. They just decided not to redesign the car. So for the last decade, it's been the exact same Challenger, presumably because Chrysler simply has no idea where to go from here.

And this brings us back to MINI. Now, I loved the original MINI Cooper, and I loved the second-generation MINI Cooper, and I love the current MINI Cooper, but at some point, doesn't this thing have to look a little different? At some point, don't we need a new shape?

But this is the problem when you're tied to a retro design: You can't really change it very much without angering the people who only bought it because of the cool, retro design. Which means that I think MINI is sort of stuck, making incremental changes to the car for many years to come, while I sit in anger, wishing for something completely new. But hey: At least it's better than the Challenger.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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How Does MINI Redesign the MINI? - Autotrader