Minimal fuss, maximum wow

Updated on Feb 01, 2013 11:11 AM IST

Worldwide, it is as much an icon as Volkswagen’s buggy Beetle. But will its hefty price tag find takers in India, where cars are about value for money? Sumant Banerji writes.

Hindustan Times | BySumant Banerji

It has been a legend for over half a century, is the winner of countless rallies, and is one of the most awarded automobiles ever, a story that only gets stronger as it gets longer.

Last year, the Mini Cooper bandwagon rolled into India, the 100th country in to which it has ventured.

Despite it being a small car and India being one of the largest markets for that variety, this is an unfamiliar and challenging situation for the brand.

The Mini has come in a price band into which traditional small car buyers do not venture.

Two other cars have the route earlier — the Fiat 500 and the VW Beetle. Both failed to set the sales charts on fire. Can the Mini be any different?

We drove the two-door Mini convertible to get a hang of what this icon is all about. The first thing that strikes you is how unabashedly sexy the car is. The stares you get when you take the car out of the showroom is testimony to its looks.

At the heart of this aesthetic appeal is the car’s very retro looks that, like an old classic, still appears fresh.

The hexagonal grille and large oval headlamps hark back to the era of the big, bulky and ostentatious. Yet, the Mini, at 3.7 metres, is only as big as a Swift, and thanks to its short overhangs, looks even smaller.

The convertible hood is another aspect that would be appreciated in India, never mind the fact that it would hardly every be opened, thanks to our dusty and tropical ambience.

A bigger problem could be the fear of being mobbed if you ever decide to let your hair down — a factor that, in fact, dissuaded us from shooting the car with the roof open.

But it takes a mere 15 seconds to pop up or down the thing, and it can even be done on the fly.

Step inside the car and the uncluttered design is striking. The thrust is on circular shapes: the round speedometer, the smaller instrument panel behind the steering wheel are both round.

From a high profile Harman Kardon music system to bluetooth telephony and rear parking sensors (even in a car this small!) there is everything that you will ever need, and all in a uncluttered fashion.

Space is at premium, though, with the rear seats good only for children: a European concept that marks it as a niche product here.

What happens when you floor the throttle? It rockets forward of course, spelling out its BMW pedigree (the German company owns the brand).

The steering is on the stiffer side, so is the suspension. So the ride is not quite as soft and comfortable as you would expect. On the positive side, the handling is impeccable, as it had to be in a car that is such a rage on the rally circuits worldwide.

Currently, the Mini is offered only in a 1.6-litre petrol engine that belts out 122 bhp and 240 Nm torque. That is comparable to a modern Honda City, but Mini is a small hatch that weighs less.

Mated with a six-speed automatic transmission, press the accelerator and the car leaps forward, only taking a breather at around 130 kmph. I ran out of steam at 180, though BMW says it can go faster, and I don’t doubt them.

The big question, however, is: does it have a market in India? In its first year, over 300 customers bought one of the three Mini variants. Encouraging numbers, but the second year is the true test.

Fortunately, the diesel variants are yet to be launched, so there is something to look forward to. But the Rs. 26 lakh starting price won’t come down.

Standing out always comes at a price, though, and there is no better way to do that than ride a Mini.

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