James Godwin discusses the biggest of little things – The MINI
There is a strange diversity of automotive product reporting at the
moment. Column inches seem to be devoted to premium and budget, with
little interest in between. Besides the two terms are increasingly being
overused, just like sustainability or efficiency and optimisation.
In the past 6 months I have found myself a famous Fromagerie in
Marylebone, where the rich and famous can seek out finest phlegm-like
delicacies (sorry: am no cheese lover) to accompany their fine wine and
nasty brick-like biscuits. Jamie Oliver was there oh and Katy Brook too.
Although not together I may add!
Despite the decadent dairy products I liked the place. To my nose the
shop stank yet I admired the focus on product. Posh hard wearing bags
were handed out as freebies for roving brand ambassadors ambling home
along down Marylebone High Street.
The bag came in handy as I wasn’t offered any freebies at the
‘bring-your-own’ Spanish Hypermarket, a palatial emporium in which I
found myself sheltering from the rain on holiday. The place was a mere
hut with paint adorning the unplastered breeze blocks, while the exposed
HVAC ducts illustrated the construction industry’s answer to ‘value
engineering’. But unlike the haptic fetishists who creep around running
their digits over slush-moulded instrument panels, I didn’t give a
flying Dairylea about the naked walls or lack of insulation. I
appreciated the cheap food and my new black €15 hoodie though, with the
garment itself in a colour you can’t go wrong with. Upon closer
examination and prodding the top lacked extra lining or zips on the
pockets, but so it should: it was only £12. The shop’s cheese counter
allegedly rivalled that of the Fromagerie, but I didn’t go anywhere near
it. It was cheesy after all.
To compare and contrast the two outlets is fun, because they cancel each
other out and leave little breathing space or elbow room for the
inbetweeners, the oft forgotten supermarkets. So on behalf of the
forgotten middle I’d like to remind everyone of the bargain Mini. In its
lowly guise it’s not the cheapest, but against the average supermini its
superb value makes me wonder if BMW has managed to pull off an Issigonis
on itself. Why? I believe the base car is too cheap. Away from the ‘all
boxes ticked’ examples, the lower-echelon derivatives are surprising
value for money (no am not going to quote prices here) compared with
Now small cars are a profit free zone for car manufacturers, for one 5
Series needn’t cost two Minis to build. That’s why the profits are to be
had higher up, if an OEM can push its brand up that far. So why am I
thinking of the Mini? It isn’t because of the showroom specification,
whereupon your local Mini boutique will relieve you of your hard-earned
should you wish to have posher wheels, purified cool air and extra
dials. With the Mini it’s all about the engineering. It’s because the
doorhandles are firm, precise and impart the feeling of solidity. 6 on
the floor and a crunch-free synchromesh on reverse make the car go, only
to come to a stop aided by Disc at each corner. Some of these items are
missing on the average supermini.
There’s more. The doors thunk like an original Saab 900’s while the
electric windows are frameless and flush. Your switches are damped,
carpets thick and the bonnet stays up thanks to struts. There are
mirrors in the sunvisors and lights in the boot. Few items are exposed,
and what metal is on show inside is painted.
It’s as if BMW has missed a trick by not going to town on the details,
value engineering out items the punter won’t appreciate. Being BMW
they’d never do that, of course. I believe the cheapest Mini is the
loss-leader sold at an eye-opening price to stimulate sales of its more
profitable brethren. And unlike most of the ‘common-und-garten’
superminis, the entry-level lead-in Mini is sold across the globe,
enabling the economies of scale to afford a content rich loss-leader.
Just like my new hoodie – it’s a great value basic product, only with the
substance as standard.